Guide to Fish


It’s been way too long since I wrote here.

Life has changed significantly and focus has shifted on food, wine,  the restaurant industry and my children more than ever before, it’s an exciting time, although now I am toying with the idea of a new blog so will certainly keep you posted on any changes or updates in the coming months.

My friend, John Ford, asked me to give a talk with him at the Sustainable Living Festival in February  this year. It was a great time and an honour to have Chris Smyth from the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), Oliver Edwards from GoodFishBadFish and Angeline Charles of the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) join us for a panel discussion. Differing opinions are inspiring and important in the quest to find foundation to our own beliefs; robust discussion is healthy.

One of the many things people took from the talk was the fish cooking chart we handed out, it’s a simple list of different sustainable Australian fish species and the best methods by which to cook them.  I’ve had a few requests for it, so here it is again:

fish cooking chart

Olive oil is a vibrant accompaniment, cooking tool and significant ingredient and the oils we’re producing in Victoria are worth seeking out.

   Delis, green grocers, farmers markets, supermarkets all have extra virgin olive oils sitting on their shelves. Olives oil from all over the world – Australia, Italy and Spain particularly – but it’s the Victorian olive oil industry that’s creating some luscious gems of viscous liquid that, like their European cousins, tell the story of their region, their cultivation and their harvest.

Olive oil tastings are (almost) as common wine tastings and when you taste olive oil, take a moment to think about the vibrant golden greens and yellows the oils take on. A taste of the oil and you may find yourself discussing the texture and viscosity, considering the aroma and flavour and then looking for fruitiness or herbaceous, grassy characters on the palate which are all pivotal to the character of a good olive oil (it sounds a little like tasting wine!).  Local olive oil producers are creating a product that’s complex, delicious and of great quality and we’re embracing what we see.

Like wine and different grape varieties, there are different olive varieties each with their own character and attributes to add to the oil. Manzanilla would be one of the most versatile olives in the orchard, renowned as being a good all-rounder as a table olive and an oil olive, much of the Australian olive oil we buy is made from Manzanilla. Richard Seymour, owner of Mount Zero olives in the Grampians with his parents Jane and Neil says, “If you talk to a processor they hate them [manzanilla olives], as they are notoriously hard to press but for the effort the reward is worth it.”

Mount Zero also grow picual, frantoio and coratina olives on their 200 acres that they bought in 1992 taking on an over-grown olive orchard of trees that had been planted in the 1950s. They don’t irrigate their trees, producing a sturdy, intense fruit that is responsive to its season. Richard explains, “Because we don’t irrigate, as the trees get older their roots go deeper and deeper into the soil. This year there was lots of moisture around and we had a great year, some years are harder than others but when there’s lots of rain and if there was irrigation as well, too much moisture can cause the oil to be lacking in flavour.”

 Rose Creek Estate in the outer-suburb of east Keilor sees Tony, Lina and Angleo Siciliano make their olive oil from mostly frantoio but also grow manzanilla and corregiolo olives among other varieties on six acres with 300 trees. The Siciliano’s press their olives over a couple of months underneath their house, “Some of the trees mature earlier, some later,” says Lina. The family have three harvests: pressing green olives first; semi-ripe second and ripe black olives in the third harvest as “you get more oil from the olive,” she explains. It’s the yield of oil to olives that explains why some oils are pricier than others, Tony explains, “ When we press the green olives we get about four to five litres from 100kg olives, semi-ripe olives yield nine to ten litres of oil and the black produces 20-22 litres per 100kg of olives.”

Yield, time and mother nature all bless or hinder any agricultural pursuit and olive oil production is no different. Heading out to the Bellarine Peninsula, Rosalind Ellinger set up Mason’s Creek olive oil back in 1998 on 10 acres, has about 1200 trees and went into commercial production in 2004. Like Mount Zero she doesn’t use irrigation which can be frustrating regarding yield but guarantees a better quality product. “We get about 1200 litres of oil from 10 tonnes of fruit,” says Rosalind, “which may be less than others but it’s a quality product.”

Mason’s Creek grows Kalamata olives (which are only good for the table not for oil), manzanilla (for table and oil), frantoio and corregiola (for oil only). Ellinger finds it best to let her customers know when the olives were picked by placing the harvest year on the bottle, “That way people know how long the oil has been in the bottle,” she says.

Freshness is one of the most important characters of olive oil. It is simply the juice of an fruit and has a quality that deteriorates over time. Olives are traditionally picked in late autumn, early winter – so that’s November, December in Europe and May, June in Australia. The Australian new season’s olive oil was released in June and July and this is the freshest olive oil you can buy at the moment. When buying olive oil, look at the best before or use by date or what is becoming more common is the ‘pressed date’ or ‘harvest’ date you will find on some local products.

Mount Zero olives in the Grampians have started putting a ‘pressed’ date, similar to Mason’s Creek harvest date and it’s important to note that olive oil isn’t good after 24 months. So if you pick up a bottle of oil and from the dates on the bottle it’s been on the shelf a bit too long, keep searching. This wonderful liquid that highlights produce, dresses salads and cooks delicately is deserving of our understanding to get the best out of it.

 

My friends and colleagues Phil Lamb from Spring Bay Seafoods in Tasmania and director of CQ Foods Michael Canals passed this on to me.

It is simply more information to confirm our belief that if a mussel doesn’t open when cooked it’s still fine to eat. Up to 370 tonnes of perfectly good mussels are thrown away each year because of an idea about mussels that is dated and hasn’t been challenged until now. Try it for yourself and remember if a mussel if no good it will smell to high heaven (and beyond).

