Josh Niland shares his 35-minute Christmas fish dish

Josh Niland's hot smoked salmon sandwich is a great way to use up leftover fish at Christmas (see recipe below).
Josh Niland's hot smoked salmon sandwich is a great way to use up leftover fish at Christmas (see recipe below). Photo: Christopher Pearce

The "fin to gill" philosophy of chef Josh Niland has seen hapuka eye chips and fish-fat chocolate caramel slice served at his Sydney restaurant, Saint Peter, while his Fish Butchery is the perfect place to pick up house-cured bass grouper guanciale. This year he became the first Australian to win the prestigious James Beard Book of the Year award with The Whole Fish Cookbook.

Four things in my fridge ... Christmas ham. Come December 1 there's always ham in the fridge. I like a bone-in leg; just something from the butcher that has not been wrapped in plastic. It goes a long way: sandwiches, jaffles or just a piece on its own.

Zucchini slice. My wife Julie makes a pretty mean one and it's a great way to smuggle vegetables into our three kids.

Saint Peter chef Josh Niland.
Saint Peter chef Josh Niland. Photo: James Brickwood

Garum. I make it at Saint Peter and steal it for home. Essentially, it's a high-quality fish sauce. You can stick it in anything; it's a soy that isn't soy.

Oomite. It's like Vegemite, only less one-dimensional, and has the same vibes as miso. I put a tablespoon into a yellowfin tuna chilli con carne recently and it made it more delicious.

I can't live without … salt. I've been gifted too many and some are a bit useless, to tell you the truth – I'm really not into hibiscus salt. But I've got a great smoked salt, a wet (or grey) salt and it's really hard to go past Olsson's Australian sea salt.

I'm embarrassed for you to see but I'll show you … the number of half-finished notebooks lying around. They're full of drawings, menus, dish ideas… it's a compulsive habit.

My favourite new gadget is … a steam oven. We moved into a new house at the start of the year and it already had one installed. An oven capable of steaming is pretty extraordinary to me. When I steam a whole fish, I no longer have to put up with a bamboo steamer's cold spots. This is far more consistent.

My go-to midnight meal is … avocado on toast. You need sliced sourdough, not too thick, oiled and put in the sandwich press; then you portion around half an avocado per slice of bread. I'm a slicer, not a masher. You shouldn't be able to see the bread from the top. And: aggressive seasoning.


My go-to drink is … Champagne. It's good to keep some on ice, as there is a lot to celebrate about life out of lockdown. And if a bottle doesn't get finished, it can be turned into a fantastic jelly that can be added to a trifle.

I take my caffeine… as a piccolo. My wife and the kids got me an espresso machine for my birthday. It was a smart move because it stops me heading into work early to get a coffee.

My new favourite hero ingredient is … the sardine. There's a guy called Luke who line-catches them on the NSW mid North Coast. He sells them under the Nautical Seafood label and they're absolutely amazing.

The easiest meal to impress your guests at Christmas is … a whole rotisserie-barbecued fish. Use a fish like coral trout or Murray cod; oil its skin and season it but don't add anything else. Your guests will arrive to something that looks and tastes amazing, and it takes 35 minutes, tops.

Serve it with vegetables – consider trying whole celeriac that have been cooked in the charcoal beneath – and lots of salads.

If there's any fish left over, mix the flesh the next day with tarragon mayo on a white bread roll. People have to get over thinking you can't have leftovers of fish.

You'll never catch me with … a menu for next week. You have to shop and cook with what's good on the day.