1. Which fish are good to buy whole?
I love reef fish whole, the fillet yield is quite low, but the flesh around the head and fins is fatty and tasty. Fish like bass, grouper, coral trout, red emperor, sweet lip and any of the emperor family are beautiful with white flesh and thin skin which makes them ideal. One exception is snapper which is great whole. The smaller species, like anchovies, whiting, yakka and whitebait are great fried crisp and whole.
2. What are three tips to cooking whole fish?
Use slow and even heat. Ensure the thinner parts like the tail are better protected. When checking if it is cooked check the thicker end of the fish just behind the gills. It is the thickest part of the fish and if that is cooked then the rest will be too.
3. What do you look for when buying whole fish?
The fish should have a natural layer of slime covering it, once this is gone the fish may still be good but it will not be super fresh. They should be in a state of rigour with clear eyes, although it is not always an indicator, as if the fish is caught out at sea and is placed in a slurry of ice and salt the eyes may go cloudy but they should not be sunken. The fish scales should be shiny and firm to touch with no unpleasant odours.
4. How should we select mussels, prawns and oysters?
Mussels should be heavy and closed, prawns should have no black in their heads, long tentacles and no head droop. This means they should be firmly connected to the body. If they smell like ammonia do not purchase them. Oysters should be live, or if they are shucked, they should be plump and nearly translucent. A just-opened oyster contains a bit of water from the source. If the oysters are live then the fishmonger will only be able to buy them from clean waters.
5. What are most underrated/underused fish?
Much smaller fish are neglected as people tend to opt for the larger ones when shopping. Ocean perch is beautiful whole when fried crisp and leather jacket trunks are great on the barbecue. Sole or flounder are beautiful, lightly flavoured and easily grilled. Bonito is an excellent fish — on the first day, it can even be used for sashimi, followed by a beautiful curry the next.
6. What fish should we go out and try and how should we prepare it?
Definitely try bonito. This hot sour, peppery dish, ambul thial was originally developed as a way to preserve fish in the south of Sri Lanka and its a favourite. It is best to use any dense, oily fish such as bonito, tuna or mackerel. Handy tip: the best way to take skin off a fish is by moving the skin not the knife. Get the recipe here.
7. What are the biggest mistakes people make when buying fish?
Not spending the time to discuss it with the fishmonger; not keeping it cool on the way home and then blaming the shop or the fish.
8. What are the biggest mistakes people make when preparing fish?
Overcooking it or making the sauce taste stronger than the fish.
9. Any other handy tips to keep in mind?
Keep it chilled, use your seafood on the day of purchase and eat more of it!