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Cooking with fish

You can, if you like, simply serve with lemon butter and parsley, or use one of the sauces in the Sauces chapter.

Customers sometimes say: "We cook fish at home but cannot get it to taste the same as when we have it at the restaurant. Why?"
Naturally, we buy large fish for the restaurants and fillet them in thicker portions ready for frying or grilling. This also means the bones are easier to take out. With your small family, you do not need fish of this proportion, and you buy small fillets of fish, and generally just flour it, put a little oil in the pan and fry it too quickly. Because the fish is so delicate, it needs only a few minutes in the oil, and when you do not have any covering on it, it dries even more quickly. You get disappointed with your small fillets of fish and start to get frustrated picking bones out of your mouth. Spend a little extra time in selecting fish, and if you happen to have bones in the fish you have, take out as many as you can first. This goes for grilling, too. And remember the following hints:

The fresher the fish, the better the dish.

Please handle your fish with tender loving care. Don't fry or grill it with gay abandon stay at your stove so you can regulate the heat and therefore have a perfect result. Delicate seafood cooks very quickly.
Remember that small fish or fillets with a lot of bone are best pan-fried, steamed or grilled and served simply, without thick sauces. Fillets or steaks of large fish such as jewfish, snapper and barramundi are good for dishes that contain a lot of sauce, and if fried or grilled should always be served with a sauce as they tend to be dry. You will find plenty of good sauces in the Sauces page.

Before cooking, check that the fish is perfectly cleaned, and remove any odd scales that might have been overlooked. Remove as many bones as you can.
The recipes in this section sometimes specify a particular kind of fish, and at other times give a choice, or do not specify at all. Remember that you can always substitute one kind of fish for another. just use a similar type of fish to the one in the recipe. If you're not sure of a substitution in season-ask your friendly fishmonger!
The section at the back of the book, Buying and Keeping Fish, will give you information on some of the more common table fish, including their flesh type, availability in different states, and the names by which they are known in different states.

Deep-Fried Fish

Fried fish and chips
for dinner is a good get-together family meal. Bring out your large serving plates for fish and vegetable dishes to hold the hot chips. Put out plates of cut-up lemons, bread or rolls already buttered, tartare and creamy tomato cocktail sauce, even worcestershire sauce (lots of people like this) and vinegar, plus salad, if you like.
Hot plates are essential. Everybody sits down together and serves themselves from the centre plates piled high with fish and chips.
Cool watermelon, rockmelon (canteloupe), honeydew, paw-paw or whatever fruits are in season make the perfect dessert after a fish and chips meal.
The secret of deep-frying is to use plenty of fresh oil. All oil (if any is left) should be discarded after frying fish because of the sediment remaining in the pan. The type of oil to use is a matter of choice. Olive oil is perfect, as the fish is still very tasty and enjoyable when cold. I think it is the only oil that keeps the fish like this. Olive oil is, however, not to everybody's taste, and is not polyunsaturated but mono-unsaturated. Most people use one of the polyunsaturated oils such as safflower or sunflower oil for deep-frying.
For those who have no dietary problems and can cat or fry in animal fats, a delicious frying fat is beef dripping. We do not use it in the restaurants, but as 1 said in the introduction, 1 think the best fish and chips I have ever tasted were my mother's -cooked in pure beef dripping. But be warned, you must have it fresh every time you cook your fish, and discard the residue. Obtain your beef dripping from the butcher or make it yourself from beef suet. If you are rendering down the beef suet, please be careful, and do not burn yourself or the suet in the process. Never when deep-frying or pan-frying should you leave your pan with the heat full on. If you are called away, remove it from the stove, and at all times have handy a heavy lid that fits over the pan or saucepan. If you have a fire, do not run outside with the pan, but put the lid on immediately to smother the flame and turn the heat off.
Use a deep, heavy-gauge saucepan-one that you make your jam in or use to cook the winter steamed pudding.
Half-fill your pan with whatever oil you prefer. Heat the oil until very hot but not boiling. Some people say to look for that blue flame that comes from the oil in the pan and put the fish in when it appears. I can honestly say that in all the years I have been cooking fish and observed it cooking in the large deep-fryers, I have never seen that flame. I certainly have the oil very, very hot when I carefully place the fish in, but not boiling. If the oil was boiling the fish would be ruined -cooked on the outside immediately and raw inside, especially thick fish.
Coat your fish with a good batter (see below). Using your tongs, fingers or a slice, place battered fillets of fish in very hot oil and cook for 5 to 10 minutes, depending on the size, until golden brown. Do not try to cook too many fillets at once.
Remove fillets from pan. Drain and, if necessary, place on a serving plate in a very low oven to keep warm while you cook the rest of the fish. Do not pile the cooked fillets on top of one another, or they will become soggy.

