Maxin’ your Catch
  |  First Published: March 2006

These days I often find myself rattling on a little too much about the attractions of fishing. Whether it was the lunging runs that tuna made on light bream gear, the monster jack that just smashed me to pieces, or the tackle addiction of constantly upgrading rods, reels, knots, lines and other technical aspects of the sport, I often wonder if people are understanding me at all.

I sometimes feel as if I’m talking another language and only another angler would understand anything I say! That’s until I mention how the fish tasted or how fresh it was when I cooked it. Then I get their attention and, like magic, all the technical details suddenly start to make sense to everyone.

Universally people love to eat fish. There are ways, however, that we can get more from our catches and by simply looking after our fish we all have access to the best produce around.

Fresh is Best

One of the most rewarding things about fishing is that we all catch prime quality fish for the table on a regular basis. Without breaking it down too much, it’s the fulfilment of the whole hunter and gatherer instinct. Enjoying an awesome natural environment, fresh air and sun, catching fish with your mates and being able to enjoy the fruits of your labour at the day’s end all add to the appeal of fishing.

Anyone who has shared a good day out on the water and been lucky enough to enjoy a meal of fresh fillets with friends will agree that there’s nothing much better! Fresh fish costs a fortune and anglers all love to avoid its premium price tag.

After being involved in restaurants and cooking professionally for over a decade, I realise the value of fresh fish; it’s like gold. However, it isn’t about the quantity of fish that we keep, but how we look after the few fish we decide to eat that evening. Fish are always better fresh than frozen, so with that in mind if you’re planning on keeping some fillets try to only keep enough for that night or the next few days. It’s pointless to keep an esky full of fish that will either get frozen or thrown out just to prove you caught them. Digital cameras are so cheap now that a happy snap will last forever and is a great way of spending that rainy Sunday afternoon, tuning rigs and reliving those awesome fishing moments!

To get the most from your fish, a frozen block of seawater is the best way of keeping your dinner at its best. Old ice-cream containers are an excellent alternative to buying ice. Once dispatched, your fish can be kept at a perfect temperature for eating later after your day on the water is over. When I land a potential table fish I always humanely kill it using the Japanese technique of ‘Ike Jime’. This simply means inserting a spike of some sort behind and slightly upwards of the fish’s eye and into the brain. This will kill the fish quickly, painlessly and without stress, which some say, can affect eating quality.

Fish will usually twitch for a moment and become limp after this is successfully executed. Bleeding and gutting your catch can also be of great use if the fish is destined for the plate leaving fillets white, clean and pure. This can simply be done by running a very sharp knife under the gill plates and down across the throat latch. An incision running down from the throat to the belly will be sufficient to remove the innards. Gutting will help remove the potential for bacteria to spread and ruin the catch, so it is definitely recommended.

There will inevitably be some blood but the fillets will benefit from this technique. The important steps to remember are:

1. Quickly and humanely dispatch your catch,

2. Bleeding and gutting (wherever possible),

3. Getting your dinner into an icy esky.

There is nothing quite as ‘uncool’ as seeing fish ‘drying out’ and flapping around on a hot deck slowly choking and dying without any care from anglers.

Cooking up a Storm

Chefs all agree when fish is fresh, vibrant and straight from the sea it should be cooked very simply to let its natural flavour shine through. A popular and easy way of cooking fish is by baking it in foil in the oven. By adding a little moisture by means of a splash of white wine, a small knob of butter and a wedge of lemon you are mimicking exactly what they do in top restaurants worldwide for a fraction of the price!

Setting your oven at around 180 with a time limit of around 20-25 minutes, will cook most average sized fish (bream, small flathead, cod, jacks) perfectly. This cooking method is great and is an awesome way of enjoying your catch.

Charging up the BBQ is also a great way of cooking your meal. I recently caught a few garfish and did them this way and now know why Italians prize these little morsels so much! Simply brush your fillets, sardines or garfish with a little olive oil, some sea-salt and pepper and add a squeeze of lemon or lime. You’ll be the most popular person on the block.

One of the easiest ways to prepare your fish is to put together a simple beer batter. There are many various recipes for beer batter including chili, coriander, lime versions. A simple mixture of: 2 cups of self-raising flour, most of a stubbie’s worth of beer, two eggs and some salt is all you’ll need. Mix this together until smooth and let it sit for half an hour and you’re pretty much ready to go.

Fill a wok, saucepan or fryer with about 1L of light oil and heat until you can drop a piece of bread into it and it will fizz and bubble. Coat fish lightly in a little plain flour, swipe through your beer batter and gently lower into the oil. When the fish is golden brown and usually floating near the top it is ready. Drain on paper towels and serve straight away with fresh lemon wedges, maybe some garlic mayonnaise and some salad.

Once you’ve caught, cooked and eaten your catch this way you’ll never look back. I love fish such as school flathead, tailor and trevally done this way but as long as your fillets are fresh and clean anything will be delicious!

On the subject of cooking tailor, a technique that my family has used for a long time to prepare this fish is to use the trusty smoker. This might sound unusual as smokers have really only been associated with fish like trout and salmon in the past, but for a fish like tailor that is extremely oily and has quite a strong flavour, smoking is ideal. Smokers can be bought in most tackle stores and are a great way to eat fish. They’re also extremely portable, which makes them perfect on camping trips up the beach.

Whole fish will take on a slight brownie gold tinge at the end of the process and will smell fantastic. I then like to remove the flesh, cool it down in the fridge and, once cold, mix into some good mayo with pepper, salt and some herbs like dill or chives. Spread on toast with a squeeze of lime and you’ll wonder why you’d never done this before. Fish that has been smoked also preserves its shelf life slightly.

Fishing allows us all to enjoy a feed and by responsibly looking after your fish, the rewards are as good as they come! Even the most die-hard catch and release fisherman would agree, provided the fish is humanely dispatched and bag limits are adhered to we should all have access to our waterways and the fantastic produce they provide.

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