It is going to be a seafood lover's Christmas this festive season with record low prices on some species combining with unprecedented access to delicacies we normally air freight to Europe and Asia.
The ongoing Chinese import ban on Australian lobster sees the local market flooded with these freshly caught crustacea from around the nation. Western Australian lobster, weighing about 400g, are already in supermarkets under $25.
Victorian southern rock lobster, considered some of the finest on the planet, once sold for prices greater than $160 a kilogram. This year it is possible to see find a large frozen specimen for under $70 per kilogram with freshly caught lobster selling this week for $90 a kilogram.
"The collapse of the Chinese market for a number of major exports is delivering some of the best value in other luxury Australian seafoods, including live coral trout," says seafood expert John Susman. The highly prized firm white fleshed fish is a beautiful specimen with pink skin and incredibly versatile in the kitchen from grilling, steaming to baking.
"The quality is outstandingly good," says Susman, "And, despite the lack of exports the fishers need to keep fishing, so the (domestic) price is keen." Prices have dropped from $90 per kilogram to some fishmongers offering fillets for $56 per kilogram.
The seafood bounty continues with new scallop grounds off Victoria's East Gippsland opened to commercial fishers for the first time supplying the market with large, plump sweet scallops.
Traditionally, our best scallops are air-freighted to France. But COVID trade disruptions has seen these exports curtailed, meaning the best scallops from Victoria and Tasmania are staying home this Christmas. Prices are round $35 per kilogram for shelled scallops.
The scallop bounty will offset the dearth of bugs and wild prawns that are at record high prices due to reduced quotas and increased demand.
It will, however, be a roaring season for tiger prawns, farmed on the Queensland coast. The big supermarkets have their orders in with the farmers and we are already seeing prices as low as $20 per kilogram for medium tiger prawns.
Larger, festive sized prawns will sell for around $35 per kilogram compared to wild-caught Mooloolaba king prawns are already pushing up to $60 per kilogram.
While South Australia's Coffin Bay oyster producing region was still closed for harvest this week due to a gastro outbreak, other oyster regions are producing quality oysters with the Sydney Rocks from South Coast of New South Wales fat, plump and ready for the big day.
Farmed mussels will still be a bargain at under $10 a kilogram while yabbies, native freshwater crayfish, are perfect for an all-Australian seafood table and offer good value. "I love their sweet flesh," says Melbourne chef Alejandro Saravia from Farmer's Daughters. They may be a little bit of work in the kitchen, but when the meat is cooked right there is way more flavour than a lobster, bugs and crabs. I love them cooked on the fire. They are king of crustaceans but so under rated!" Farmed yabbies are in the market for around $35 a kilogram.
Christmas Seafood Tips
- Labour issues on boats, farms, processing facilities and retail outlets mean that seafood supply could be patchy this season. "To ensure you don't miss out on your favourite Aussie seafood place an order with your local fishmonger early," says Seafood Industry Australia CEO Veronica.
- Take an Esky with you when you pick up your seafood packed with ice bricks, not loose ice. Loose ice melts faster and can 'drown' seafood if it's not wrapped properly.
- If buying live crustacea ensure you euthanize them humanely by placing them in the freezer for 30-60 minutes prior to cooking. New research proves many seafood species are sentient and feel pain.
- While lobster is being sold at historically low prices, it is still a luxury item. You can spread the joy by using the lobster meat in a salad, or by making lobster rolls, or trying dishes like lobster filled ravioli.
- Most seafood can be frozen. Thaw frozen seafood on a plate or in a container for 24 hours in the fridge. Slow thawing ensures better texture. Don't thaw seafood on the kitchen bench.
- Don't waste lobster shells, they are packed with flavour. Roast lobster shells, crush, cook in water with aromatic vegetables to make a stock for bisque or paella.
- Freeze used seafood shells and other fishy detritus until bin night to avoid post seafood feast fumes emanating from the garbage bin.
Good Food Christmas, starring Adam Liaw, airs today at 5.30pm on Channel 9 and 9Now.
The Good Food Guide 2022 magazine, with 350 reviews of Victoria's best restaurants, bars and cafes for summer, is on sale in newsagents and supermarkets from Tuesday December 7, $9.95