Nose-to-tail fish genius Josh Niland of Sydney's Saint Peter recently collaborated with chef Rick Stein for a Good Food reader event at Stein's eponymous restaurant at Bannisters in Port Stephens, NSW (stay tuned for his next reader dinner in August). Where the two seafood chefs differ in cooking style, they agree in principle: eat less, buy better. It's a sentiment worth being mindful of, especially with Good Friday just around the corner. On Niland's table, expect to see a whole fish roasted in a salt crust, with lots of condiments and sides. Perfect sharing food. Here he shares two simple fish recipes.
Fish and chips
The key to fantastic fish and chips is obviously choosing a great fish that's suitable to be coated in a batter and deep-fried. Fresh pink ling is perfect as it is robust, has dense, compact, sweet-tasting flesh, few pin bones and can be readily found. The batter is also important. Having worked with Heston Blumenthal as a stagier, I got to see his fish and chips. I was blown away by the logic of using vodka in a batter. More alcohol content means the liquid burns away faster, resulting in a crisp and, most importantly, delicious batter. You'll need to start this recipe a day ahead to soak the chips.
600g pink ling fillet, thickly sliced (7cm x 3cm), drained on paper towel
Yoghurt tartare sauce (see recipe), dill pickles and lemon cheeks, to serve
1.5kg sebago potatoes, scrubbed clean, skin on, cut into 1cm thick chips, soaked overnight in cold water and drained
cottonseed oil for deep-frying
Salt and vinegar onion rings
500ml (2 cups) malt vinegar
80g sea salt
2 tbsp caster sugar
4 onions, peeled and thickly sliced
50g rice flour, plus extra for dusting
400g rice flour
210g self-raising flour
10g baking powder
345ml vodka, preferably with 37 per cent alcohol
550ml beer, such as VB draught
1. To cook the chips, preheat oil in a deep-fryer or large saucepan to 140C. Cook chips in batches without colouring until potato blisters and small bubbles begin to appear along the surface (nine to 10 minutes). Drain and cool and dry on a wire rack over a tray in the fridge (one to two hours).
2. For salt and vinegar onion rings, bring vinegar, salt and sugar to a boil in a medium saucepan. Remove tiny centre rings from onion and reserve for another use. Gently separate outer rings into individual rings. Cook onion rings in two batches in the simmering pickle liquid until just softened (one minute). Remove onion rings into a bowl using a slotted spoon. Repeat until all onion rings are cooked.
3. For batter, combine flours and baking powder in a large bowl. Whisk vodka and honey in a jug to combine. Add vodka mixture and beer to flour and whisk to a consistency similar to double cream. If the batter becomes too thick, add a little more beer.
4. Preheat oven to 120C and preheat oil to180C. Deep-fry chips for a second time in batches until very crisp and golden (five to six minutes; be careful as hot oil may spit). Drain on absorbent paper and season with fine table salt. Place in low oven on an oven tray lined with baking paper to keep warm while you fry the rings and fish.
5. Dust onion rings lightly in rice flour, then coat in batter and carefully lower onion into the oil in batches so that the batter puffs up before the ring has a chance to sink, then deep-fry until light golden brown and crisp (one to two minutes; be careful as hot oil may spit), then season with salt and keep warm in oven.
6. Dust fish lightly in rice flour, coat in batter. Carefully place fish fillet into the oil and fry until golden brown and cooked through (two minutes; you may need to turn fish over midway through the cooking for even colouring). Serve immediately with yoghurt tartare and pickles.
Yoghurt tartare sauce
Fish and chips would be incomplete without a good tartare sauce and our tartare is made with yoghurt instead of mayonnaise, resulting in a cleaner, lighter sauce.
300g natural yoghurt
2 large golden shallots, finely chopped
80g cornichons, finely chopped
80g tiny capers in brine, finely chopped
1. Combine ingredients and mix well. Refrigerate covered in the fridge until serving.
Makes about 2 cups
Josh Niland's crumbed garfish. Photo: Brett Stevens
Crumbed garfish, yoghurt tartare and herb salad
4 x 200g whole garfish, scaled, gutted and gilled
1 cup plain flour
4 eggs, lightly whisked
2 cups white panko breadcrumbs
400ml clarified butter
salt flakes and freshly ground white/black pepper, to taste
6 lemon cheeks
yoghurt tartare sauce, to serve (recipe above)
herb salad with shallot dressing (recipe below)
1. Assuming you're right-handed (otherwise reverse these directions), place a fish on a chopping board with its head to your left and tail to your right. Draw your knife down the backbone of the fish from the head to the tail, cutting along one side of the bone.
2. Cut again to deepen the initial cut, carefully cutting all the way through to open up the fish, leaving the tail intact.
3. Repeat on the other side of the backbone then, using kitchen scissors, snip out the backbone to give a kite-shaped fish with the tail intact.
4. Use fish tweezers to remove pin bones and rib bones. Alternatively, depending on species, it may be easier to remove rib-bones with a filleting knife.
5. Preheat oven to 100C.
6. Place flour in one bowl, egg in another and breadcrumbs in a third. Holding it by the tail, dip one fish in flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs, pressing gently to coat it well. Place on a tray and repeat with remaining fish.
7. Heat a third of the clarified butter in a large frypan over a high heat. When hot, add two fish to the pan and fry for about two minutes, until crisp and golden, then turn and cook the other side for a further minute or so, until also crisp and golden. Place on an oven tray and put into the oven to keep warm.
8. Wipe out pan, melt half the remaining butter and use to cook two more fish. Place in oven and repeat with remaining butter and fish.
9. Sprinkle fish liberally with salt and pepper and place in the centre of large warmed serving plates. Serve with lemon cheeks, generous spoonfuls of yoghurt tartare sauce and herb salad on the side.
Any leftover shallot dressing will keep in an airtight container for up to a week.
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley leaves, picked
1 bunch dill leaves, picked
1 bunch chervil leaves, picked
1 bunch French tarragon leaves, picked
1 cup picked watercress leaves
1 cup wild rocket leaves
2 large butter lettuce, broken into bite-sized pieces
1 tsp castor sugar
35g thinly sliced golden shallot rings
140ml extra virgin olive oil
50ml chardonnay vinegar
1. To make the shallot dressing, combine the salt, sugar and shallot. Set aside for 10 minutes, then stir in oil and vinegar. Set aside.
2. Combine parsley, dill, chervil, tarragon, watercress, rocket and lettuce in a bowl.
3. Toss with enough shallot dressing to lightly coat the leaves.
Serves 6 as an accompaniment