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Australian Conservation Society conducted a sustainable seafood assessment project over the 2009-10 summer.  One of the five studies was the assessment of squid from the Hawkesbury River. My local river is the Richmond, not too much further north and fished in the same way, so I was really happy to see that squid was listed as sustainable.

In fact most sources list squid as sustainable – they breed fast, die young, and may even be over-filling their niche, sadly because their predators are being fished to extinction.  They’re a good source of omega 3, better even than canned tuna and a lot more sustainable.

The Recipe:

This recipe used 8 medium-smallish whole squid – 500 grams all up with their heads and tentacles on. This amount fed four of us for a dinner party, with a couple of side salads. It would also make a fine entreè for eight.  Beware of using squid that are too small as they are hard to stuff without tearing.

First you need to clean and process the squid.  This is easier than it sounds in instructions!

You will find that if you pull the tentacles firmly, the head and tentacles will separate from the tube.

To process the head bit, cut below the eyes and discard the head and the guts.  Push the beak out from between the tentacles and discard it.  Put the tentacles aside for mincing.

To process the tube bit, being careful not to make holes in it, feel for and remove the quill (the see-through plastic-like feather inside the tube). Wash inside well to remove any remaining gut.

Stuffing:

Mince the tentacles in a food processor or by chopping finely.

Mix with

  • one-third of a cup uncooked rice
  • one onion finely diced
  • lots of garlic
  • a chili, finely diced
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh herbs – I used oregano and lemon thyme
  • salt and pepper
  • a finger lime squeezed out, or a tablespoon of lemon or lime juice

Fill the tubes with the stuffing.  Don’t overfill (the rice will expand in cooking), and close the tops with a skewer.

Sauce:

Saute a finely diced onion in a little olive oil.

Ad lots of finely chopped garlic, then:

  • a jar of tomato passata
  • 1 cup of water
  • a good swig of white wine if you have it
  • juice of ½ a lemon

Cook the sauce down for a few minutes to soften the tomatoes.

Put a little olive oil in the bottom of a heavy pot with a  lid and arrange the filled tubes in it.  Pour over the sauce.  Bake, covered for 1 ½ hrs, or simmer over a very low heat on the stovetop, watching at the end that it doesn’t boil dry. Add a little more water, or take the lid off to allow it to reduce, so that the sauce is nice and thick.

Slice the squid into decorative slices and serve on a bed of the sauce.

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A high level international workshop has just released a report warning that the combination of global warming (with the oceans warming faster than the land now), excess nutrients (from run-off from chemical fertilizers and urban sewerage), overfishing, and acidification is causing the collapse of whole ecosystems and setting us up for marine mass extinction the likes of which we haven’t even imagined yet.

There’s models in the past.  The same set of circumstances, probably caused that time by an extreme event like a comet or a huge volcanic eruption or a wobble in the earth’s orbit, magnified by feedback loops, caused the last mass extinction in the Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum period.  It’s stunning to think we are living through an event that will go down in geological history, recorded in the rocks of the earth.

And it’s all so easily avoidable. The pricing of carbon is not even designed to make people poorer, just to encourage them to actually look at old habits and decide if they are worth anything. It drives me nuts that anybody would say they are not willing to pay anything to combat global warming.

(I should add that it also drives me nuts that the media reports seem to imply that a lot of people think this way, when in fact it is unfortunately bigger than last survey but still a measly 33% – the vast majority of people believe it is a clear and pressing issue and they’re personally willing to put their hand in their pocket to address it). Check it out.  Here’s the original data).

Quite apart from the ethical issue of trashing the earth for future generations, there is the simple self interest involved in “spending a penny to save a pound”.  I guess we all know people who make this mistake in lots of ways, who don’t get their car serviced until it breaks down on the highway and has to be towed at ridiculous expense, who are in denial about the need to spend real money at the dentist until it turns into real money. But we don’t hold them up as opinion leaders!

We’ll pay.  We’ll pay one way or another.  Physics doesn’t take any notice of opinion polls. We’ll get to choose to pay through modifying our wasteful consumption habits, or we’ll pay through increased prices for everything produced from our natural resources (which means everything).  As fish species become extinct, what price will a takeaway of fish and chips reach?

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The bloke came back from fishing with three tailor, and a great big Australian salmon. Tailor are one of my very favourite fish.  They are listed as sustainable, they’re a good source of Omega 3, and they are such a good eating fish that it is a bit of a pity to do anything more to them than fillet, fry, and serve with lemon wedges and a good salad. And then use the frames for stock for a soup.

