Sydney Seafood School Cookbook by Roberta Muir

Tips, techniques and recipes from Australia’s leading chefs

By Robyn Lewis
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Sydney Seafood school cookbook by Roberta Muir

Sydney Seafood school cookbook by Roberta Muir

Sydney Seafood School
Sydney Seafood School
Roberta Muir, author of the Sydney Seafood school cookbook
Sydney Seafood School


Nothing says summer in Australia more than a barbecue, a drink and some seafood. We’re largely a nation of coastal dwellers, and with our relatively sound fish management practices, we’re not short of guilt-free seafood to throw on the barbie, in a pan or the oven.

Year-round, Australia is blessed with a variety and quality of seafood that is increasingly the envy of the world. A trip to the Sydney Seafood Markets should be on every food-lover’s must-do list, if only to marvel at the glistening marine riches with which we are blessed.

Fish is also becoming prominent in the diets of the health and wellness conscious – for its low ‘bad’ fats, high ‘good’ oils and overall low calorie protein fix. It used to be that Fridays were for fish, and our ancestors were onto something, although now the recommended number of serves is two per week, not one.

At least in this country we can consume that much in the knowledge that most of it is being harvested sustainably (it still pays to check each species – see the sustainability guide by Hilary McNevin below) and is (again, for most types) low in heavy metals and other toxins.

But as demand rises, so do the prices. So how best to cook and make the most of it? For some reason – perhaps because our parents’ generation lost the art? – seafood is perceived by many to be difficult to cook. Far from it!

If you can manage to turn out a medium-rare steak, you can cook fish, and other forms of seafood aren’t far behind. Some you can eat raw, others require minimal preparation, and you can try your hand at smoking and other forms of preparation.

It doesn’t hurt to take some tips from the experts however, and Roberta Muir and the lineup of chefs who have contributed to this book have plenty to offer. As the media release says: “For more than 20 years, Sydney Seafood School has been teaching us how to prepare and cook the wonderful array of seafood found in our oceans and rivers.”

Conveniently located at the Sydney Fish Market, the School is managed by Roberta Muir, who has been overseeing the education of thousands of students, and who has compiled and distilled the huge amount of knowledge into this culinary treasure trove. We should thank her heartily for doing so.

It’s the first time that “the School shares its wealth of tips and techniques, along with more than 80 outstanding recipes from Australia's leading chefs.”

For that’s another perk of being located in Sydney – Muir can call on the likes of Pete Evans (who contributes a recipe for Garlic Prawns), David Thompson (Grilled Barramundi Curry), Alex Herbert (Fish & Chips), Tetsuya Wakuda (Crudo of Leatherjacket, a highly under-rated and under-utilised fish in Australia – Mark Best provides another recipe, with Tapenade, Tomato and Basil),  Neil Perry (Bar Rock Cod Tagine), Frank Camorra (Galician-style Octopus), Tony Bilson (Cured Salmon with EVOO and Shallots, Whole Baked Salmon)…. Lauren Murdoch, Justin North, Kylie Kwong, Jeremy Strode, Guillame Brahimi, Matt Moran, Shannon Bennett.... her stellar roll call goes on and on.

But it’s far from an ego-driven publication where the chefs are the stars (they each get a small photo) – here, it’s the produce.

Sydney Seafood School Cookbook is divided into three sections: Finfish, Shellfish, and Basics.

Then it has another index, dividing recipes into: Soups, Salads, Party Food, Quick & Easy Dinners, Special Occasion Dinners and Sauces & Sides (I wish more cookbook publishers would take up this idea, it makes the book so easy to use).

The Finfish section commences with a handy double page, black and white illustration of Australia’s main fish species, followed by a section on choosing and storing fish (ok, you might know this part), then a great explanation on Preparing Finfish. This has excellent photos illustrating exactly how to scale, fillet, skin, pin bone and butterfly fish, skills which no doubt the graduates of the Sydney Seafood School are adept.

The recipes follow – warning, do not read this book when you are hungry! The excellent photos by Alan Benson will have you salivating for every single dish. For fish, these are divided into Assembling, Baking, Barbecuing, Deep-frying, Pan-frying and Poaching & Steaming (there’s none for grilling; these come under barbecue).

The introductory page on Assembling (p 15) is essential reading, for increasingly we are eating more raw, lightly seared, cured and smoked fish, where the delicate touch and observance of hygiene are paramount. It should also be noted that fish protein degrades rapidly if not chilled immediately and stored correctly – no use paying upwards of A$30 or $40 per kilogram if through mishandling you are going to lose half the nutrients, or worse.

Baking fish is a very easy way to entertain impressively, and there are plenty of recipes to try and to use as a basis for your own adaptations. And who couldn’t use some tips on Barbecuing fish? Follow the simple instructions on p 49 and your bbq results are likely to improve out of sight. Grilled Sticky-Rice-Stuffed Garfish with Chilli Vinaigrette, anyone? Yes please!

