Why limit your fish repertoire to snapper and gurnard when there are so many other species to try?
It’s a tough winter for recreational fisherman, with strong winds and rough seas limiting opportunities to dangle a line. Thank goodness for the fleets of commercial fishermen that set out in all weathers to bring home fish for our tables.
Many cooks have a limited fish repertoire, and rarely stray from cooking fillets of reliable snapper or gurnard. And a huge proportion of the country’s catch is enjoyed as takeaway fish and chips. But we should be more adventurous, trying recipes that use lesser-known species and ensuring the fish we eat has been sustainably caught and is not threatened by overfishing.
New Zealand’s fishing industry is internationally respected for its sustainable science-based fisheries and aquaculture management. The Quota Management System controls harvest levels for fish species in 638 areas. Of the fish stocks whose status is known, more than 80% are healthy, according to Ministry for Primary Industries research, although in recent weeks some practices have come under harsh scrutiny.
The country has 44 marine reserves where no fishing is allowed, and shops and restaurateurs are increasingly demanding to know the provenance of the fish they sell. When buying fish, look for shiny, bright flesh and never be afraid to ask the purveyor if you can do a quick smell test. The fish should give a hint of the scent of the sea, but if it has a fishy odour, reject it and ask for another species.
Many shops now pack fish in special foil pouches that are designed to keep it cool for an hour or two, as fish must be stored at the lowest possible temperature to retain freshness. An hour or two in a hot car will ruin it. If you need to freeze fresh fish, never keep it for more than a couple of months, then once it’s defrosted, cook it within an hour or two.
Fish cooked on the bone will be more flavoursome, but if you prefer it filleted, choose boned and scaled pieces with the skin still on. In cold times, the small amount of fat under the skin goes crisp, adding a real flavour boost. Hapuku, or groper as it is known in the south, displays the most evidence of this.
If fish is really fresh, all it needs is a quick pan-fry in a little butter. Serve with a wedge of lemon or lime and a generous sprinkle of salt and pepper. When cooking unskinned fish, cook the skin side down first before flipping it over. This way the skin has a crisp texture.
Treat all fish carefully. It should never be overcooked, so make sure the rest of the meal is ready before you focus on the fish. Overcooked fish is dry and chewy, so to ensure really fresh fish remains moist, cook it only till the moment the heat reaches the middle. A light dusting of flour or a coating of egg and panko crumbs will help keep fillets from drying out.
Both these recipes ensure tender, moist fish. Limes are plentiful now and at their cheapest and juiciest, so make the most of their lovely fragrance. Use them in place of lemons in almost all fish recipes to give seasonal liveliness.
Turmeric and lime fish fillets
4 x 180g fillets of firm fish (john dory, flounder, orange roughy or turbot)
½ tsp salt
1 tsp ground turmeric
2 limes, juice and finely grated zest
2 tsp finely grated ginger
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tbsp flour
4 tbsp grapeseed oil
Lay the fillets on a plate. Combine the salt, turmeric, lime juice and zest, ginger and garlic in a small bowl and mix well. Rub the mixture all over the fish, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
When ready to fry the fish, shake off excess moisture and dust the fillets lightly with flour.
Heat the oil in a heavy frying pan and when hot, place the fish in a single layer in the pan. Once the fish turns golden, turn over and fry the other side for another minute until just cooked through but not dried out.
Serve immediately with extra lime wedges and a little bowl of yoghurt with chopped coriander stirred through it. This dish is excellent served with potatoes or rice.
Wine match: a delicate riesling
Fish fillets with fennel in filo
3 tbsp butter or light vegetable oil
1 small fennel bulb, very finely sliced
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp preserved lemon, finely chopped
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 small chilli, finely sliced
8 sheets filo pastry
6 tbsp butter, melted (or olive oil, heated gently)
2 tbsp chopped chives
4 x 180g boneless fish fillets (snapper, gurnard, blue cod, etc)
To make the filling, put 3 tablespoons of butter or oil in a heavy-based frying pan and cook the fennel over a low heat until it has softened. Add the salt and pepper, preserved lemon, fennel seeds and chilli, then mix well. Remove from the heat. Leave to cool.
Once it is cool, prepare the fish parcels. Lay 2 sheets of filo on the bench and brush lightly with melted butter. Place 2 more sheets on top, then scatter over the chives. Place a fish fillet on each piece of filo, squeeze lime juice over and top with a quarter of the fennel mixture.
Fold the filo into a neat parcel around the fish and place on a buttered baking tray. Repeat this process with the other fillets. Brush all the parcels with more melted butter, then scatter over a few fennel seeds.
Bake in a preheated 180°C oven for 10-12 minutes or until the parcels are golden brown. Serve at once with wedges of lemon.
Wine match: chardonnay
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