Category Archives: Seafood

MURRAY COD, AN ICONIC AUSTRALIAN FISH – information and fish recipes

I have just spent the weekend in Albury (Victoria). I will mention Wodonga (NSW) in the same breath as I see them as being one city. The Murray River separates the two locations.

Inevitably some of the conversation was about fishing and it was good to hear that once again there seem to be some pretty big Murray Cods in the Hume Weir.

Murray cod (Maccullochella peelii peelii) are found in freshwater rivers and creeks in eastern South Australia and west of the Great Dividing Range in NSW, Victoria and southern Queensland.

It is close to Christmas and many are planning to cook fish, especially for Christmas Eve. Those living in Australia may be able to purchase this beautiful tasting fish – Murray Cod but it will probably need to be preordered.

I wrote this piece for a fishing magazine called Fishing Lines in 2012. The magazine died years ago, but as we sat around discussing fishing in Albury I remembered that I had a copy of the writing. Here it is.

My fascination with Murray cod began when I first moved to Moorook in the early 1970’s, a small community near Barmera  and Berri in South Australia. For three years I taught at Glossop High School and in that time I got to know some of the people in the towns sprinkled along a string of lakes and lagoons of the Murray River floodplain, commonly called The Riverland.

I have always been interested in sourcing food locally and although I had heard stories about incredibly large fish caught in various parts of the river, I wondered why a fish so large and once so abundant was not around any more.

Sometimes, local recreational fishers sold redfin (introduced species) and catfish to the Moorook General Store and many of them had stories to tell about their fathers and grandfathers who had caught Murray cod and were amazed by its size, exquisite taste and beauty. The most spectacular catches were often celebrated by photos of fisherfolk posing with their catch in homes, hotels and the local press.

The Aboriginal people along the length of the river also revered and respected the Murray cod. There are several local names for this spirit fish in their mythology and creation stories.

The cod was perfectly adapted to the cycles of the Murray, while the river ran free in times of flood and drought. But the stories of miraculous catches of this remarkable fish dried up as the river became increasingly regulated with weirs and locks to serve irrigated agriculture in the Murray Darling Basin.

The Riverland locals may have lamented the decline in cod stocks, but they saw it as a regrettable price of progress. Irrigation was the way to go. It enabled the growing of a range of crops and brought prosperity to the area. It provided jobs in a range of industries and population growth to their local area and throughout the Riverland.

The flows in the Murray were increasingly regulated to allow more consistent water extraction for the irrigation schemes. There were even projects to remove snags from the river, which were a critical part of the cod’s habitat, especially important in the fish’s breeding cycle. Murray cod are carnivores and snags also support a healthy food chain of algae, bacteria and fungi necessary to sustain an abundant supply of shrimps, yabbies, mussels, tortoises, reptiles, other fish, small mammals and frogs – all of which were food for cod. There are stories of Murray cod eating water hens as well.

This print of the Murray Cod by Melbourne artist Clare Whitney beautifully expresses all that this magnificent fish represents for us in Australia. I bought it soon after I moved to Melbourne.

The image of the Murray cod in the centre of a map of Australia gives the fish its due. It is a national icon, a very ancient fish and a symbol of the Murray Darling River system. In the past the fish was a marvel and a valued food source in natural abundance.

Clare Whitney has placed the cod in a map from the Commonwealth bureau of Meteorology, which shows the average annual evaporation in inches, based on observations for seventy stations with records ranging from 5-82 years. There is no doubt that there are climatic factors contributing to the Murray cod’s decline.

The cod is an indicator of a healthy river. The vulnerability of the Murray cod reflects the environmental and ecological crisis across the Murray-Darling river system. Contributing significantly to the cod’s decline is the degradation of our waterways: the reduced quantity and quality of the water, pollution, the introduction of alien species of fish, overfishing and illegal fishing. Hard-hoofed animals, especially cattle, destroy riverbanks and the vegetation, demolishing the structure of the river. Our methods of agriculture and food production have played a major part in the destruction of the riverine ecosystem and threatened the survival of the Murray cod. State and Commonwealth Governments, and pastoral and agricultural interests are still struggling to establish an agreement that will allow viable environmental flows in the Murray-Darling basin. Faced with this, there is some small consolation in seeing that a number of sustainable cod aquaculture projects are being established and developed in different locations across Australia. But it would be far more preferable for us to change the way we manage our river catchments and water allocations to ensure the long term survival of the Murray cod in the wild, especially those projects which enable healthy breeding of this iconic fish.

Murray Cod is pretty hard to get and the best thing you can do is call  your favourite fresh fish supplier and see if they can  sell you one.

