Josh Niland, head chef at Australian seafood restaurant Saint Peter, loves fish. But he also appreciates that cooking seafood is a bit of a dark art, so we joined him on a walk through the Sydney Fish Market where he gave us the low down on what to buy, when to buy it and what to look for when you want the freshest seafood in Sydney.
The golden rules for seafood
Somewhere like the Sydney Fish Markets everyone buys the best and the best is consistent. Everyone buys the best snapper and the best prawns. It also depends what's running at the moment so in kingfish season they will be everywhere. You just have to get comfortable with one of the vendors, make one of them your pal and the more serious they think you are about it the better fish they are going to try to give you.
Buy a friendly fillet of ocean trout from Tasmania or a barramundi portion and cook it in a pan with some oil. Cook it with the skin on and finish it in the oven. It’s the simplest way to start off.
Consider how good-looking a fish is. If it’s still got all the colour in its scales, all its fins are intact, eyes are still nice and pronounced on the head – not milky or sunken – you’ve got s nice fresh piece of fish on your hands. You want to avoid washed out fish or fish that's lost its colour or been beaten up by ice. Avoid anything that looks like it's sat in ice or water too long. Go for fish that look like they have just come out of the water. With swordfish you actually look for something almost glassy – it should have a real shine to it. If you’re buying oysters shucked you also want quite a glassy appearance - really moist and sitting in its own brine. Avoid ones that are flooded with water, have severely discoloured shells or holes in the shell because when you see a hole in the shell maybe a worm popped in there
If you want to eat sustainably ask for Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified varieties. Farmed fish like barramundi and mulloway are also good options that are run very responsibly. Your best bet is to just talk to your fishmonger and try to buy local. Rays bream is what fishermen used to call black snapper. It's so delicious and so cheap and you can cook it the same way as the albacore. A leather jacket is good in a bag with spices herb and wine. It’s also good for crumbing.
Instead of looking at the fillets every time have a look around the edges. There might be live urchins that are still whole and spanner crabs from Ballina. You might find flame cockles, surf clams, turban shell clams, live pipis – there’s so much cool stuff.
Blue mackerel is a stigmatised fish. People think we don't eat blue mackerel or that's too oily but you can chuck it on the barbecue or even eat it raw Albacore tuna is probably one of our most underrated fish. It’s all about knowing how to cook it. If you put that into a hot pan like any other fish it will turn to chicken and it would put you off fish. At the restaurant we put it under the heat lamps and let it warm up and then it kind of sets and we serve it like that so it's almost the same temperature as your mouth. To replicate that at home you need a warm oven. Put your steak in there with some oil and just let it warm up. When it's done it's cooked all the way through but it eats like it’s raw.
When you’ve bought fish, to be safe you’d want to eat it within three days. To enjoy it you’d want it to be within two days and to have the best time buy fresh fish on the day you want to eat it. With prawns though, it’s a different story. If they’ve been frozen on the boat, when you defrost them they are only hours old - people have this thing that frozen fish isn't as good but in certain cases frozen is better.
Winter is an awesome time for all fish and shellfish. There is a broader range of everything and a better price point.
Big fish like barramundi and mulloway you want to eat just at the set point. You want it to be even in colour, but have the proteins be all bound together and full of juice and moisture. Before that is medium rare when it's slightly translucent still. Big oily fish are a bit better rare.
If it’s fresh you could potentially eat just about anything here raw – it's just about whether it would be delicious. I wouldn't be hoeing into some mulloway raw. It's quite a muscular kind of fish and can be a bit mushy as well.