AMIA4102_Mussel Fact Sheet_V2_Interactive

 

I was very recently contacted by a friend/colleague who told me about this article ‘Mussel Myth an open and shut case’ by Dr Karl Kruszelnicki and she then brought up the small piece I wrote for Epicure in The Age last year about mussels. If a mussel is shut it doesn’t mean you should toss it out because it’s off. A mussel is very clear about letting you know if it’s off (it will smell awful).

Peter Lillie from Bay Sea Farms has taken the article I wrote and is putting it up at his stall where he sells at the Mt Eliza Farmers Market and the Pier at Mt Martha as he has been giving product away to make up for people’s ‘bad ones’.

Mussels are a sustainable, delicious and easy-to-cook choice (very reasonably priced too), so consider the mussel whether they’re open…or shut.

Here is the passage about Mussels from the Season’s Bounty column in Epicure The Age from last year.

Mussels

From a sustainability perspective mussels are a great choice; the methods used to farm them have little environmental impact, they are filter feeders so take their nutrients from the water in which they’re grown and they are very affordable. The major fallacy about mussels is that if they don’t open they are dead or bad and have to be tossed out. This isn’t true. If a mussel is bad it’s going to smell, really bad. When cooking, mussels thrive in a big pot with liquid that will highlight the meat rather than overwhelm it. Classic combinations of garlic, white onion and white wine finished with fresh parsley are simply a matter of placing the onion and garlic in the bottom of the pan with some olive oil, putting in the mussels, then a cup of the wine, covering with a lid and leaving for three minutes. Other flavours and liquids to cook mussels in include lager, orange juice and coriander; lime juice, chilli and vietnamese mint or coconut milk, thai basil, chicken stock and chilli.

Hilary McNevin

The sardine, I’ve said it before (and will do so again here) it’s a deliciously unctuous, omega-3 laiden, slightly salty, fleshy fish that’s insanely sustainable. The sardine is far from being over-fished and is very very inexpensive. It grills quickly and is lovely with a generous squeeze of lemon juice and can carry bigger flavours too, like garlic and chilli. Choosing sardines at the fish counter is a very sustainable, affordable, tasty choice.

Wine writer and sustainability advocate Max Allen has found what to drink with this small fish – a wine called Vermentino –  this is a grape variety from Sardinia that’s grown around the Mediterranean, its a sturdy grape that copes well in harsh climates and produces a crisp, dry wine that has some length and its own character along with a refreshing finish. It’s perfect for the Australian climate and there’s some beautiful Vermentino being made in Australia now. Max wrote a brilliant piece about the grape variety and its easy marriage with grilled sardines. He mused about the idea of allowing people to try this combination of oily, distinctive fish with some examples of Australian-made Vermentino. It could be considered a sustainable culinary solution (bloody clever I say!).

Australian winemakers who are making Vermentino liked what they read and Sardines & Vermentino The Musical ‘played’ its last gig today in Sydney after appearing in Adelaide Friday 21st January and Melbourne 24th January.

Tressle tables were piled high with different examples of the wine, tasting glasses and fleshy sardines deliciously grilled served next to them and it was all for free. Getting people to try Vermentino is what S&V The Musical was about and this sustainable feast of fish and white wine literally took the product to the streets.

Quite simply, you’d be mad not to try Vermentino – it’s readily available in bottle shops – it’s affordable and in the cooler months ahead I’m going to make a dish of linguine tossed with grilled sardines, lots of garlic, lemon zest, chilli, oregano, parsley perhaps a touch of a well-reduced tomato sugo and I’m going to try an Australian Vermentino with it – anyone care to join me?

Here are the winemakers who took their haul to three cities in 5 days to allow people a taste of their Vermentino.

919 Wines, Boyntons, Brown Brothers, Chalmers, De Bortoli, Ducks in a Row, Foxey’s Hangout, Mitolo, Trentham Estate and Yalumba

Get tasting!

In October last year, I was thinking of what to contribute food-wise for my mum’s birthday party, I was arriving in Brisbane that morning, time was an issue and I was asked to ‘make a plate of something to nibble on with drinks’.

I love prawns from Queensland, they have a meatiness to their texture and a sweetness in flavour that I really enjoy and as dull as it may sound to some, I love standing over the kitchen sink, peeling each one, separating the shells from the flesh and putting the shells aside to make a quick stock. To keep it really simple I made sandwiches – yep – prawn sandwiches.

*Finely sliced pieces of fresh sourdough baguette held chopped prawn flesh that was tossed with home-made mayo, some chopped fresh parsley, two torn basil leaves (you don’t want the basil to overpower but just lift the flavours), generous squeezes of lime juice, one short, sharp squeeze of lemon juice and salt and pepper in small sandwiches that lasted two bites.

I was asked to make them again on Christmas day to have while we sipped sparkling wine and opened presents. The request surprised me.

I asked my sister who was hosting lunch, “Why do you think people enjoy these so much?”

“Look what you’re doing,” she said,”you’re taking time and peeling those creatures and doing a fiddly job for us. Who doesn’t want prawns peeled for them, it’s kind of you to do it and you make them taste good. It’s a luxury.”

What’s a luxury for some is an act of love and generosity for another and so it is that I will probably be making prawn sandwiches at family events for the foreseeable future.

Who would have thought that a prawn sandwich could represent luxury, love, giving and family.

Happy 2011.

*This paragraph is the recipe for these simple treats. Quantities obviously equate to the number of people and to your taste. I like to make my own mayo but there are some decent ones out there to buy if you’d rather not go down that track.

When I wrote Guide to Fish, the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) very kindly gave me permission to use their research on the fish species I chose to put in the book.

The AMCS have just released an new version of their sustainable seafood guide. A smart, litte book to take to the market that lists fish alpabetically and talks about the fish to avoid, the ones to eat occasionally and the better choices.

They’ve also, thoughtfully, put the guide up on line.

Click here to view the guide online

Click here to have a look around the AMCS online shop

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