Margaret Fulton
27 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
Geoff Lung

Chapter intro

Five of the happiest years of my life were spent in a little fishing village on the Hawkesbury River, on the eastern coast of Australia.

It was there I got a ‘nose’ for fish and learnt the joys of eating very fresh fish. It started with a local fisherman bringing me part of his catch in exchange for the bountiful citrus fruits that grew in my garden. I learnt to recognise quality and freshness in fish. It is fresh when the eyes are bright, the flesh is firm, the gills red and the scales do not come off easily. Fish should smell of the sea!


Fish is a delicate meat and must be cooked carefully to preserve its moisture and fine flavour. To overcook it seems a crime.

Some enjoy their fish (especially when it is the catch of the day) simply with lemon or some melted butter, but there are many other ways of serving it. Hollandaise sauce is great with poached fish, sauce tartare partners crisp fried fish and what could be nicer than a thick grilled fish steak topped with melting parsley butter?

To prepare fish

Filleting : For round fish such as flathead, use a sharp, flexible knife to make a clean cut along the backbone from the back of the head to the tail. Carefully ease away the flesh from the bones and detach the fillet on one side. Turn over and cut away the second fillet. For flat fish such as flounder, lay the fish on a board with the tail towards you. Make a cut down the backbone from the head to the tail. Starting from the head on the left fillet and using a sharp, flexible knife, cut between the bones and the flesh and remove the fillet. Turn the fish over and remove the second fillet working from tail to head. Repeat in the same way for the other two fillets.

Skinning : To skin, place fillets skin-side down, tail towards you, and cut the flesh from the skin at the tail tip. Dip your fingers in salt and hold skin firmly. Slide knife along skin under fish until fillet and skin are separated. Trim fillets, wash and dry on a paper towel. Drying is most important for a perfect result.

When preparing mussels, remove the beard (actually the byssal threads with which they use to attach themselves to a solid surface) from the mussel with a sharp tug downwards towards the point. Wash the mussels in several changes of cold water and they’re now ready for cooking.

To deep-fry fish

As a world-wide favourite, it would be hard to find any meal more popular than fish and chips. Frying is suitable for fish fillets, and small whole fish such as whitebait.


milk and seasoned flour.

a preliminary dusting with flour, a dip in beaten egg and then dry white breadcrumbs.

fritter batter.

The temperature of cooking oil or fat is most important. It must be hot enough to seal the coating in order to preserve the flavour and natural moisture of the fish.

To test for correct heat put a small piece of white bread into the heated oil and wait for bubbles to sizzle around it. The bread should brown in 1 minute. The oil should be quite still.

Use about 2 cm depth of oil in a roomy frying pan and do not crowd in too many fillets at one time. Allow 2–4 minutes for each side depending on the thickness of the fish. Drain on paper towels and keep hot. Serve with lemon wedges and French-fried potatoes. Tartare sauce is delicious with crisp deep-fried fish

To bake fish

This method is excellent for whole fish, fish steaks or fillets. The prepared fish is placed in a baking dish, brushed with melted butter or oil, seasoned with pepper, salt and a squeeze of lemon juice for flavour then sprinkled with paprika for colour.

The fish can be covered with baking paper, but remember to baste once or twice during cooking to prevent drying out. Bake until tender. This will depend on the thickness of the fish, not on the weight. Times vary from 10 minutes for thin fillets to 30 minutes for a large thick fish.

Less delicate fish can be marinated before grilling or baking.

To poach fish

Fish should never be boiled but poached gently until tender. This can be done on top of the stove or in the oven. The cooking liquid may vary from salt and water for a simple dish, to a court bouillon for a more elaborate and fully flavoured one. Poaching is suitable for whole fish, fish steaks, fillets or shellfish.

To test if the fish is cooked, pierce with a fork at the thickest part. The flesh should flake easily. Allow 6–10 minutes for every 500 g.

To grill fish

This method is simple and is excellent for whole fillets or steaks. Preheat the griller. Butter or oil the griller rack or line with buttered foil. Wipe fish with paper towels. Dust with flour and brush with melted butter or oil and season with sea salt and pepper. Grill until lightly browned. If you have preheated the grill, it is not necessary to turn the fish while grilling. If thin, the fish will be completely cooked when brown. For thick fish, reduce heat and cook until the fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. Baste frequently with the melted butter and the juices in the pan to prevent the surface of the fish drying out. Sprinkle with parsley and serve at once with lemon wedges.

