Fish

Fish

By
Stefano de Pieri
Contains
9 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781740661713
Photographer
Earl Carter

Fish

Even though they are a diminishing resource, Australia still enjoys quite a wide variety of fish and crustaceans. Fish farming will continue on a larger scale and although that can present some environmental problems, it is one way of satisfying the world demand for fish. Australia is an interesting continent when it comes to fish, because a huge variety of fish, molluscs and crustaceans is found here. It is possible to replicate most Mediterranean dishes without much effort. If you are lucky enough you can also catch a fish in many of our inland rivers and waterways. Although I have some misgivings about recreational angling, I admit it is hard to resist going fishing. One can always let the fish go – hard, but probably sensible.

Italian cooking tends to combine fish with something else, for instance tomato, olives, polenta, pasta or rice. Garlic and parsley also play a major role. It is fantastic to be able to play with all these ingredients! Usually the fresh cooking method is short and fuss free, so that the fish is shown off to its best advantage.

Crab in its shell

There are all kinds of crab available at different times of the year and from a diversity of Australian regions, but the most common, at least in Southern Australia, the blue swimmer crab, is outstanding for the sweetness of its meat and its cheap price – and it never lets you down. The uninitiated to the mysteries of another delicious crab, the mud crab, can choose between the risk of getting a real lemon for top dollars or heading for the nearest Chinese restaurant for a more reliable feed. I have persevered with all manner of crabs and found them, at times, wanting in terms of the ratio of price to meat content.

However, when it comes to blue swimmers, I have rarely had a bad experience; if there was something wrong it was entirely attributable to the fishmonger. I must hasten to say that those pre-cooked ones that end up on seafood platters after doing time in the freezer can be fairly ordinary. But take a blue swimmer straight out of clean South Australian waters, plunge it in boiling water flavoured with a handful of herbs and after 5 minutes, or just enough time for the meat to set, you are bound to experience one of Australia’s greatest delicacies.

These so-called blue swimmers are fished in the Spencer Gulf in South Australia by licensed fishermen whose quota is capped to ensure the on-going viability of the industry. They are also seasonal in that fishing ceases during part of summer. Females tend to look green to brown in colour and are said to contain the better meat. I rarely see them as I believe fishermen do the ‘right thing’ and put them back.

There is much to be said for not fussing with things like crabs or yabbies: cook them simply, get into them, chew them, make a mess and enjoy. Blue swimmers can be savoured with a little extra-virgin olive oil, but not with lemon because, at least for me, lemon compromises the authenticity of their flavour, which is both sweet and nutty at the same time.

Cooked in tomato with extra-virgin olive oil, garlic, onions, celery and fennel and a touch of chilli, blue swimmers make the best spaghetti sauce you can taste. In this case cooking is not a five-minute job: it is a matter of patience and understanding when the fine balance between the tomato flavour and the crab flavour has been achieved. There is nothing more incomplete than a sauce where the tomato has not reduced to the right consistency and leaves a certain amount of liquid at the bottom of your spaghetti bowl. This is a party dish, a Sunday-lunch affair for people who are not afraid of getting their hands dirty. There are other ways of enjoying this crab without much sucking and slurping and squirting of tomato sauce over one’s shirt.

Being such a delicate meat, it is very suitable as a starter for an elegant dinner party (does such a thing still exist?). Extract the meat and place it back in its shell – that’s the basic idea. Crab meat served in its shell is a dish I have enjoyed in the finest Chinese restaurants. I suspect that the meat is bound with egg before it is quickly gratinated or baked in the oven. I have never been game to ask for the recipe, fearing a refusal of the information or an insurmountable degree of technical difficulty.

But you cannot go wrong with crabs anyway, so give them a go.

Recipes in this Chapter

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