Australians may love seafood, but the majority of us aren’t very adventurous with the species we try. The classics – salmon, prawns, oysters, barramundi – fly off the shelves year-round, while lesser known species are often left to the wayside. Whether it be social taboo, or just not knowing how to cook them, a huge portion of seafood species are underutilised.
Australia is in a unique position with many types of seafood, as we have such an abundance available to us. This means that species which are extremely expensive delicacies overseas, can often be found much cheaper right on our doorstep. Sea urchin, for example, can be over $60 in restaurants in Japan, while Aussies are able to access them for around $5 each!
We have developed a list of just some of the underutilised species of seafood in Australia that you might not have considered trying before, to encourage seafood-lovers to get out of their comfort zone. You might even save some money in the process!
Note: as these fish are less in-demand than the usual favourites, you may have to ask your local fishmonger to specifically order these species in for you. Regardless of what you’re buying, it’s always valuable to develop a relationship with your local fishmonger – they can tell you what is tasty and good value at different times of the year, and even give you cooking and handling tips!
Ruby Snapper is one of Australia’s best tasting fish, that very few have ever even heard of! Commercially ranging from around 40cm to well over a metre, their squid and crustacean-rich diet makes for an uncommonly sweet flesh for such a large fish. Particularly popular in Japan and Hawaii, their delicate flavour lends itself well to steaming and sashimi.
A good tip for cooking with large fish is to use them for a few meals in a row, and really get the best value from them. Try belly sashimi for lunch on day one, followed by pan-fried fillet portions for dinner, then deep-fry the wings for lunch on day two, and have the head poached in miso soup for dinner.
Robinson’s Sea Bream
This desirable species has been intentionally kept a secret by those in the know; fortunately, this fish is one that our Northern fisherman have been sending down to Sydney in greater numbers each year. Generally large pan-sized fish of between one and two kilograms, Robinson’s Sea Bream are identified when caught by their beautiful mesh of iridescent blue lines across the cheeks.
As members of the Emperor family, they have clean, white flesh with a mild flavour, and are excellent eating. It is best to serve these guys alongside mild flavours so that you can really appreciate the taste of their meat.
Credit: Fraziers Farm Market
This strange specimen has a large, round body that is neon orange across the back and bright silver on the belly, dotted with white along its flanks. Stranger still, it is believed to be the only warm-blooded fish on earth! These fish are another on the meatier side, making them a great introductory fish for those who are new to seafood eating. Excellent barbequed or roasted, it has a similar taste quality to tuna and salmon. While Opah is popular in restaurants in Hawaii and Japan (we’re sensing a pattern here!), elsewhere it is has been dubbed ‘the best tasting fish you’ve probably never eaten’, making it the perfect candidate for this list.
Lemon tongue sole
Arguably Australia’s most underrated flatfish, these small, flaky fish hail from the northern 90% of Australia. As they are often caught as prawn-trawl bycatch, they are also a very sustainable choice!
The best way to enjoy this fish’s excellent flavour is to pan fry them whole, in garlic butter. Due to their very thin body, remember that there is potential for them to be overcooked, so make sure the pan you are cooking them in is hot, and the fish only gets a couple of minutes on each side.
Credit: Australian Maritime Museum
Though expensive and highly prized throughout the world, fit only for the finest chefs from the UK to the Middle East, Bartail Goatfish is available in the mid-teens per kilo in Australia due to its abundance around most of our coastline. It was originally popularised as an eating fish in Australia by migrants from the Mediterranean.
Enjoyed in many cultural cuisines for its tight, fine flake, sweet flavour and bright white flesh, the recipes that suit this fish are hugely versatile. Try Bartail Goatfish dusted in flour, pan fried, and simmered in tomato sauce; grilled with lemon, garlic, and oregano; or dusted with spices and grilled on the coals.
Credit: @fortunewellbris (Instagram)
Ribbonfish are highly prized in Japan, but have yet to be fully embraced by Australian eaters. One of the deepest-sea fish available in Australia, these guys are similar to the better-known Hairtail, and can grow up to 2.2m in length. Their briny flavour and delicate, flaky meat present a range of opportunities for the home cook. Great at when marinaded and grilled, or thrown in at the end of making a light soup to poach in the residual heat of the liquid. When very fresh, the Ribbonfish also makes for excellent sashimi. Sydney Chef Raita Noda will take a small piece of shoulder fillet, score just through the skin as many times as possible, then blowtorch the skin, leaving the flesh mostly raw. Delicious!
This predominantly tropical species is strong and hard-fighting – recreational anglers know them as super tough (and fun!) to catch. Their strength means that they have a very meaty flesh, making them a great substitute for chicken or pork in almost any recipe. So, if you’re looking to get one more seafood meal into your diet (Australians should be aiming for 2-3 per week), these guys are a great replacement option for one of your usual dinner favourites! Our tip: dice them up thickly and grill them on a hot BBQ as skewers!
This deep-sea fish from South Eastern Australia is usually sold filleted and prices in the low teens per kilo, making it a great family feed. Silver Warehou are excellent battered and deep fried, or grilled, or poached. A great dish to get the kids involved is to make fish fingers together… Cut the fillet into appropriate sizes, dust with seasoned flour, wash with beaten eggs, and roll in breadcrumbs. Fry (either shallow or deep) and serve with a homemade Tartare. One good tip is to make more than you think you’ll need because these fresh fish fingers are certainly moreish.
These little guys are all wild-caught, found across the entire Southern half of Australia. One of the nation’s best sources of Omega-3, this species is loved worldwide. Forming large schools in the ocean, sardines are generally caught by a range of methods that target them specifically. Not only does this eliminate bycatch, but also helps to keep this species low-priced. Usually sold either whole or as fillets, make sure to work with the rich oiliness of this fish when you cook it; flavours such as lemon, garlic, and punchy herbs are ideal.