Doyle's Deep-frying Batter

There are so many different recipes for making batter for coating fish, croquettes, fish cakes, shellfish, etc. Once you find the one you like, I suggest you stick with it, as we have.
Anyway, as requested so many times and told so many times to people from all parts of the world, here is the Doyle's batter recipe. It is so simple. The "secret" is in the beating. Say, 1/2 cup to 1 cup plain flour.
1 cup cold water, gradually increasing to about 2 cups
Place the flour in a basin with the 1 cup of water, then with a rotary hand-held beater start beating. Gradually add your extra cup of water and beat until you get plenty of "body" into that batter. You may have to add more water. The result has to be a thin, smooth, well bodied batter that adheres to a wooden spoon.
Keep testing by dipping the spoon in and letting the batter drop slowly back into the mixture. If it drops slowly it's OK and ready to use.
Our only other "secrets" are plenty of beautiful, fresh clean oil and the fish to go with it.

Another Frying Batter

Put 125 g (4 oz) flour and 1/2 teaspoon of salt into a basin, gradually add 1/2 cup tepid water and 1 tablespoon vegetable oil or clarified butter, and mix into a smooth batter. If time permits, put batter aside for about 1 hour, then just before using, lightly stir in two stiffly whisked egg whites.

Late Press Special

After all my years of battering fish, Tim, our youngest son, has just told me:
"Mum, I think I have worked out the best batter of all." "What is it, Tim?"

Tim's Batter

(It takes time to make the perfect batter, but you know the old saying: "If it's worth doing, it's worth doing well.")

340ml (small can) light beer

2 eggs yolks

1 soupspoon olive oil

pinch salt and pepper

175 g (2 cups) best-quality plain flour

Mix all ingredients together, adding flour last. Using a hand-held beater or whisk, beat until smooth. (If you like a fluffier batter, the beaten egg whites can be folded in last thing.)
Coat fish lightly in plain flour, and dip into batter. Fish pieces should not be too large, an d don't overload your deep-fryer with cooking oil.
Fry fish at not less than 185C to 190C (about 375'F) for 5 to 10 minutes according to thickness of fish.

("Yes, delicious, madam. You may now go to the top of the class and ring for a top chef's job.")

Poached Fish

Place fish fillets or steaks in a pan with just enough water to cover. Add a little chopped onion and celery, a few peppercorns, a bay leaf, a pinch of basil and about 1 tablespoon tarragon vinegar or brown vinegar.
Cover with lid, bring to the boil, reduce heat to low and simmer slowly for 10 or 15 minutes, depending on thickness of fish. Test with a fork to see if fish is cooked; if it flakes easily, it is done.
Remove fish from liquid with a spatula and place on hot plates. Reserve stock.

To make sauce if required:
Melt 1 tablespoon butter in another saucepan and add 3 tablespoons of plain flour, mixing together. Gradually add stock in which fish was cooked. Stir over heat until smooth and thickened.
Pour sauce over fish, garnish with parsley and lemon wedges.

Pan-fried Fish

Pan-frying is often the best cooking method when you have small fillets of fine-textured fish such as whiting, John Dory or silver bream. For something extra special, may I suggest you fry in pure olive oil. You can then enjoy your fish hot or cold, served with freshly ground pepper and salt and lashings of lemon.
Then, of course, it is also delicious fried in butter or your favourite frying oil. I think margarine, especially polyunsaturated, tends to stick to the pan.
For 6 large fillets, beat 2 eggs in 1 cup of milk, and put aside. Dip each fillet into plain flour seasoned with salt and pepper. Shake off excess. Dip floured fillets into egg mixture and place in a pan containing a little oil heated almost to boiling point. (If liked, you can roll fillets in breadcrumbs (see below) as a final step before placing in the pan.) Cook until golden - about 10 minutes if the fillets are thin, 15 minutes if thick. Please don't overcook.
Serve with lemon wedges dipped in finely chopped parsley. NOTE: Add extra milk to the egg mixture to make it go further.

Breadcrumbs for Pan-fried Fish and Seafood

I like to make my own breadcrumbs; it is a simple procedure. Place slices of bread in a hot oven and bake till dry and very crisp. Remove from oven, and when you have the time crush with a rolling pin or in a blender. I think it's quicker to crush. After the dry bread is crushed, store in an airtight jar or tin. When I fry oysters, I like to use crushed Sac, biscuit crumbs instead of breadcrumbs, and of course you can always buy breadcrumbs, or use substitutes like wheatgerm or bran. But I think homemade breadcrumbs give the best result.

