Get fresh with a fish
SCALES shimmer in the early morning light as fishmonger Wayne Slessor (pictured) leans towards the gathering crowd in front of his van at Brisbane Powerhouse’s twice-monthly market. It is slightly past 5am and already the market is packed. Exotic aromas fill the air and shoppers carrying brightly coloured bags overflowing with fresh fruit and vegetables and bunches of flowers weave around the throng at the fish van.
When a woman asks Slessor how to choose a good fish, he answers with the timing of a seasoned vaudevillian. ‘‘ Just imagine you’re choosing a boyfriend, love,’’ he says with a cheeky smile. ‘‘ Look for a sparkle in his eyes, he’s got to be nice and clean looking and firm in all the right places, you’ve got to want to take him home . . .’’
The crowd laughs and with a grin he hands over the chosen fish.
The first customers turn up here as early as 4am for the pick of the fish, many of which were in the ocean only hours earlier; most of what’s on sale will be gone by 6am. Slessor’s stall is always popular and in the holiday season, it is even busier.
Slessor has more than 30 years’ experience as a fishmonger. His first stall, at a busy London market, had conditions very different from those he encounters in Australia, especially during the northern winter when temperatures frequently dropped below zero and he would wear gumboots and stand in buckets of hot water to keep warm. There his wares were perfectly chilled even without the ice they sat on; in Queensland a customised van worth more than $145,000 is needed to keep the seafood fresh. Fortunately, consumers can make do with a standard refrigerator and good advice to safely store purchases.
When I ask Slessor for summer storage tips he explains it comes down to three things: temperature, air and time. Seafood should be kept at the same temperature as melting ice, so thermostats should be set to allow for the constant opening and closing of the fridge door that tends to take place during holidays. This constant escape of cool air from a refrigerator can quickly lead to spoilage, as can exposure to the air itself. Decanting into an airtight container as soon as possible is best. Seafood may remain edible for up to a week but, as quality deteriorates rapidly, it should ideally be consumed within 48 hours, when flavours are at their best.
Slessor says cooking comes down to the individual but there is no need to do anything fancy or use elaborate sauces. ‘‘ Don’t be afraid to keep it simple and let the natural flavour shine through,’’ he says.
Delicate fish such as coral trout ‘‘ comes up a treat’’, he says, served with quality asparagus and a few new potatoes. Slessor buys most of his produce from small suppliers and the original fishermen. A favourite is Rugged Randall, a chap who ventures out more than 60km in a glorified tinny most nights to catch kingfish, tuna, snapper and pearl perch. Randall’s dedicated customers request a call on his return to find out what’s been caught and to get in first.
Slessor visits a co-op at Cabbage Tree Creek four times a week to buy prawns straight from the trawlers. At Christmas, this is supplemented by an additional 5000kg from Cairns, worth more than $190,000. While prawns are always popular during the festive season, Slessor suggests customers look beyond this conventional fare and instead ask their fishmonger what is good. ‘‘ Like this pretty one from Princess Charlotte Bay,’’ says Slessor, holding up a red emperor. Clear, convex eyeballs, firm, tacky flesh and an aroma ‘‘ like the ocean’’ are also good signs. Salmon should have bright skin markings with a slight sheen and be a vivid pink when cut.
‘‘ Look closely, trust your instincts, and if you’re unsure, don’t buy,’’ he says.
Whether you prefer perch or whiting, tuna or mackerel, the best fish is always the fresh fish.
Brisbane Powerhouse, 119 Lamington St, New Farm. Markets open the second and fourth Saturday of each month from 6am.