As summer comes to an end, and the cooler weather starts to roll in, Alex Stollznow talks us through the best species to buy in Autumn. Not only will paying attention to seasonality get you the tastiest seafood, but it will often save you some money too!
One of the squid species caught most locally to Sydney, Gould’s Squid is caught out to sea by jig or trawl, across the entire southern half of Australia, with most of the catch coming from the South-East. Due mostly to the fact that it is easy to catch in numbers, the Gould’s Squid has a very low historical price, with retail prices hovering around $8-$12/kilo. This makes it easily one of the best value cephalopods available. As easy to cook as any other squid, the slightly thicker flesh allows not just calamari rings or a quick BBQ, but a slow braising in an oven for maximum tenderness.
Sand Whiting are caught mostly in estuaries, using haul nets and gillnets, and are sometimes caught as by-catch of inshore prawn trawling. As a member of the Whiting family, this fish has a delicate, sweet flavour, low oiliness and moist, flaky flesh. As their fillets are small and thin, a great way to cook them is wrapped in foil or banana leaves on the barbeque, to protect them from the direct heat. They also take well to being cooked whole, as their bones are small and easily removed. Pair Sand Whiting with almonds, asparagus, butter, capers, garlic, chives and parsley for incredible flavours.
These guys are regularly seen on special in Sydney Fish Market retailers around this time of the year, and are usually sold whole (gilled and gutted), and occasionally in fillet form. They are great plate-sized fish cooked whole, and their flesh also works well being steamed or poached with Asian flavours. Don’t be daunted by the idea of cooking a whole fish – it is deceptively simple and infuses it with incredible flavours. Try this recipe from Sydney Seafood School, for Steamed Whole Bream with Green Chilli and Coriander.
These weird-looking fish are by far the most valuable commercial Leatherjacket species, and are caught mainly in the Great Australian Bight in traps or by demersal trawlers. Being part of the Leatherjacket family, they lack scales and instead have a distinctive, sandpapery skin. Ocean Jackets are sold as trunks, meaning gutted and skinned, with their heads removed, which makes them super easy to handle in the kitchen. As their flesh is firm, they hold their own well in soups, curries and casseroles – perfect for the cooler weather.
Blue Swimmer Crab
Blue Swimmer Crabs are one of the few Crab species not sold live, and are instead available cooked or green (uncooked) – a bonus if you’re squeamish about purchasing live crustaceans. The flesh is translucent when raw and white when cooked, and has a mild, sweet, nutty flavour, and low oiliness. The meat is generally moist, evenly textured and firm (claw meat is firmer than that found in body and legs). Some people enjoy the stronger-tasting ‘mustard’ or brown meat in the body. We recommend serving boiled Crab with Asian dipping sauces such as nam pla, or mayonnaise (flavoured with 'mustard', garlic, or herbs) or hot melted butter with a squeeze of lemon juice.
Found in shallow, coastal waters almost everywhere in Australia, the Garfish is one of the few species in Australia that could be said to have lost popularity over time. This is almost certainly due to their preponderance of very fine bones coming off the spine - even though they’re so fine that they can be eaten with no discomfort. We can guarantee that Garfish haven’t lost their unique flavour over time, and in fact remain one of Australia’s sweetest, finest fish, highly prised by top chefs. John Niland, for example, crumbs butterflied garfish and serves them with a yoghurt tartare and herb salad. You can also try crumbing and frying just one side of the fillet, allowing the natural presentation of the fish as well as a moreish crunch.
Here’s one for the true seafood lovers. Your favourite fish’s favourite fish, Mullet have been loved by those in the know for tens of thousands of years in Australia, everywhere on the East coast. This hardy fish is as at home in the freshwater upper reaches of estuaries as it is in the ocean, and will take on a corresponding estuarine or marine flavour. As a rule of thumb, the further up an estuary a mullet is caught, the stronger the flavour, with Sea Mullet having a more neutral, briny flavour. However, all Mullet share uncommonly high levels of Omega-3 in their generously-distributed fat, and it is this fat and its flavour that is the secret to their appeal.
To get the most out of this fish, work with the fat. Use methods that are likely to char the skin, like barbecuing, roasting, or placing skin-side up under the grill for a few minutes. Use punchy flavours to compete with the fish, whether that’s a spicy Middle-Eastern seasoning, a Mediterranean lemon, herbs and garlic, or a Chinese chili and ginger pairing. Due to Mullet’s wide distribution as well as their schooling nature, Mullet are easy for our fishers to target, and cheap to buy. In the peak of Autumn Mullet run on the NSW coast, the price can get as low at $2/kg, though usually retailing for closer to $5 to $8 per kilo for whole fish.
Smooth & Spikey Oreodories
Although widely spread across Southern Ocean deep-seas, the fact that this fish can live up to 2km deep means that there’s still a lot to learn about it. What we do know is that the Oreodories have an extremely protrusible mouth which allows them to feed on a variety of deep-sea prey, such as crustaceans and small cephalopods. This diet, coupled with their extremely cold ambient temperature, make for a particularly fatty, rich fillet, while maintaining a mild flavour. They are always sold as fillets (we freely admit that this fish, while adorable as a juvenile, is not classically handsome) of around 100 grams in weight, making them perfect as a single serve, either deep-fried or grilled.