Steamed Fish

This method of cooking fish is for invalids or people on low-fat diets, I think. If you have a steamer, fill it with about 8 cm (3 in) or more (according to size of steamer) of water and bring to the boil. Season fish with salt and pepper and wrap in foil.
Place fish in steamer and steam for about 10 minutes or more according to size of fish.
If you don't have a steamer, just put the seasoned fish on a buttered plate with another plate over it, or cover with foil, and steam over a saucepan.
Serve steamed fish with butter and parsley sauce (basic white sauce with finely chopped parsley.

Grilled Fish

You can just imagine what it must be like grilling fish in a restaurant as busy as ours. It takes a lot of care to grill the fish to a turn, so that it doesn't dry out. There are certain kinds of fish we don't like to grill; flathead, for example, tends to dry out too much -at least I think so. Our method is as follows:
We place the fish in a shallow pan, with a little water and butter. For whole fish, make two shallow cuts on each side.
We then brush the fish with melted butter, pop it under a hot griller, reduce the heat slightly, and baste again as it is cooking. Cooking time depends on the thickness of the fish - 10 to 15 minutes for thick fillets; for whole fish, 10 to 15 minutes each side.
When ready, the fish is placed on a very hot serving plate and hot butter and chopped parsley poured over. Serve a nice sauce with your grilled fish to correct any dryness.

Baked Fish

I think the size of the fish to be baked makes the difference between a "triumph" and a "might have been".
Start off with a fish of at least 2 kg (4 lb) - even better, 3 kg (6 lb) or larger.
Preheat oven first to hot, about 210 C (400 F). Prepare fish, making sure it is well cleaned and scaled. Leave the head on. Stuff, if you like, with your favourite stuffing or just sprinkle pepper and salt inside the fish.
Grease a baking dish with butter or oil and place fish in. To make fish "stand up" as if it was swimming, put a small bowl or empty tin in its head.
Pepper and salt the fish, rub over with oil, using a brush or your fingers, and cover fish loosely with foil. Decrease oven heat to moderate and bake fish from 40 minutes for a 2 kg (4 lb) fish to 1 1/2 hours for a larger fish.
When the fish is cooked, remove to a hot serving plate and serve with parsley and lemon or pour over hot, creamy oyster sauce. Alternatively, allow fish to become cold, then glaze (below) and decorate with vegetables.
Place fish in centre of table and carefully carve by finishing one side and then turning to the other side. It is best if you can cut the fish in squares if it is large. A big serving spoon is a help, to catch the small pieces as they fall. After you have finished, only the fish's frame should be standing there-just like the fish skeleton you see a cat drag along in a cartoon.


Whole baked fish looks most attractive glazed and decorated as a centrepiece on a buffet table. We use the following glaze for our functions and have always found it quite satisfactory. It can be used to glaze appetisers, too -prawns or sardines on biscuits, for example, look much more attractive shining with glaze.
The food to be glazed should have been previously cooked and cooled. Cold whole fish is just as delicious as hot. Dissolve 1 teaspoon gelatine in 2/3 cup hot seasoned stock or hot water flavoured with lemon juice and a little sugar to taste. A touch of sherry is a tasty addition, too. Cool. Lightly brush a little solution over the food. For your decoration on your large baked fish, have ready well-drained fruit and vegetables such as capsicum (thinly sliced), carrot flowers, asparagus spears, etc., and make a few flower arrangements or similar on the food. Paint over again with the solution to give a shiny glaze. If you have trouble in making the decorative food adhere, paint each piece of fruit or vegetable with the gelatine solution before applying. Always store your gelatine in an airtight container.