Failing that, there is information about Murray Cod on the Sydney Fish Market website and that suggests Leatherjackets, Pearl Perch and West Australian Dhufish as alternatives – these fish will have the same texture and sweetness. Leatherjackets however, are a small fish.

Recipes suitable for  Murray Cod and large fish :

PESCE IN PADELLA (Pan fried fish, MURRAY COD)

FISH POACHED IN A FISH KETTLE in bouillon

PESCE GRATINATO (Baked fish topped with almonds and pistachios)

PESCE CON FINOCCHIO E ROSMARINO (Fish with fennel and rosemary)

PICNIC FOOD – Potato salad with smoked fish, asparagus and green beans

Coronavirus Restrictions have eased in Melbourne recently and with it comes the freedom to see friends by having picnics. It sure beats Zoom.

Easy and transportable food include smallgoods, smoked fish, cheeses , good bread, and as always vegetables –  made with  raw or cooked vegetables.I have made the occasional frittata, either with  zucchini or asparagus (in season ) and asparagus with homemade mayonnaise or sautéed with capers. Dips and spreads are also convenient – beetroot is always a favourite. All easy stuff!

What is good about picnics is that the  friends also bring food and a simple picnic turns into a feast. There have been hot quiches and Spanakopita, Pâtés and fresh fruit.

THis is a version of a salad  I used to make many years ago when I lived in Adelaide with  laschinken a dry-cured, cold-smoked pork loin. The butchers in the Barossa Valley where many of the settlers  were German or of German origin. I was also able to purchase it at the Adelaide Market. It is interesting how foods made in the long distant past resurface.

The following is a simple salad I made with smoked fish –  hot smoked, cold smoked, gravlax or fresh cooked fish.

Below, in the photo , you see the ingredients: salad greens (I used endives), cooked green beans and asparagus,  chunks of smoked fish, potatoes, spring onions, homemade mayonnaise, capers and herbs – I used parsley, tarragon and some of the light green tops of celery.

Slice the potatoes, the spring onions and chop the herbs.

Line the salad bowl or container with the green leaves and place the sliced potatoes on top.

Begin by distributing the herbs and spring onions and capers throughout the potato layer(s).

Insert the green beans and asparagus in between the potatoes and on top.  Lightly salt the ingredients (if you wish) and remembering that the mayonnaise and smoked fish both contain salt.

This is what I carried to the picnic. I took the mayonnaise and and the chunks of smoked fish separately .

Dress with the mayonnaise and place the chunks of fish on top when  ready to eat it.

There are many types of fish  that have been smoked and you do not have to use Atlantic Salmon and Ocean Trout.  The most commercially available smoked fish in Australia is from Tasmania and I am not a great fan of fish farmed in sea cages.  Imported farmed Atlantic Salmon and Ocean Trout is available in Australia. For more information on imported product, look for country of origin labelled on the packaging and refer to seafood guides produced in that country.

Rainbow trout is caught in rivers, dams and lakes (land based) and is sustainable.

For other recipes:

Frittata:

ALL ABOUT MAKING FRITTATA and Podcast with Maria Liberati

FRITTATA: SAUSAGE and RICOTTA

ASPARAGI DI BOSCO and FRITTATINA (Wild Asparagus continued, and Frittata)

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With Mayonnaise:

CHICKEN LAYERED WITH A TUNA AND EGG MAYONNAISE ; A cold Chicken dish

YEARNING FOR VITELLO TONNATO

ITALIAN RUSSIAN SALAD, no beetroot

Staples in my fridge – olives, capers, anchovies and nuts

In my fridge you are likely to always find green and black olives, anchovies, capers and nuts, especially almonds, pine nuts, pistachio, hazelnuts and walnuts.  I consider these as staples and frequently add these ingredients, common in Italian cooking, to much of my cuisine.

In my freezer you will always find jars of stock and pulses of some kind, usually chickpeas, borlotti, cannellini or even black-eyed beans. I say “even” because they are not considered a common bean in Italian cuisine.  I do not bother storing frozen lentils  because they cook so quickly and don’t need  soaking.

I have not mentioned how important fresh herbs, spices and extra virgin olive oil are in my cooking – but they are.

What  you will also find  in my fridge are some jars of homemade  pastes  – always harissa and maybe a couple of jars of other pastes  that contain a combination of three or more of these ingredients: olives, anchovies, various fresh herbs, capers or nuts.

For most of this year, my partner has been doing the shopping. Perhaps he enjoys having this time on his own and to chat with his favourite stallholders at the Queen Victoria Market.

