The Australian Fish and Seafood Cookbook – is it worth its biblical appelation? »
Take four fish and seafood experts, add stunning photography….. and what do you get?
By Jennifer Fearn
Every so often a cookbook is released that is labelled ‘the bible of’ a particular cuisine or theme. Julia Child’s bible Mastering the Art of French Cooking springs to mind like a fresh-from-the-oven soufflé, and Stephanie Alexander’s Australian bible The Cook’s Companion is passed down lovingly from generation to generation.
The Australian Fish & Seafood Cookbook – The Ultimate Kitchen Companion (2016) by John Susman, Anthony Huckstep, Sarah Swan and Stephen Hodges has the potential to become the new New Testament. Acclaimed Sydney chef and restaurateur Neil Perry has already anointed it with a bible gong on its front cover.
In my house, cookbooks are stored on two separate bookshelves. One is for the mainstream cookbooks, and believe me, there are quite a few. They get pulled out occasionally when I have something specific in mind that I want to cook. On the other shelf, somewhat closer to the kitchen, ‘The Bibles’ reside. These are the books that I ponder lovingly over for hours on end, whilst drinking bottomless cups of tea.
These are not necessarily the places I go to when I want to find a recipe. These are the books I immerse myself in when I want to learn to cook. You see, for me, cooking is rarely about following a step-by-step procedure. It’s about reading and learning; soaking up ideas about flavours and ingredients like a Savoiardi biscuit in a tiramisu.
The Australian Fish & Seafood Cookbook is an outstanding vessel for the 130 recipes it contains. However, between its covers the reader will find the type of information not found in more conventional cookbooks. It’s time to learn about over 60 types of fish and seafood.
There are chapters on catching and handling methods, sustainability, selection and storage, seasonality, as well as the more conventional preparation and cooking techniques, and sauces stocks and accompaniments.
Information about flavour profiles extends the usefulness of this book as the reader is able to build knowledge and substitute ingredients as needed. At times it is hard to discern if I am reading a cookbook or a biology textbook.
Whilst this book is invaluable as a reference book, there are some notable and unique recipes. King Salmon Poached in Court Bouillon with Mousseline Sauce (p196 and stunningly photographed on p197) involves classic French techniques married with fresh Tasmanian ingredients. This would be an outstanding centrepiece for any dinner party. Tasmanian king salmon – harvested in the depths of winter to extenuate its high fat content – is brought to life with a lemon-infused creamy beurre blanc sauce.
Equally impressive from a presentation perspective is Blue-eye Trevalla Roasted on Potato Scales with Baby Beetroot and Ricotta (p244, photographed on p 245). Whilst visiting our local (Bathurst St, Hobart) Farmers’ Market, I noted that all of the ingredients for this dish were on offer. The result was impressive Sunday night family dinner.
Using small circles of potato to make the scales is not necessarily an original idea, but the combination of baby beetroot and ricotta with blue-eye was a ‘first’ for my family. The earthiness of the beetroot combined with the creaminess of the ricotta was a lovely accompaniment to the fleshy fish, and the children were delighted that they could eat the fish scales!
So what earns a cookbook ‘bible’ status? In this case, the cover quote of renowned chef, Neil Perry tells us that this is “the only book you’ll ever need on the topic” and he may well be correct. For me, it is the shelf on which it will be kept, and Stephanie Alexander and Julia Child need to snuggle up a little tighter. This bible has enlightened me and it might be time to start going to church!
The Australian Fish & Seafood Cookbook by Susman, Huckstep, Swan & Hodges is published by Murdoch Books Australia (Crows Nest NSW, Oct 2016; hc, 480pp, RRP A$79.99). It is available at good book stores or directly from the publisher here »
Scroll down for recipes from the Australian Fish and Seafood Cookbook
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