Catch of the day
Why flathead should fill your plate.
and when it comes to the eating properties of the unusual-looking flathead, the old adage is true.
Its peculiar flat triangular head (with eyes sitting on top), large mouth and round tail has it affectionately called lizard and even croc by Australian anglers.
Fisherman Bruce Collis is based in Corner Inlet, East Gippsland and has experienced the emerging recognition for the quality and provenance of his unique flathead – something that’s long overdue.
“The rock flathead is the absolute king of the sea,” he says. “You can have your whiting, garfish and snapper – the flathead is where it’s at.”
In addition to rock (pale brown with dark bands), there are more than 40 other species of flathead in Australia. The most common include tiger (stripes and orange spots), dusky (dark olive, brown top, white belly), sand (light khaki with a green tinge), grassy (light, translucent-grey flesh) and bluespotted (pale-blue or red spots).
Flathead live in estuarine, in-shore and deep open waters off the continental shelf and are opportunistic feeders. The majority of species lack the swim bladder buried in sand or mud, waiting for prey to pass by. This results in a diet of small fish, squid and crustaceans that gives them that characteristic sweet flesh.
John Susman, from seafood consultants Fishtales, has seen flathead go from being a by-catch to one of the most important table fish in Australia, which he says is due to its wonderful eating properties.
“The mild, sweet and fatty scalloping flesh is perfect for steaming,” he says. “In batter or crumb, it’s ideal for deep-frying, which is, in effect, steaming the fish. As a result, it has become hugely popular for premium fish and chips everywhere.”
But for Susman, the greatest joy comes from eating it whole. “I love flathead roasted on the bone – the layer of fat makes it perfect for high-heat cooking.
“Try it in a wood oven or over a grill with butter, garlic and hard herbs like rosemary and thyme. It’s bloody delicious, especially with a cold pilsner!”