How to prepare a Really Large Fish

(No yarn attached.)
Credit for this section to our good friend and one-time hotel chef George Heydon.
I asked George how he would prepare a "whopper". Here are his instructions,
word for word: I think I get more pleasure out of cooking a whole big fish and decorating it than preparing any other dish. The biggest fish I have cooked whole was a 60 kg (121 lb) marlin for the Big Game Fishing Association. I wrapped the fish in 15 kg (30 lb) of dough, placed it on a sheet of galvanised iron and cooked it in a baker's oven. Decorated, it looked super, and it ate pretty well, too.
"Of course, most of the fish I have cooked whole are much smaller, and snapper of about 9 kg (18 lb), or a jewfish (mulloway) about 15 kg (30 lb), are the two that really catch the eye. In a commercial oven, that's about as big as you can go, and even then you have to curl the tail around to make it fit.
"To cook a large fish whole, stand the fish on its belly in a baking dish, with an inverted basin or bowl between the gills. It should stand upright without falling over. With string, tie the tail and pull towards the head to curl the fish around. When the tail is curled around enough, secure the string in the fish's mouth. Tie another piece of string to the dorsal fin and pull it upright, tie in the mouth.
"Rub a little oil over the fish, and add about 2 cups of water to the baking dish. Place a piece of foil loosely over the top of the fish, so that as the water turns to steam it comes in contact with the foil, and keeps the fish moist. The fish will never dry out as long as there is water in the baking dish.
Cook in a moderate oven. Cooking time can only be ascertained by pushing a skewer into the thickest part of the fish, noting the resistance of the flesh and the colour of the fluid that comes out of the skewer hole. I would, as a rough guess, leave the 15 kg (30 lb) jewfish for about 2 hours and then start checking. A 2.5 kg (5 lb) fish should be checked after 1 hour.
"When the fish is cooked, transfer it to a serving platter. Remove string. Some fish look best skinned after cooking. You may cover the fish with a sauce of your choice or even mayonnaise that has been heated and had a little gelatine added to it to make it stick. Garnish attractively with parsley, watercress, lemon slices etc.
"If you like, let the fish get cold and glaze it, decorating with raw vegetables and other garnishes. Have fun!"

Curing Fish

fish, cleaned, washed and scaled
common salt
30 g (1 oz) sea-salt
15 g (1/2 oz) saltpetre
15 g (1/2 oz) brown sugar

If the fish is large, cut it down the back. Rub inside and out with common salt and let it hang in a cool place for 24 hours.
Mix together sea-salt, saltpetre and brown sugar, and rub the fish well with this mixture.
Place fish in a large dish. Cover lightly but completely with common salt and allow it to remain undisturbed for 48 hours. Turn the fish over, cover it with fresh salt, and let it remain for 24 hours longer.
Drain and dry the fish well, stretching it on sticks, and keep it in a dry, cool place.

NOTE: When keeping fish for a long lime, it is necessary to soak it well before cooking.

Smoked Fish

I must give my thanks for this recipe to my pal of our young days, the late Ray Thomas, one of a family of six sons born in Watson's Bay. There are several kinds of fish that smoke well, but tailor, mullet and luderick (blackfish) are about the best to smoke.

How to make a Smokebox

Take two standard tea chests, remove the end of one and both ends of the other.
Stand the one with the end on top of the one without ends, making the attached end the top of the box. Then fasten chests together, using the removed ends to "patch" the joins. When this has been done, open one side of both chests to make the door to the smokebox.
Drill eight 3 mm (about 1/8 in) holes 5 cm (about 2 in) apart in the side of the box, about 5 cm (about 2 in) from the top. Do this to both sides of the box, with 30 cm (about 12 in) between rows of holes. Make wire skewers (No. 8 wire preferably) 45 cm (about 18 in) long to fit across the inside of the box. Stand the box on a flat surface.

fish, gutted, washed and cleaned, minus backbone and head
1 kg (2 lb) cooking salt
1/2 kg (1 lb) brown sugar

Split the fish down the back. Mix salt and sugar well. Rub this mixture into the flesh of fish, then place them in a clean container. (A plastic dustbin makes a good container.)
Add enough fresh water to cover fish and let stand for 1 1/2 hours. Remove from brine and hang fish in the smokebox and let drip-dry.
When the fish feel sticky to touch, they are ready for smoking.
Use clean sawdust; place in bottom of the smokebox and light. Keep smoke on fish for 9 hours, then remove from box.
Keep your smoked fish in a cool place for future use.

Dried Fish

My grandson Jim is a very keen fisherman. I don't want to brag, but he has the "touch" of holding a fishing line! Jim brought me up some of his dried tuna and mackerel to taste the other day. I thought it was deliciously "chewy", with a real sea flavour, and could be used amongst savoury hors d'oeuvres. Here is the simple way to do it:

tuna or mackerel
coarse salt

Take the backbone out of the fish. Salt fish heavily and leave for 24 hours.
Wash off salt and leave in the sun for 2 days. Cover with a muslin food umbrella if you like, just in case one of our notorious flies lands on it.
Serve with buttered toast fingers or biscuits.

Salted Fish

This method of salting fish is particularly suited to herrings, mackerel and other small varieties.

fish, fresh, unwashed, scaled and cleaned
brine (water with enough common salt
added to float an egg)

Completely cover fish in strong brine and allow to stand for 18 hours.
Drain well; place fish in layers in an earthenware vessel, covering each layer thickly with salt. Cover completely to exclude the air, and store in a cool, dry place.