Saturday, October 22, 2005

Behind the scenes at the Sydney Fish Markets

Ever wondered how your fishmonger gets baby octopus so tender? Believe it or not, the trick is a bit of time spinning around in a cement mixer with some salt.

Giant octopus on the other hand, likes a long, slow cook, and Danks Street Depot chef/owner Jared Ingersoll says the flavour at the end makes the preparation and cooking time worth it. He shared his cooking tips and views on seasonal produce in a Good Food Month tour of the Sydney Seafood Market and Flemington Market last week.

I met up with forty other curious Sydneysiders at the fish markets early on Thursday morning and my bleary eyes were soon awoken by the sights, sounds and smells of the auction floor. Most people would consider 5.30am to be valuable sleeping time, but for the buyers at the markets, it can be the busiest time of the day.

Over 50 tonnes of seafood is sold at the auction each morning making it the largest in the Southern Hemisphere. Fishmongers selling to the public are only a small part of the market’s business. Behind the scenes, wholesalers and retailers all take part in an early morning Dutch or reverse auction. With two giant screens in front of them, the buyers sit at consoles in rows like a theatre, bidding on the catch of the day.

With our trousers rolled up to avoid the puddles of fishy water, we were led by Jared around the different sections of the auction floor. Our first stop was the live shellfish, where the chef almost lost a finger to a fiesty blue swimmer crab. They are available all year round in Australia but are at their best from January to March. Being quite small in size, Jared suggested the crab could be used in a bisque or stock, or to flavour paella.

``Live is the best way to buy them [shellfish] because you can see what condition they are in,’’ Jared said.

Pre-cooked lobsters were also on sale, which Jared recommended as a great picnic treat. A tip: give them a whiff before buying, they should smell sweet and not of ammonia.

The sashimi pavilion was quite a sight, and the only product not to be sold via the reverse auction. Yellowfin tuna and Kingfish reaching over one metre in length were lined up on beds of ice with chunks cut out of their tails so buyers could determine the quality of the fish.

``If it is pinker rather than red it has a higher oil content,’’ said Jared. ``A good thing to do before you ask for your tuna is to ask for a taste.’’

Our last stop was the whole fish section. Flounder, rock cod, John Dory, and red mullet were all crated up and ready for sale.

The tour was given some general tips on choosing a good quality whole fish – check that it is in a state of rigor mortis, the eyes are bulging and clear, and the gills are pinky-red, not brown.

``Good, fresh fish doesn’t smell,’’ said Jared.

Coming soon - part two, Flemington Markets.


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