COVER STORY

Why we should eat Aussie seafood.

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Contents -

Asqually front is a bit of a con­cern for John Sus­man on a re­cent morn­ing. As a renowned seafood prove­dore, and long­stand­ing sup­plier to some of Aus­tralia’s most ac­claimed eater­ies and top chefs, Sus­man knows that the rough weather will have a knock-on ef­fect for restau­rants and re­tail­ers when it comes to sell­ing fish. And that brings Sus­man back to the boats, which would usu­ally be out haul­ing in a catch at this time of day.

“We’re try­ing to work out who should go fish­ing and shouldn’t go fish­ing,” he says with a laugh. “As soon as we see a front like this come through it’s al­ways fun.”

Th­ese days, Sus­man heads up an agency that helps fish­er­men con­nect with restau­ra­teurs to get their fresh catch on the plates of hun­gry din­ers. Sus­man is pos­i­tively hooked on the sub­ject of fish and seafood, so much so that he ad­mits he should have grown scales and a dor­sal fin over the last three decades in the industry. That en­thu­si­asm is il­lus­trated in an en­cy­clopaedic new book, Aus­tralian Fish & Seafood Cook­book.

The metic­u­lously re­searched cook­book by Sus­man, An­thony Huckstep, Stephen Hodges and Sarah Swan, lav­ishly pho­tographed by Ben Dearnley, re­flects the au­thors’ de­sires to share their knowl­edge with a wider au­di­ence. It of­fers a step-by-step guide to var­i­ous lo­cal species – ev­ery­thing from abalone to whit­ing – with de­tailed in­for­ma­tion about how to se­lect, pre­pare and cook each one.

“There was, I felt, a fairly lim­ited knowl­edge or un­der­stand­ing for seafood,” Sus­man says.

De­spite its in­cred­i­ble flavour and nu­tri­tional ben­e­fits, fish doesn’t rate very highly when cook­ing at home. It’s not con­sid­ered a sta­ple, like chicken or beef, and many tend to ig­nore it.

There are 6,000 lo­cal marine species, but a very small num­ber of those are eaten in com­mer­cial quan­ti­ties. What’s more, we im­port al­most 70 per cent of the seafood we do con­sume.

New Zealand is, in fact, the largest sup­plier of fresh fish to Aus­tralia (its fish­ing grounds are more pro­duc­tive than ours), while our im­ports con­sist of mostly lower value bone­less fish, cala­mari, oc­to­pus and farmed prawns.

Sus­man hopes to in­spire a new­found ap­pre­ci­a­tion of na­tive species, sea­son­al­ity and prove­nance for home cooks and pro­fes­sional chefs alike.

“You walk into a butcher’s and they’ve got four an­i­mals there,” he says. “A fish­mon­ger has hun­dreds of dif­fer­ent an­i­mals. The level of culi­nary ad­ven­ture that you can have trawl­ing through them can never be un­der­es­ti­mated.”

Sus­tain­able seafood is in­creas­ingly be­com­ing the pro­tein of choice in lead­ing restau­rants, while catch­ing and han­dling meth­ods have be­come more im­por­tant than ever. Eco-con­scious chefs are elect­ing to fea­ture by­catch species on their menus – fish caught while tar­get­ing other more fa­mil­iar fare.

“I’m ex­cited about cat­fish, moon­fish and di­a­mond-scale mul­let,” says Ryan Squires, the in­ven­tive chef at Esquire and Esq in Bris­bane.

“The mul­let makes for a won­der­ful sashimi. It’s firm, crisp and has a phe­nom­e­nally high fat con­tent. It’s the wagyu of the ocean.”

Squires, who lives on the Gold Coast, starts his days with a text mes­sage at 2am. The alert comes from fish­er­men on a lo­cal boat, ad­vis­ing him when they’ll be ar­riv­ing back with their daily haul. That ex­change in­forms what he’ll be serv­ing in his restau­rants on the day.

“The sim­ple phi­los­o­phy we fol­low is that we buy off day boats,” he says. “We’ve never had a fish de­liv­ered di­rectly to our doorstep – we source di­rectly from rep­utable trawlers or fish­er­men.”

Like Sus­man, Squires wants to urge din­ers to ex­plore be­yond the species they might al­ready be fa­mil­iar with, and to sam­ple types of fish that are more sus­tain­able than tuna.

“Com­pla­cency is a big word in our restau­rants at the mo­ment; don’t get com­fort­able,” Squires says. “Some­times I ar­rive at the back door of the restau­rant in the mid­dle of lunch with a fresh catch of some­thing – but as if you wouldn’t want that fish.”

As any pescatar­ian will tell you, seafood is a healthy source of pro­tein and es­sen­tial fatty acids, and forms a vi­tal part of a good diet.

Shane Lan­don of the Heart Foun­da­tion says eat­ing the rec­om­mended weekly in­take of fish of­fers a range of health ben­e­fits.

Lan­don, a di­eti­cian, says that two to three serves of fish a week are suf­fi­cient to reap the re­wards.

“When I say a serve, I’m talk­ing about, for an adult, 150g or there­abouts,” Lan­don says. “With two to three serves a week, you’ll get be­tween 250-500mg of marine omega 3 fats on a daily ba­sis.

“Those sources of fats have been con­sis­tently shown to re­duce the risk of heart dis­ease and lower rates of sud­den car­diac death, stroke and heart fail­ure as a re­sult of higher fish in­take.”

While Lan­don ac­knowl­edges that most Aus­tralians might need to work to­wards reach­ing the rec­om­mended in­take, there are plenty of ways for home cooks to get caught up in Sus­man’s no­tion of a culi­nary ad­ven­ture.

A trip to any fish mar­ket could make all the dif­fer­ence.

“If peo­ple are ex­posed to the cul­ture of fresh fish, it’s a great ex­pe­ri­ence,” Lan­don says.

“It’s an eye-opener to see the va­ri­ety that’s avail­able and how for­tu­nate we are in Aus­tralia. Im­merse your­self in that and then go home with some fresh fish and give it a try.”

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