Catch of the day

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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!”

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