How To Cook—And Pick—The Perfect Fish, According To Two Seafood Chefs

Don't serve sashimi if it wasn't ordered.

Catalina's Crispy Skin Barramundi
Image: Catalina

Alive or not, fish are hard to handle. They’re slippery, scaly and difficult to cook. Overdone, it becomes chewy and dry. Underdone, while a delicacy, is still a slip up if it’s not what was intended. What you want is that perfect, melt-in-your-mouth succulence.

And since it’s tradition to eat seafood on Good Friday, we thought we’d help you out by asking the experts. We spoke to Grey Dent, head chef at celebrity-favourite, The Fish House, in Burleigh Heads and Massimo Mele, chef and Huon Salmon ambassador, to find out how to source and cook the perfect piece of fish.

“The first step when cooking fish—or any kind of seafood—is to make sure it’s fresh. The flesh should be firm and smell like the sea,” says Grey Dent.

Massimo Mele agrees, “Sniffing the fish sounds silly but never underestimate your senses. That fresh sea salt smell is one of the tell tales of fresh fish. A fish that has come from the ocean not too long ago should still smell like the place it was farmed.”

He also recommends looking for bright scales, pink gills and firm flesh. “The slimier the skin, the better. If it is dry, discoloured, bruised or gaping, avoid it. This means that the fish was either handled poorly or has been on the shelf for too long, so keep looking for another fillet.”

If you’re choosing salmon, Mele suggests finding one with natural marbling. “This is an indicator of good omega 3 levels in the fish. Good marbling is an indicator of high omega 3 levels in the fish and it suggests the fish is full of protein, which will keep you fuller for longer.”

As for where to purchase, Mele always buys from a reputable fishmonger to ensure freshness and variety. Fishmongers are also very knowledgeable about their produce so they’re able to offer great advice if you’re new to seafood.

If you do choose from the supermarkets, Mele suggests choosing fish that has been on the shelf for no longer than three days. “There is no general rule for how long supermarkets should keep fish before throwing it out, but the most general period is about 2-3 days. There is a general misunderstanding that fish must be sold on the same day they are caught to guarantee freshness. As long as it is handled with care and the cold chain has been properly maintained, freshness can be maintained for a few days before landing on shelf for customers.

And when it comes to cooking, Dent suggests going seasonal with the sides. “As we are now in autumn, potatoes, pumpkins and cabbages are all coming into season. Mushrooms, onions, fennel and celery also start their peak season along with carrots, parsnips, spinach and fennel. Autumn also welcomes the arrival of apples, pears, figs, grapes, peaches and pears, which are great to incorporate into your cooking.”

Feeling like a chef now? Put your skills to the test with The Fish House’s own oven baked trout recipe and Catalina’s crispy skin barramundi.

The Fish House Oven Baked Ocean Trout

The Fish House Baked Ocean Trout
Image: The Fish House

Ingredients

Tahini Mix

100g of tahini
lemon juice to taste
salt and pepper to taste
1tsp of garlic
parsley, chopped
50mls of warm water

Herb Salad
pinch of mint
pinch of coriander
1⁄2 a chilli
1tsp of lemon juice
1tsp of olive oil
macadamia nuts, crushed
salt and pepper to taste

Method

  1. Season the Ocean Trout fillet with salt and pepper, cover this in the “tahini mix” & inclose in baking paper.
  2. Bake in a fan-forced oven at 220 degrees until the fillet reaches Medium-Rare. To test if this is cooked medium – rare, simply stick a fork in the fillet and press that fork on your lip, it should be just lukewarm.
  3. Mix your herb salad together and dress the top of your fish fillet.
  4. Serve with a lemon cheek.

Catalina Crispy Skin Cone Bay Barramundi

Catalina's Crispy Skin Barramundi
Image: Catalina

Ingredients

1 snapper or 1 barramundi carcass (for fish stock)
40g of salted butter
40g of plain flour
300ml of boiled milk
180g a mid fillet portion of Cone Bay Barramundi
30ml olive oil
2 clams/ 2 pipis/ 2 vongole
50ml of white wine
400ml of velouté
A couple sprigs of lemon thyme
3 pencil leeks
20g lemon balm micro herbs
15g avruga

Method

  1. Prepare a basic fish stock using either snapper or barramundi carcasses. Approximately 2L worth. Cook for 25 minutes on low heat, strain then set aside.
  2. Make a Roux using 40g of salted butter and 40g of plain flour.
  3. Whisk in 300ml of boiled milk then add 500ml of fish stock. Cooked out for 5 minutes then strain through a fine sieve to remove any excess flour.
  4. In a hot pan, sear off mid fillet portion of Cone Bay Barramundi (skin side down) using olive oil. After 2 minutes, turn the heat on low then leave to cook for a further 6 minutes.
  5. In a small hot pot, place the clams/pipis/vongolé and add 50ml of white wine then cover with a lid.
  6. After 90 seconds, remove the lid and add 400ml of velouté, a couple of sprigs of lemon thyme and season to your liking.
  7. Chargrill the pencil leeks and add to the clam/velouté pot
  8. Serve the clam velouté then the Barramundi immediately, garnishing with lemon balm micro herbs and avruga.
If these seem too tricky, try simple salmon recipes you can make in 30 minutes or ones that require just one pan (Jessica Sepel’s is good, too)