Melbourne's best value local seafood for Easter (and how to cook it)

Josh Pearce, owner of The Fish Shoppe, with fresh King George whiting from Corner Inlet.
Josh Pearce, owner of The Fish Shoppe, with fresh King George whiting from Corner Inlet. Photo: Simon Schluter

With Easter less than a fortnight away, the seafood industry is gearing up for a bumper season. The message from fishmongers is loud and clear: order early to avoid disappointment.

"Good prawns are going to be in very short supply," says Josh Pearce, owner of The Fish Shoppe in South Melbourne Market and Collingwood.

Heavy rains caused by La Nina have resulted in juvenile prawns washed out of estuaries and into the sea to be eaten by fish. Normally they are a survivable size before heading to deeper water.

From left: Cooked king prawn, raw tiger prawn and raw banana prawn. Shellfish prices are expected to skyrocket this Easter.
From left: Cooked king prawn, raw tiger prawn and raw banana prawn. Shellfish prices are expected to skyrocket this Easter. Photo: Chris Hopkins

This means the wild prawn harvest has halved and the prices for eastern kings may skyrocket to about $60 a kilogram.

"Banana prawns are better value," says Pearce. "But they are best boiled and not barbecued because the shells stick [to the meat]. Buy tiger prawns if you want to barbecue. There's also great value in mussels at present, and they're in top condition at this time of the year."

He suggests putting mussels straight into a large pot with a splash of white wine, finely chopped garlic and a little fresh chilli. "Great with crusty bread."

Pearce specialises in ethical seafood sourced from Australia's south-east coast and he highly recommends seafood lovers consider garfish or King George whiting for the Good Friday table.

"Easter is later this year and we're heading into the cooler months. The fish are putting on fat to get through winter and so they're sweet, delicate and delicious."

His fish are sourced from Corner Inlet by fishers using old fashioned beach seine netting that doesn't damage the seagrass. "Those fishers  ... even go as far as replanting the seagrass beds."

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He suggests delicate a white fish such as King George whiting can be dusted in a little seasoned flour and quickly fried in butter.

Seafood industry consultant John Susman says the Australian seafood industry's export misfortunes continue to be a windfall for domestic consumers.

"With China still not taking our superb rock lobsters they continue to be great value," he says. "But don't expect the rock bottom prices we saw at Christmas."

Susman also recommends southern bluefin tuna this Easter. The revival of the Mediterranean northern bluefin tuna fishery means the Japanese have turned their attention to the beautifully marbled fish sourced off Spain. Demand for Australian tuna has fallen flat.

"Southern bluefin tuna is a full-flavoured fish with good fat, especially around the belly," says Susman, adding that the problem with tuna in domestic Australian kitchens is the lack of education on how to cook it.

The seafood expert says to bring the fish to room temperature, sear both sides, then rest, slice, and serve. "Don't be afraid of the raw interior of tuna cooked this way."

Concerning the all-important oyster, bivalve aficionados will be pleased to hear that Sydney rocks are fattening up perfectly for the long weekend.

"It's a joy to see the oysters looking so good," says Shane Buckley from Wapengo Lake Organic Oysters, north of Tathra on the NSW south coast.

"First there was the drought, then the fires which affected water quality in many oyster growing estuaries. Then COVID decimated demand. We were having a good summer, however big rains closed us down and caused the oysters to spawn."

Buckley says that recent stable weather and good water quality has led to oysters gaining weight and quality across the east coast. "This is going to be a very good Easter for Sydney rock oysters."

Pearce suggests shoppers keep their mind open and consider buying less loved species such as the sweet and tender duck fish, or alfonsino which is like a deep water version of snapper.

"And there's always a little string-tied tail roast of salmon stuffed with dill, parsley and tarragon," he says. "Great served drizzled with melted butter."

This story was originally published March 19. Extreme weather conditions and NSW floods may further affect seafood supply.