Not all ‘cooking’, or at least all seafood dishes, need involve heat. Australian seafood is so fresh and of such good quality that it can often be eaten raw in a number of very simple preparations. The most important thing when serving seafood raw, or rare, is to ensure that you buy sashimi-grade seafood.
Very fresh seafood suitable for eating raw is called ‘sashimi-grade’. It’s caught and handled in such a way that peak freshness and quality are maintained. Fish are line-caught, landed onto a mattress (to minimise bruising) and killed instantly by brain-spiking (ike jime). This prevents the fish from struggling and releasing stress hormones and helps keep the body temperature low. The fish is then bled immediately, removing heat and waste products, and put into an ice slurry to drop the body temperature as close to 0ºC as quickly as possible. Ideally sashimi-grade fish should be purchased on the day of consumption; after more than 24 hours in a domestic fridge, while it will still be premium quality, it won’t be at peak freshness and should be cooked rather than served raw. Sashimi-grade Tuna, Salmon, Kingfish and Swordfish are all commonly available, but look out for other varieties including Snapper, Whiting and Garfish.
Tips for Working with Raw Seafood
- Freshness is paramount; use only sashimi-grade seafood, kept well chilled; and cook any leftovers - don’t serve them raw the following day.
- Observe good hygiene, wash hands before starting and after handling other ingredients, and clean utensils, knives and boards between ingredients to avoid cross-contamination.
- Don’t serve straight from the fridge, let seafood rest at room temperature for 15-30 minutes before serving, as flavour is dulled by low temperatures.
- Keep it simple, let the seafood be the star, don’t overwhelm it with other flavours, just 1 or 2 colourful, premium-quality garnishes, such as good extra virgin olive oil, salt flakes, freshly ground pepper, bright little micro-cress, or fresh citrus segments.
Raw Seafood Preparations:
- Sashimi, the most common form of raw seafood, is available ready sliced from good fishmongers; Tuna and Salmon are the most common but ask about other varieties. Serve it simply with soy sauce, wasabi and pickled ginger or drape over sushi rice to make nigiri-zushi.
- Crudo, simply meaning ‘raw’, is popular on menus all over Italy, the most common form (sometimes incorrectly called ‘carpaccio’) is paper-thin slices of raw seafood (Swordfish and Kingfish are popular) drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkling of salt flakes and grind of pepper.
- Tartare (again a take on a popular raw meat dish, steak tartare) is finely chopped fish usually served in a mound on a plate with melba toast and a simple garnish or two such as chopped capers or gherkins, citrus segments or tiny salad leaves; Salmon or Trout work well, but so do white fish such as Snapper.
- Raw oysters freshly shucked need no accompaniment beyond a squeeze of lemon or dash of Tabasco, but they can also be dressed up with any vinaigrette-style dressing combining a range of vinegars and oils.
- Seared fish is a great introduction for people who aren’t sure about eating it ‘raw’. Remove fish from the fridge about 30 minutes before cooking, so it’s not icy cold in the centre. Brush with oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper (or any other seasoning you like), then pop into a very hot pan for just a few seconds on each side, or longer if you’d like it cooked a little more. Remove from heat, rest for a few minutes then slice to show the lovely effect of crisp, browned exterior and glistening rare interior. Great as the feature ingredient in a warm salad, sliced with a dipping sauce as an entrée or as a main course with salad or vegetables.