When the weather cools and it’s time to move indoors, Deep-frying is a great way to cook seafood, as when done properly (and it’s not hard) – it is fast, seals in the flavour, and adds crunch and texture (and in summer you can always do what I do: take the deep-fryer outside with an extension cord, set it up near the barbie or on a side table, and let guests cook their own tempura or whatever’s on your menu).

Like all sections Pan-frying has its own set of tips, like cook fish with the skin on, then apply 70% of the heat/cooking time to that side.

One of the few minor criticisms of the book I can find is that “where is the simple piece of fish, beautifully cooked?” as I recall food critic Necia Wilden once observing about a particular state’s restaurants. Perhaps chefs don’t want to lend their name to something so simple and yet seemingly so hard to achieve, but a basic recipe would have been a good addition here, then with options to dress it up, eg with salsa, Asian flavours, a spice rub or whatever.

Poaching and Steaming are amongst my favourite ways of cooking fish. The latter is fast, easy, healthy and tasty. Kylie Kwong’s Steamed Whole Coral Trout with Ginger and Spring Onions recipe can be used on just about any whole fish with great results, as has been done in Asia for millennia. Poaching is very like pan frying but with stock (fish or seafood) instead of an oil, and should be used more at home, it’s just as simple and with less fat. (There are stock recipes in the Basics section at the rear.) This section also includes an excellent recipe for Bouillabaisse by Guillame Brahimi.

The format is repeated for Univalves and Bivalves: abalone, sea urchins, oysters, scallops, mussels, clams (cockles) and pipis, the latter found all round our coast and almost totally ignored. The tips even tell you how to store your live abs and other shellfish, and again the photos depicting the preparation are excellent, including the steps for shucking oysters. This and the following sections are not divided into cooking methods – just read through and find a recipe that takes your fancy.

Some are so simple but so obviously delicious, I can't wait to try them, especially George Francisco’s Fire Ice and Peter Gilmore’s Dashi Jelly on my next platter of oysters. Damien Pignolet’s much-sought-after recipe for Hazelnut Mussels is also included.

Then follows Cephalopods. You’ll soon be cleaning squid and octopus, which (hopefully) will never be tough again – Lauren Murdoch’s recipe for Chilli Salt Octopus with Almond Skordalia sounds particularly delicious.

Lastly, the Crustaceans, for many the kings of the seafood world. Blue Swimmer Crabs, Southern Rock Lobster, Mud Crab – bring them on! You’ll never wonder how to prepare crabs, prawns and bugs again, or how to kill them humanely. I can assure you that Cheong Liew’s Mamak Mud Crab is excellent – I discovered this recipe while in Queensland, and cook it whenever I can get hold of a ‘muddie’.

Again however, there could be some introductory recipes for e.g. barbecued/pan fried/tempura prawns, boiled lobster/crayfish (fantastic done in seawater) and crab, but I guess there’s always the internet for those. If you are doing simple, Mark Best’s Deep-fried School Prawns is a winner, and if you ever get sick of boiled yabbies (my tip – throw in a bunch of dill, it removes the muddiness) there’s Alessandro Pavoni’s Yabby, Asparagus and Saffron Risotto to try, which you can also make with marron or prawns.

Another possible improvement for the next edition (and I’m sure this will be reprinted many times) is the inclusion of some wine and beer matches, for with recipes like these I feel some guidance is required to maximise enjoyment!

The Basics cover everything from stocks to sauces, a Flatbread by Warren Turnbull, the Sydney Seafood School’s own Crêpe recipe and more, followed by a Seafood Kit and list of special Chef’s Ingredients.

For once, I agree wholeheartedly with the media release: “With beautiful photos of all the recipes to help you decide what to make, and illustrations of the various species so you know what to look for at the fishmonger, Sydney Seafood School Cookbook will give you the know-how and confidence to prepare seafood at home – with delicious results every time.”

It’s a great book, beautiful, thoughtfully designed, and encapsulating all that is wonderful about modern Australian cuisine and our seafood bounty. It would make an excellent gift, a souvenir for a visitor to Australia or look just as good at the beachside shack; years of culinary enjoyment lie at your fingertips with the Sydney Seafood School Cookbook at hand.

Sydney Seafood School Cookbook by Roberta Muir is published by Lantern Press (an imprint of Penguin Books, Melbourne, Australia; 2012; hc, 234 pp) and retails in Australia for RRP A$49.99. and Winepros Archive subscribers and Members can purchase Sydney Seafood School Cookbook from our Australian book partners Seekbooks at a saving of 12.5% here (postage extra) »

It is also
available from Booko here » Members receive a 10% discount when booking any class at the Sydney Seafood School – see related link below.


  • Sydney (NSW)

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January 29th, 2013
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