Salmon though are another matter.  Australian salmon are not a salmon at all, but a sea perch, and though sustainable, they are notoriously not a prized table fish.   If fresh caught, bled, skinned, and filleted to remove the dark “blood” meat,  the flavour is good – strong but good.  The texture is more the problem.  They are a bit chewy and soft at the same time.  Only one way to honour the life of an Australian salmon by really enjoying eating it! (Actually there’s two – they are really good smoked, but that’s for another day).

The Recipe:

This made a big pot of stew that would feed four for dinner easily.  We were greedy and ate the leftovers for lunch the next day.

Dice (not too finely)and bring to the boil in a large pot:

  • 2 onions
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 potato
  • 2 stalks of celery
  • 5 cloves of garlic
  • 2 chilis
  • 2 tablespoons of chopped herbs (oregano, marjoram, thyme)
  • 10 pitted olives
  • 1 cup of white wine
  • 600 grams of fresh chopped tomatoes (or a can of tomatoes)
  • 1 piece of preserved lemon, finely chopped (or substitute 1 teaspoon of grated lemon rind)

Simmer for 10 minutes or so, until the carrot and potato are just starting to get soft, then add 700 grams of Australian salmon fillets (skinned, white meat only) chopped into large chunks.

Continue simmering for 5 minutes or so, until the salmon is just cooked. Taste and add salt to taste.

Meanwhile, make the dressing.

The Dressing:

(Does anyone know what this is called?  I’m sure it must be a traditional idea somewhere in the Mediterranean).

In a food processor, blend together:

  • 3 big sprigs of parsley, stripped from the stems.
  • 1 spring onion, greens and all
  • 1 slice of good bread
  • juice of a lemon
  • pinch of salt
  • little swig of good olive oil

Ladle the stew into bowls, sprinkle the dressing on top and serve.

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Bream is not one of my favourite fish, but it’s one of the easier ones to catch, and Lewie likes fishing. Bream are a good source of omega 3 and listed as sustainable, so it’s very unfortunate that they’re a bit bland and soft for my taste.  I could never get appropriately excited about the catch until I discovered just how easy Thai Fish Cakes are to make – easy enough to knock up after a day at the beach and good enough for me to properly praise the fisherman!

The Recipe:

It’s a good idea to make the dipping sauce first, because like many Asian dishes, this comes together really fast.

Cucumber Dipping Sauce

In a small pan, dry roast 2 dessertspoons of chopped macadamias or (more traditionally) peanuts.

In a small saucepan bring to the boil:

  • ¼ cup white vinegar
  • 3 dessertspoons sugar
  • chili, deseeded and finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons fish sauce
  • the 2 dessertspoons of roasted chopped macadamias.

Cook for a few minutes, then take the pot off and put it in the sink with some water to cool down.

Deseed and finely dice about 3 dessertspoons of cucumber. When the vinegar is cool, stir in the cucumber.

While it is cooling, you can be making the fish cakes

Fish Cakes

This can all be done in a food processor.  Mine will do it all in one go, but you may like to do it in two batches the first time just to test your  food processor. It makes about 20 cakes.

First batch:

  • 350 grams of fish fillets with no bones (Use the skeleton for stock for Lao Style Fragrant Fish Soup, and you won’t resent wasteful filleting)
  • 1 chili minus seeds
  • 3 dessertspoons fish sauce
  • 3 dessertspoons lime cordial (or 3 teaspoons lime juice and 3 teaspoons brown sugar)
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • small knob of ginger and/or galangal

You can also add the white part of a stem of lemon grass or a couple of kaffir lime leaves if you have them and you like a strong citrus flavour (but go easy – it can be overpowering).

Blend this lot into a smooth paste.

Second batch:

I can just change the blade in my food processor for a grater and carry on into the same bowl.  But you may want to empty the fish paste into a bowl to check the texture your food processor delivers the first time you do this. You want this second batch to be very finely chopped or grated rather than a paste.

  • 2 small or 1 large spring onion
  • half a dozen snake beans
  • 1/3 cup packed coriander and/or Thai basil

Mix the two batches together.

Thai fish cakes are small – take a heaped teaspoon of the mixture and drop it on a plate of flour. Sprinkle flour on top and you will be able to pat the cake into a small, flat patty.

Heat a little oil in a pan – I use olive oil although it is not very traditional, just because I use it for almost all cooking. Fry the cakes in hot oil for just two minutes or so on each side until golden and puffed up.

Serve hot straight out of the pan with the dipping sauce.

