Sydney Fish Market gets ready for Christmas 2012. Con Doukas from Musumeci holds up a large Mud Crab from North Qld.
Impress with something different this Christmas ... Con Doukas from Musumeci Seafoods holds up a large mud crab from North Queensland. Photo: Peter Rae

With seafood a prized feature on most Australian Christmas menus, the question on everyone's lips as the big day approaches is: "what are the best buys this season?"

Seafood expert John Susman of consultancy firm Fisheads says prawns, salmon and oysters are the top buys for Christmas and consumers should take advantage of this year's uncharacteristically late Pacific oyster season.

Sydney Fish Market gets ready for Christmas 2012. Sydney Rock Oysters at Christies Seafood.
Christmas favourite ... Sydney rock oysters at Christie's Seafood. Photo: Peter Rae

“Luckily enough Pacific oysters, which would normally be out of season by now, have held on,” Susman says.

“In terms of Sydney rock oysters… parts of Tasmania are closed due to a shellfish [disease] outbreak but there's still plenty of really good oysters coming from pretty much every estuary on the east coast.”

Prawns are a perennial favourite, with wild king prawns from South Australia, northern New South Wales and Queensland, and tiger prawns from Western Australia in good supply.

Greg Imisides from Claudios  holds a Kingfish.
King of the seas ... Greg Imisides from Claudio's Quality Seafoods brandishes a kingfish. Photo: Peter Rae

“There's also black tiger prawns from Asia, which offer good value for people looking for a more modestly priced prawn,” Susman adds.

Tasmanian Atlantic salmon and New Zealand king salmon are both in season.

“I think it's great this time of year to buy a whole salmon and just poach or roast it and whack it in the middle of the Christmas table rather than your traditional turkey or ham – or maybe put it beside the turkey or ham, depending on how hungry you are,” Susman says.

Sydney Fish Market gets ready for Christmas 2012.  Tran Nguyen holds up Large Cooked Tiger prawns from the Clarence River at Claudio's
Bucketloads of prawns ... Tran Nguyen of Claudio's shows off large cooked tiger prawns from the Clarence River. Photo: Peter Rae

For those looking to impress with something different, Susman recommends thinking outside the net and asking your fishmonger which wild-caught products are available that day.

“Calamari or octopus are good options and other seafood like mussels and clams are really easy. They come flamed, purged and ready to go in the pot, which means during an ad break in the cricket you can rustle up some lunch."

At the Sydney Fish Market's 36-hour Christmas marathon, which runs from December 23-24, more than 100,000 customers are expected to purchase 600 tonnes of seafood, including close to 100 tonnes of prawns and 70,000 dozen oysters.

Sydney Seafood School manager Roberta Muir says mud crabs, rock lobsters, snapper and farmed yellowtail kingfish are always a good choice this time of year, while cuttlefish makes “a great value alternative” to squid and octopus.

“If people are keen to shuck their own oysters, that's a great thing to do. You can buy your oysters live and keep them in the warmest part of the fridge, covered with a damp cloth, and just shuck them as you want to eat them,” Muir says.

For those wanting to extend their seafood feast as long as possible, Muir recommends smoked trout and smoked salmon or sashimi-grade fish, which is the freshest and highest quality.

“It has a longer shelf life and will also keep after Christmas, although after 24 hours you don't want to be eating it as sashimi, you want to be cooking it up as you would another kind of fish,” she says.

As for where to buy these Christmas table treats: “Most good suburban fish shops will be well stocked and the supermarkets have done a pretty good job of getting themselves well stocked for Christmas,” Susman says.

“Actually, there's some real bargains to be had at the supermarkets, to be brutal about it.”

Tips for buying seafood

Keep it cold. Take an Esky with you and ask the fishmonger to pack your purchase with ice. When you get home, put your seafood in the coldest part of the fridge.

Buy your seafood as close as possible to when you want to eat it. The Sydney Fish Market 36-hour Christmas marathon - from 5am on December 23 until 5pm on December 24 - is designed for exactly this purpose.

Price guide

“The next five days are the most unique time in seafood buying, so the pricing and availability will be different to other times of the year,” says seafood expert John Susman.

Wild product tends to fluctuate more than farmed product, however these prices provide a rough guide for what to expect at the fishmonger's this season.

Oysters

$13-$16 per split dozen; $11-$13 per unopened dozen

Salmon

$15-$16 per kilo, whole

Sashimi-grade salmon

$45-$50 per kilo

Snapper

$15-$17 per kilo, whole

Prawns

From $12 per kilo for imported varieties up to $50 per kilo for fresh, wild ocean king prawns

Calamari

$22-$25 per kilo, fresh

Octopus

$16-$18 per kilo for fresh large octopus

Cuttlefish

$10-$12 per kilo

Mud crab

$40-$43 per kilo

Prices sourced from John Susman and Sydney Fish Market retailers Musumeci Seafoods, Nicholas Seafoods and Peter's Fish Market on December 18 and 19.