Someone once asked me if I trusted him with the shopping.  I do, but sometimes he buys too much….  last week it was too much squid, this week he came home with two large freshwater trouts.

There is no inviting friends around! We are in lockdown in Melbourne.

We eat a lot of vegetables and I can easily turn excess vegetables into soup or pickles. Meat I can freeze, but I do not  like to freeze fish, so we had trout for two nights in a row.

The first night I simply fried  the trout in butter and a substantial amount of  fresh sage. Good, but ordinary.

In my fridge I had a jar of a combination of ground toasted walnuts, hazelnuts, nutmeg, black pepper and Za’atar.

You could say it was a version of dukkah that I had used for something else and I sprinkled some of this on the trout once  the trout was filleted at the table.

The second night I cooked the trout on a bed of  sautéed shaved fennel and parsley and  at the very end of cooking I added some green olive paste. I had this in the fridge. The sauce was plentiful and went beautifully with the braised lentils and endives.

And once again I was able to add a different taste to something that was pretty good in the first place but was made even better.

I do not measure ingredients when I am making a paste, but for the sake of the recipe, I have made an estimation of  the ingredients.

My combinations of ingredients vary, but for this particular green olive paste I used:

200g of pitted green olives,
100g capers, either drained if in brine or soaked and rinsed a number of times if using the salted capers,
100g of toasted almonds,
4 anchovies,
1 garlic clove,
grated orange peel from one orange,
1 cup of extra virgin olive oil
½ cup of chopped parsley
juice from half a lemon.

Making pastes is dead simple. Blend all of the ingredients together except for the olive oil that you can add at the very end….slowly… until you have a paste to your liking. You can make it as smooth as you wish; I prefer some crunch.

Place in a clean glass jar, top with some more extra virgin olive oil and keep it in your fridge.

This is the first time that I have taken a photo of inside my fridge, but you can see what I mean!

MUSSELS, three ways: in brodetto, with spaghetti and in a risotto with saffron

Victorian fresh mussels are always fabulous and they go a long way. There are two people in my household and we usually buy 2kilos. Sometimes we eat them all and at other times I use the left over mussels to make something else. There is usually some mussel broth left over and I store this in a glass jar in my freezer.

My partner likes to do the shopping and off he goes with his list, his bag and his mask and shops at the Queen Victoria Market. This time he cam home with 3kilos.  We are in lockdown here so no inviting someone to join us.

I really like mussels and from a 3kilo batch my partner and I had  three meals. Very frugal, but by the third day we were a little sick of mussels.

For the first meal, I cooked the mussels steamed in their own broth. In Italian this is called  In brodetto.. brodo is broth.

I begin with a soffritto of chopped carrots, celery, onion and garlic, with the help of a little white wine, then add the mussels, put on a lid and let them steam open and I sprinkle a little chopped parsley towards the end. We ate these with good quality, home baked bread, rubbed with oil and garlic and toasted in the oven.

On the second day we made some home made egg spaghetti. I made a salsa, first by dissolving a few anchovies in a little hot extra virgin  olive oil, then I added a can of chopped tomatoes, a whole clove of garlic, a sprig of fresh oregano (because there is no basil growing on my balcony in this cold season) and a little of the mussel broth. I let it cook with no lid, to reduce and thicken. I added the cooked mussels to the sauce just to heat up and dressed the pasta. I keep the garlic whole so that I can remove it, this is my preference but maybe not yours.

Next day, a risotto, and very simple once again.

This time I used a fresh fennel and some of the left over mussels out of their shells that I kept in a jar in the fridge with yet again some of their broth. But this time I also used some mussel broth I had in the freezer from the time before. That mussel broth comes in handy and there always seems to be plenty of it.

There are three types of rice you can use for making risotto. Arborio is the most common and easily available in Australia, but carnaroli  has more starch as does vialone nano; these two varieties make a risotto creamier. However, when I make a seafood risotto I prefer to use aborio because with seafood I like the risotto to be less gluggy. Don’t let this confuse you… all three varieties are suitable and it is just personal preferences. Perhaps I like to taste the flavour of the sea. Perhaps this is also why I do not  generally add butter to a seafood risotto.

You may be remembering that you have read many recipes that indicate that you stick to the stove while you cook risotto. Sicilian rice dishes are interesting.  I have watched  my Sicilian aunties cook rice and have read numerous recipes where some stock is added, the lid is put on and it is left to absorb for about 5 minutes or more,  then more stock is added and once again it is not continually stirred. The stirring happens in the last 5-7 minutes.

