Reviewed by Elizabeth Emanuel
It was with enormous excitement that I went to claim my review copy of the Australian Fish & Seafood Cookbook described as “the ultimate kitchen companion” by its authors, a formidable quartet of knowledgeable sea foodies. Award-winning providore John Susman, director of seafood supplier Fishtales, recognised that most of us have a limited knowledge of types and technique when it comes to cooking fish. Along with food writer and former chef, Anthony Huckstep, he set out to write a guidebook on Australian seafood to demystify its cooking and inspire consumers to be more adventurous. Enter Stephen Hodges, whose piscatorial genius is confirmed by Susman and the numerous glowing reviews from diners still online even though his snug Darlinghurst eatery, Fish Face, is now defunct after a doomed re-jig and transplant to Double Bay. He is regarded by many in the food industry as Australia’s best seafood chef. Assisted by Sarah Swan, chef and recipe developer who worked for Neil Perry’s Rockpool Group for 14 years, the team worked together to produce Australian Fish & Seafood Cookbook, a veritable bible of how to recognise, handle and cook our local seafood.
[Above shows Deep-Fried School Prawns with Aioli and Chilli Salt]
It is difficult to avoid hyperbole when discussing this book. Impeccably produced in a weighty hardback volume that is a pleasure to handle, Australian Fish & Seafood Cookbook contains a comprehensive A-Z guide with more than 130 recipes for anything you are likely to find at Sydney’s Pyrmont fish market, your local fish shop or on the end of a line in Australian waters. Beautiful colour plates of the individual species and the elegant restaurant-style dishes you can turn them into are matched by useful descriptions of characteristics and handling techniques in the kitchen. The recipes are unpretentious and easy to follow, delicious and quick, but intelligently informed by Hodges and Swan’s combined years of experience.
For example, try the steamed coral trout with almonds, pomegranate and prunes – sound complicated? Not really – with a handful of ingredients it takes less than half an hour to cook and looks spectacular. Or short of time? – the pan-fried abalone with zucchini and garlic takes about five minutes. Share my fondness for crab? Then the pot-roasted spanner crab with caramelized garlic and cracked pepper is a must. I could go on – I guarantee you will want to try all these recipes. Each as exciting as the one before and all appear invitingly simple to reproduce. The really remarkable thing about this book is that it instantly upskills you in the art of buying, handling and cooking seafood so you’ll feel confident to try dishes you never would have attempted before.
[Above shows Grilled Garfish Fillets with Cucumber and Anchovy Salsa]
As if that wasn’t enough, Australian Fish & Seafood Cookbook includes a valuable introduction to Australian seafood, advice on selection and storage and a discussion about sustainability. The end sections contain further instructions on preparation and techniques (e.g. how to cut sashimi from a fillet), with recipes for sauces, stocks and accompaniments to partner your seafood dish. These, combined with a detailed index, complete this excellent resource.
Australian Fish & Seafood Cookbook deserves a spot underneath everyone’s Christmas tree this year, whether they be the novice cook, gourmet chef, or just those who are addicted to gastro porn, you can’t go wrong. But don’t forget to buy a copy for yourself – this is the ultimate go-to seafood reference you’ll want to keep on your kitchen bench.
by John Susman, Anthony Huckstep, Sarah Swan and Stephen Hodges
AUD $79.99; 480pp