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I remember when I was quite a small child my grandfather had a shack on Bribie Island.  Just before dusk, he would take his rod and walk down to the beach.  We kids would play in the shallows and barely have time to make a sandcastle before it was time to head back with a bucket full of whiting fillets.  My grandmother would have the batter made and the frypan ready, with never a thought of the possibility that he may not have caught fish.

We all want our children to live better, healthier, wealthier lives than we do.  Yet experiences like this are true wealth and why it is so important to think about the sustainability of the seafood we eat.  Whiting are still listed as sustainable, despite the fact that you can’t catch them like that any more.  Australian Marine Conservation Society says they are “heavily fished across much of the range but a robust, fast-growing group of species showing stable landings”.

Whiting are low fat, delicate fish easily overcooked.  I reckon my grandmother had (nearly) the perfect method.  I’m on a semolina roll lately, so I have used semolina rather than flour in the batter, but you could substitute wholemeal self-raising flour.  And I have added some herbs to the batter – not too many – you don’t want to overwhelm the flavour.

We ate this platter of fillets in our fingers, with a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkle of salt, cherry tomatoes on the side, and a cold beer.

The Recipe:

For 500 grams of whiting fillets, I beat together:

  • 1 egg
  • ¼ cup semolina
  • a tablespoon of finely chopped fresh herbs (dill, parsley, chives, lemon thyme)
  • enough water to make a batter

Tip all the fillets into the batter bowl and use your hand to mix through, coating each fillet more or less in batter.

Heat a centimetre of olive oil in a pan and fry the fillets quickly till golden.  Drain on brown paper.  Sprinkle with salt and lemon juice and eat fresh and hot.

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We stopped in at a fish shop on the way home from visiting our daughter at the coast yesterday.  I had just bought a half kilo of squid, thinking calamari, when I noticed they had snapper frames at a ridiculously low price.

Snapper are listed as a sustainable catch, and I like the idea that, when you hunt an animal for food you really should eat all of it.  So I bought two head-and-backbone frames for next to nothing, and this is the result.  Of course then we had to invite people for dinner.  The recipe fed four of us, generously, served with crusty bread, and with the spring vegetables from the garden and the rich, smoky paprika flavoured fish stock it was very good.

The Recipe:

I don’t think my fish stock recipe is in the chef’s manual, but it works.  I just put the frames in my large pressure cooker, cover with water, and pressure cook over a very low flame for an hour.  Then I strain the stock, pressing down with a potato masher to get the last of the juice, and leaving the the heads and bones for the compost.

To 1 ½ litres fish stock (from 2 snapper frames), I added:

  • 2 onions, diced
  • 6 cloves of my new season fresh garlic roughly chopped
  • ½ cup shelled young broad beans
  • 5 stalks celery, diced
  • 1 jar of peeled tomatoes
  • 6 stalks of cavallo nero kale diced
  • 4 bay leaves
  • a heaped teaspoon of smoky paprika

I simmered this for 20 minutes or so, then added

  • 3 zucchini, diced
  • 6 small new season potatoes quartered
  • handful of dill, chopped
  • juice of half a lemon
  • salt and black pepper

I simmered this for another 10 minutes until the potato was tender, then added the half a kilogram of squid, cut into rings, brought it just up to the boil again, then turned it off.  By the time I had bowls organised, the squid was cooked.

Served with warm crusty bread.

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After all the drought years of the last decade, We have just recently spent a small fortune lining our dams so we have water security.  As a side benefit, it also means we can now try out growing  fish.

During our time in Cuba, we realised just how productive aquaculture can be.  Cubans grow mostly tilapia and nowadays clarias catfish, neither of which are spectacular eating quality and both of which are potential environmental problems.  They do, however grow in tiny little garden ponds, live on weeds and insects, grow spectacularly fast, and are a good source of protein.

We’ve decided to try Australian native silver perch, which supposedly are excellent eating quality and will grow successfully in our relatively small dam.  They are native to the Murray-Darling system, but since they need flowing water and migration to breed, they are now listed as vulnerable.  They won’t breed successfully in the still water of our dam, but hopefully they will grow and in a year or two we will be able to begin eating them.

They should survive and grow on just the natural food available in the dam ecosystem.  The biggest threat is likely to be wild ducks and other birds that might decide they are part of the food chain too.

We bought 100 fingerlings from a fish hatchery called Aquablue Seafoods near Newcastle.  They work out at just over $1 each,  arrived overnight in a polystyrene box, and we’ve now released them into the dam.  It will be interesting to see how they go.

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This all started with a successful day my partner had fishing for tailor.  Tailor are listed as a sustainable choice, and they’re one of my very favourite fish – high in Omega 3, firm fleshed and tasty without being too strong.