Making risotto is so simple, quick and easy.

I used 2 thinly sliced spring onions, 2  chopped cloves of garlic and once again began the cooking process by tossing it around in some extra virgin olive oil in a hot pan.

Then I added a finely sliced fennel and some parsley and tossed this around,  added 1.5 cup of rice (this is sufficient for 2 people but you can add more). Toss it around to coat, add a splash of  white wine. I added saffron, a generous pinch soaked beforehand in a little bit of water.

Keep on adding hot fish or mussel broth as you cook the rice until it is nearly cooked. This is when you add the shelled mussels. Cook the risotto until it is cooked all’onda…till the risotto looks wavy like the sea, and still moist.

I do not wish to eat mussels again for a couple of weeks.

 

 

 

BACCALÀ MANTECATO, risotto

Baccalà Mantecato is a Northern Italian specialty and when I make it I poach the baccalà in milk.

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So what to do with the left over milk?

I made a risotto.

I had two jars of baccalà flavoured milk, far too much to make a risotto, so I reduced it to concentrate the flavour, and this worked well.

I used this antique gadget given to me a very long time ago by a friend. it is called a milk saver.  She used to find all sorts of treasures at the Stirling dump in the Adelaide Hills and this was one of them.  It does work!

Just using the milk would not be enough to flavour the risotto. I wanted texture and more flavour and I had some Mantecato left over in the fridge.

Ingredients: extra virgin olive oil,  carnaroli rice, spring onions, bay leaves, thyme, parsley, grated lemon peel, Baccalà Mantecato and roasted almonds to spring on top.

Method is nothing out of the ordinary when making risotto.

Check the taste of the milk to see if it is salty and you may not need to add any more seasoning.

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Saute the spring onion in the extra virgin olive oil, add the rice and coat it in the oil -at this stage you may like to add a little white wine and evaporate it.  Add thyme and bay leaves and gradually add the milk in stages, just as you would add stock when making a risotto. If you do not have sufficient milk you may need to add a little water. Remember that rice is supposed to be presented “all’onda”, as Italian would say. “Onda” means wave….all’onda is wavy, therefore the  risotto should be moist, with waves on top and not solid.

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Add the parsley, grated lemon and the Mantecato last of all and stir through. The Mantecato will make the rice very creamy.

Sprinkle with roasted almonds when ready to serve.
There are several recipes for baccalà on the web and also for risotto.

BACCALÀ MANTECATO (Creamed salt cod, popular in the Veneto region and Trieste)

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FISH POACHED IN A FISH KETTLE in bouillon

As you can see this poached whole Atlantic Salmon looks very impressive and it tasted fabulous.

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The method of slowly poaching a whole fish in a fish kettle is easy. The poaching liquid in this case was salted water, whole parsley – leaves and stalks, black peppercorns, lemons and onions cut into  thick slices.

The poaching liquid (bouillon) can be a combination of  salted water and white wine and contain some aromatics of your choice to flavour the stock. Common are whole black peppercorns, fresh fennel, or fennel seeds, dill stalks or seeds, carrots, celery, fresh bay leaves, thyme, but it is important not to use too many ingredients to flavour the liquid because the strength of cooking the fish in this way is to taste the natural taste of the fish.

The greatest advantage in using a fish kettle is that it contains a perforated insert on which the fish sits, enabling it to be easily lowered into and raised from the poaching liquid. Placing some of the ingredients (if not all) to flavour the fish underneath the perforated insert can be advantageous and keep the bottom side of the fish from being over flavoured. Some of the flavourings can also be placed in the centre of the fish.

I do not have a photo of the fish kettle that was used to poach the Atlantic Salmon (it belongs to my friend), but in this photo below is of my fish kettle. It is much smaller but it can easily hold two fish. The 1k flathead is sitting on the perforated insert.

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Unfortunately giving precise information is not possible because it depends on the size  and species of the fish and how cooked you like it. We are talking about poaching the fish on low heat. Don’t bring your pot to a boil, or to simmer. It needs to reach the required temperature slowly.

If you have thermometer the fish will need to be poached at a temperature of 80-85 °C.

If you do not have a thermometer observe how small bubbles will gently rise and break on the surface. This is your indication that it has reached the required temperature.  . 

Procedure:

Place aromatics into the fish kettle, place the fish on the perforated insert, add the liquid to cover the fish (it must be covered).  Cover with a lid and wait till the temperature reaches of 80-85C or till the small bubbles rise to the surface. Leave it for about 5 minutes.

This large fish was about 4k and it took about 30 mins for the bubbles to rise to the surface or to reach the poaching temperature. 

