A life around fish has left Julian Pepperell with quite the culinary skillset, and lucky for us he's more than happy to share what he knows.
Cooking your catch:
Having caught your fish and hopefully bled and iced it, filleted or not, the next step is to turn it into a delicious meal. If cooking from fresh, all that is needed to prepare whole fish or fillets is to pat them dry with paper towels (including the body cavity of whole fish) and preferably bringing them up to near room temperature before cooking. A little light seasoning of fillets with a sprinkle of sea-salt and fine pepper will also help. Before deep frying whole fish, make deep cuts on each side about two to three centimetres apart. This will ensure quick and even cooking throughout. Fresh is always best, but properly frozen fish will taste nearly as good. Before freezing, try to remove surface moisture, and also blood and moisture within the body cavity with paper towels. Place the whole fish or fillets in good quality cliplock bags and try to expel as much air as possible before sealing tightly. More air can be removed by squeezing the bag while mostly immersed in water, making sure not to allow any water to enter the bag before sealing. Or for the perfect seal, why not invest in a vacuum-sealing machine? This will ensure that the fish is hermetically sealed and will last a lot longer in the freezer. As a rule of thumb, fish properly bagged in a domestic freezer should be OK for around three months. Cryovac fish will last at least 12 months, if not longer. When using frozen fillets, or frozen whole fish for that matter, thawing should be done naturally – preferably not in a microwave oven. Place the fish on a plate and leave in the sink or on the bench at room temperature until completely thawed. Depending on the thickness of the fillet or size of the fish, this may take a number of hours. Never try to thaw fish by immersing in fresh water, but if you must, use sea water. Once thawed, as for fresh fish, pat with paper towels to remove surface moisture and also inside the body cavity.
Cooking Methods and Tips
There’s nothing better than a perfectly cooked whole fish or fillet, and it doesn’t take a cordon blue chef to come up with a delicious meal. Here are a few simple methods for cooking some popular Australian fish species guaranteed to have everyone asking for more. And don’t be afraid to substitute other types of fish either.
If you’re lucky enough to catch a nice snapper of say two kilograms or more, try baking it in the following way. Take a large sheet of heavy duty aluminium foil, smear with butter and put fish in the centre. Place in a baking tray, add some chopped garlic, a good splash of white wine, the juice of a lemon and some finely chopped dill and parsley. Make a parcel by enclosing the fish in the foil and crimping it together at the top. Put into an oven at 180°C for about 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the size of the fish. Be careful not to be scalded by steam when opening the foil packet. Remove the fish carefully using a spatula and place on a platter. Finally, garnish with lemon slices and fresh parsley and dill.
Try steaming whole bream on a bed of finely sliced ginger, doused in Chinese cooking wine. When just cooked, pour on a swig of light soy sauce, sprinkle with more chopped ginger and a half teaspoon of sugar and drizzle a tablespoon of very hot peanut oil over the fish and ginger. Garnish with finely sliced shallots and enjoy. Fillets of any white fleshed fish are also delicious cooked in this way, but make sure not to overcook.
Make sure skinned flathead fillets are free from bones. Prepare an easy batter by mixing half a cup of plain flour, seasoned with salt and pepper, with a stubby or can of very cold beer. Whisk gently as you pour the beer slowly until smooth. Dip fillets in the batter, then lower into hot vegetable oil (180°C) for a few minutes until golden brown. Drain well and serve with chips (of course).
Gently dust fillets in seasoned flour by shaking everything up in a plastic bag. Pan fry in a little salt-free butter and extra virgin olive oil for only a couple of minutes each side, seasoning with sea-salt and cracked pepper and perhaps adding a light herb such as dill or marjoram near the end of the cooking time. Serve with lemon wedges and steamed snow peas or asparagus.
Cut up flesh into chunks. Make a light Thai green curry sauce by adding two desert spoons of a good store-bought paste to a can of coconut milk. Bring to the boil, add sliced beans and capsicum, then add the fish and turn down to simmer for just a few minutes.Squeeze in the juice of a lime, plate with jasmine rice and garnish with coriander.
Cut the mackerel across the body into steaks about three centimeters thick and pan fry in peanut and sesame oil with chopped ginger, turning once. When nearly cooked, add a half glass of white wine and a good splash of teriyaki sauce. Simmer, remove fish when cooked and turn up the heat to reduce sauce. Pour over fish and garnish with chopped dill. Tuna steaks are also delicious cooked in this way.
Cut the flesh into five-centimetre cubes, blanch them in very hot water and pat dry. Coat them well in flour, then beaten egg and then breadcrumbs and deep fry in vegetable oil (rice bran oil is excellent) for just a few minutes. Drain well, squeeze on plenty of lemon juiceand serve with a good tartare dipping sauce.