To pan-fry or sear fish

Heat a well-seasoned or non-stick frying pan until very hot, then add a little oil or butter. Fry the thinner fillets for 2–3 minutes on each side and thicker cuts for 4–5 minutes on each side.

To pan-fry steaks and fish cutlets such as tuna or salmon, heat the frying pan until very hot. Brush fish with olive oil and season with a little pepper. Fry, skin-side down first, for 3–5 minutes on each side.

Recipe intro


Shellfish add a note of luxury to a meal and are readily available. I’ve included some of the best-loved ways of serving them.


The blue swimmer is one of the smallest and best crabs to eat. It is also called sand or blue manna crab. The long legs, paddles and claws are cobalt blue, hence the name, but its colour changes to a deep orange red when cooked. Queensland mud crab is a world famous delicacy with its huge claws and large, bulky body. Use frozen crab when fresh is not in season.

To prepare crab : Place crabs on a board near sink. Grasp live crab from the rear with a good hold on the back and place with back on board. Put point of knife in shell between eyes. Hit the back of the knife with a hard, quick blow which kills the crab instantly. Firmly grasping hold of a front claw, twist off where it joins the body, repeat with the other claw and legs. Scrub and rinse well. Pull off the top shell with knife, if necessary. Remove gills and spongy parts under shell. Wash body and leg pieces thoroughly. Crack each claw with a mallet to open each section and make it easy to lift out all the meat.

Crayfish (lobster)

The Australian rock lobster (spiny lobster or crayfish) with its long antennae is one of the delights of the crustacean world. The meat, most of which is found in the tail, is sweet, firm-textured and very white when cooked.

Wrap live crayfish in newspaper and chill in refrigerator for a hour or so. This numbs the nerves. Place the chilled crayfish shell-side up on several layers of newspaper. Hold securely with a large pointed knife and pierce through shell at the head and between the eyes to kill. Plunge into boiling, salted water and simmer for 15 minutes per 500 g and cool in the liquid.

Drain, wipe the shell and rub with a little olive oil. Cut in half lengthwise with a meat cleaver and remove the ‘stomach’ in the head. The small claws can be used as a garnish or, if time permits, the sweet flesh can be pushed out with a skewer.


It is worthwhile making an effort to pick over mussels at the markets to find small to medium ones that feel heavy for their size. The essential rule is they must be alive. Live mussels hold their shells together so tightly it is difficult to pry them apart. Discard any with open shells.

To prepare and clean mussels: Thoroughly scrub mussels to remove any seaweed or dirt clinging to them. Pull off the beard that clings to them. Soak them in water to thoroughly cover, preferably for 3–4 hours, with a good handful of oatmeal added to encourage the mussels to disgorge any sand.

Mussels pernod: Spike the sauce with a tablespoon or two of Pernod before pouring over mussels.


There are many varieties of oysters available though rock oysters are one of the most highly regarded by connoisseurs. Select on the halfshell from reliable suppliers. They should be plump, creamy and smell of the sea.


Prawns are a delicacy enjoyed all over the world. Cooked prawns are used in salad recipes but when cooking it is best to use fresh green (raw) prawns. The delicate flesh of prawns does not stand up to being cooked twice.


Scallops need only 2–3 minutes cooking time. The bright orange coral is considered a delicacy, so do not discard it. The small tough white membrane containing a dark vein however, should be removed. Any of the recipes for lobster, crab or prawn may be used for scallops. They are particularly good in a light curry sauce.

Squid (calamari)

Squid is one of the most sustainable seafoods we can eat.

Cleaning squid : Pull the head and body of the squid apart, the intestines will pull out with the head. Discard head and intestines. Cut off tentacles just above the eyes and remove the transparent quill from inside the body sac. Rinse the sac well and pull off the back fins. Reserve tentacles, sac and fins and use as recipe directs.


Clams are saltwater bivalves and are available fresh all the year round; they can also be bought canned or bottled in a brine. Soak fresh clams in plenty of water to cover to encourage them to disgorge as much sand as possible. They are opened much like mussels or oysters – with a flat knife inserted between the 2 shells in front of the muscle that holds them together; then they are dipped in water to remove sand. They may also be steamed open. Clams are a great addition to risotto and chowders or they can be simmered in a thick tomato sauce for serving with crusty bread or pasta. Italians love tiny clams (which they call vongole) as a sauce with pasta.

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