Switch off the heat and allow the fish to stand in the water until it is at room temperature.

Test the fish by inserting a skewer or fork into the thickest part of the fish – undercooked fish resists flaking and is translucent, cooked fish is opaque and flakes.

Remove it from the poaching liquid and the fish will be ready to eat. It is best eaten at room temperature.

A herb salad or a simple dressing made with extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice and fresh herbs is perfect. Any of the following soft herbs: parsley, dill, tarragon, chervil, fennel.

If you need to refrigerate the fish or have fish left over and want to serve it the next day it could be served with a stronger sauce.

Alternative dressings:

SALAMURRIGGHIU – SALMORIGLIO (Dressing made with oil, lemon and oregano)

ZOGGHIU (Sicilian pesto/dressing made with garlic, parsley and mint)

PESCE IN BIANCO (Plain fish). MAIONESE (Mayonnaise)

 

 

 

VONGOLE con FINOCCHIO e Vermouth

B1D5EC2C-3A7E-487F-A229-600CA75EE764Cockles, vongole , pipis from Goolwa.

02D5AEFE-17A9-4E7F-95F2-D86DCA11F397Fennel sautéed in extra virgin olive oil, garlic, tarragon and parsley. Deglazed with dry vermouth.

FE637EF8-8A6C-4CFD-B88D-8B0DF6D14833Add the vongole, cover, and the vongole will open very quickly. Open and serve with crostini…..bread of your choice brushed with extra virgin olive oil and toasted in the oven.

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MUSSELS (Cozze) IN BRODETTO (Mussels in a little broth)

IMG_2797It turned out rather well and we ate it with oven toasted bread rubbed and baked with extra virgin olive oil and garlic.

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There were four separate components:

  • a tomato salsa – extra virgin olive oil, fresh garlic cloves, fresh oregano and a little rosemary,
  • steamed mussels (cozze), most taken out of their shells…. a little white wine and a little fish stock,

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  • a soffritto of celery, chopped fennel, spring onions and baby carrots,

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  • chopped herbs – fennel fronds and parsley.

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All assembled at the end to make this:

IMG_2797 Was it Italian regional?

I do not know. I used Italian methods and ingredients and I guess that it could have been made in any part of Italy. Maybe in the South a little chilli would be added.

And we liked it.

PASTA with ‘NDUJA, CIME DI RAPA and PORK SAUSAGES

0B2396E0-30E7-4A38-9D8C-A796AB675E18I have been away from home recently, and what I really enjoy is coming up with a dish using ingredients that I have…and need using up. This must be one of the reasons I enjoy camping and we always eat so well.

I had ‘nduja (a soft chilli-laden, soft salame from Calabria), a bunch of cime di rapa or rape (rape is plural of rapa) and some small and fabulous, pure pork sausages that I had cooked in some tomato salsa the day before. We had eaten most of these with polenta and these were left over.

What I did was simple. I braised the cime di rapa  in some garlic and extra virgin olive oil as I do when I cook cime di rapa with pasta.  Once cooked, I added the ‘nduja….probably too much, I love chilli but do others like it as much as I do? I could have used a half of the quantity and it still would have tasted great. The ‘nduja melts with the heat and coats the vegetables.

3096B518-5BDD-4137-BAE6-19AD668DD9D8.jpegNext, I added the sausages and only a little of the tomato salsa. I was making a pasta sauce and not a soup a , so I needed just a little liquid.

E014309E-1310-4A76-92AD-3198C3FE02D1I had rigatoni on hand, and some Sicilian pecorino pepato.

You will need to accept that it tasted vey good. So much so, Squid, that I did not have time to take a photo – it was gobbled up far too quickly by my two guests.

There are recipes for cooking with ‘nduja:

‘NDUJA, a spreadable and spicy pork salame from Calabria

SPAGHETTI with ‘NDUJA, SQUID, VONGOLE AND PAN GRATTATO

‘NDUJA and CALAMARI as a pasta sauce

’Nduja with squid

 

HAPUKA(fish)WITH SICILIAN FLAVOURS

I used Hapuka, but any fish will do.

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The Sicilian flavours are simple – grated lemon peel, lemon juice, anchovies, fresh mint and parsley.

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Once you have pan fried one side of the fish, turn it over, top with the chopped herbs, anchovies cut into small pieces. Wait till the underside is cooked to your liking – do not overlook it as the fish will be flipped on the same side again for a very short time.

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Turn the fish over once again and salt that side slightly and add lemon juice. Evaporate the lemon juice and it is done. The anchovies should have “melted” a bit.