The fillets fed ten people for dinner, and the heads and frames went into the pressure cooker on the slow combustion stove overnight.  In the morning I strained the result through a colander and was left with a big pot of beautifully rich stock.

There is something very satisfying about using the whole of an animal that is killed for food, and even more so when it leads to this.  The bouillabaisse fed another dinner party of eleven people, so those fish made a total of over 20 meals. I felt like a very good predator!

Tailor is an oily fish, so it makes a better stock for a rich, Mediterranean soup than the white fish I used for the Lao Style Fragrant Fish Soup a little while ago.

The Recipe:

Serves 10 as a dinner party.

The Stock:

You need a good strongly flavoured fish stock for this recipe.  Oily fish like tailor or mullet are perfect.  I used the heads and frames (after the fillets had been removed) from 6 large tailor.  I just put them in my large pressure cooker, covered with water, and pressure cooked over a very low flame for an hour.  Then I strained the stock, pressing down with a potato masher to get the last of the juice, and leaving the the heads and bones for the compost. I ended up with 2½ litres of good strong stock.  This can be frozen.

The Soup Base

In a little olive oil in a large pot, saute:

(All finely diced, and adding them in this order)

  • 2 onions
  • 2 leeks
  • 2-3 large sticks of celery
  • 4-5 cloves of garlic
  • 1 teaspoon of fennel seeds

Add the fish stock and 2 cups or so of tomato passata.

Add in

  • 5 or 6 of bay leaves
  • A couple of sprigs of parsley (whole)
  • A couple of sprigs of thyme (whole)
  • the peel of an orange (whole or in strips)
  • the juice of an orange
  • a pinch of saffron strands

Simmer for half an hour or so. Fish out the herbs and the orange rind.

Embellishing

Ten minutes before serving time, bring the soup up to the boil and add about 2 kg of mixed fish and shellfish in bite sized pieces.  Traditionally bouillabaisse has prawns and clams, but it works just as well and is much more ethical and sustainable to use Moreton Bay bugs, calamari, blue swimmer crabs and/or mussels.  I like to use nearly all fish, with just a  little  shellfish to create variety.

Taste and add salt and pepper to taste.

Place a slice of a good, crusty sourdough bread in each bowl and ladle the soup over it.  Sprinkle with parsley.  If you include crab, provide finger bowls and napkins, so people can use fingers to get at the meat.

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It’s getting a bit cold now of an evening for barbeques, but my partner still loves fishing. Fish soup is a great way to make a dinner party of the catch, and using the whole fish –  head, bones and all – I feel like an ethical predator.

This recipe works really well with bony fish like luderick (black fish) that have a bit of depth of flavour but are laborious to fillet.  It also works well with flathead or winter whiting (all of which are sustainable catches).

The recipe looks more complicated than it is – lots of ingredients can be substituted or left out – and although you need a few hours simmering time, there is very little actual work in it.

The Recipe

Clean and scale the fish and cut a few fillets off and put them aside.  You don’t need to worry about getting all the meat – the frame will be going into stock – but you do need to be sure to get no bones.  Bones in fish soup are not good!

Put the rest of the fish – head, bones and all – into a pot with a tight fitting lid, and cover with water.  This recipe uses 10 cups of water to cover the fish, and serves four generously for dinner, or more as an entree, so adjust your quantities to suit.

The rest of the stock ingredients just need to be roughly chopped, as you are going to strain them anyway.  To the pot, add:

  • 4 chillis, halved and seeds removed (or less, depending on how hot your chillis are)
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 2 thumbs ginger peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 thumb turmeric peeled and roughly chopped (or a teaspoon of  powder)
  • 4 stalks lemon grass, just the white part at the bottom
  • 4 kaffir lime leaves (or leave them out and add more lime juice at the end)
  • a swig of olive oil (to catch the oil soluble aromatics)

Put the lid on and simmer gently for several hours, then strain, pressing down to squeeze out all the juice.

Bring the stock back up to simmer, and add:

  • the reserved fish fillets, chopped into bite sized pieces
  • rice noodles, more for a dinner, less for an entree
  • 4 desertspoons of fish sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 4 desertspoons of chopped fresh dill (or a teaspoon of dried dill)
  • 4 desertspoons of chopped fresh coriander
  • 4 desertspoons of chopped spring onions
  • 1 shredded bok choy and/or 1 cup fresh mung bean sprouts
  • 8 or so mushrooms, chopped

Simmer gently for just a few minutes until the fish and noodles are cooked.  Taste and add lemon or lime juice and salt to taste.

Serve with a sprinkle of coriander on top.  I added a bit of amaranth as well, just for the colour.

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