Get fresh with a fish

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Indulgence -

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.

Check­list

Bris­bane Pow­er­house, 119 Lam­ing­ton St, New Farm. Mar­kets open the sec­ond and fourth Satur­day of each month from 6am.

www.bris­banepow­er­house. org/events

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