One snapper, how many meals
Bruce 'Captain Swish' Duncan
December 19, 2019
Seven ways to extract every inch of value from a catch.
Over the last thirty years I have seen many changes. Back in the day we had paper depth sounders and used good old-fashioned chart work to find the fish. Nowadays, with colour sounders and chart plotters at prices everyone can afford, we have more information at our fingertips than the entire lifetime of experience and knowledge an old fella like me can offer.
I can remember when the first recreational catch limit of thirty snapper per angler, per day, was imposed. In those days I was the neighbourhood hero, supplying fish to every house, up and down the street.
The truth is I was just young and dumb, stroking my own ego rather than thinking about the future fishery. The erosion of the limit to the seven, as it is today is not a bad thing as it actually gives you greater appreciation of the value of a catch and how we should treat it and eat it.
Thirty years of new immigrants arriving on our shores has thrown up some interesting dynamics, with new methods of fishing and a broader understanding of ways prepare and cook the fish we catch.
Trevally, squid and kahawai were once only considered as good for bait, yet now we sashimi it, smoke it and make soup and fish stock from the remains.
I realise how stupid and wasteful I have been in the past and the days of just taking off the fillets and dumping the rest are long gone. By being more efficient with my catch I now only need to keep two or three snapper to by fed really well. When I want to fire up the smoker I will keep a few bigger fish to share around with friends. These days I have no desire to freeze delicious fresh fish.
Ready for everything
In the old world three snapper equalled six fillets on the dinner table, usually pan fried and demolished with lashings of bread and butter. A great feed in anyone’s book but how can you get more out of them?
By taking care of the fish the moment they are landed, iking and laying them on ice to chill and set the flesh, each fish starts its trip to the dinner table with a far longer fridge life. They will also be a lot easier and cleaner to break down and prepare.
Keep the skin on
As much as I like my fish skinned, boned and cooked you can’t beat the odd meal of crispy skinned snapper done in sesame oil.
They key with crispy skin snapper is to gut and scale them at sea rather than making a mess in the kitchen. This is legal, but you must not remove the head or tail, as the length of the carcass is needed for measuring purposes should you questioned by a fisheries officer.
Leave the gutted snapper whole in the fridge overnight for the flesh to fully set. It will also retain moisture and flavour better this way.
Bring the fish out of the fridge and fillet them it an hour before cooking to bring the flesh up to room temperature.
Lightly coat the flesh side with corn flour then turn over and rub sesame oil on the skin.
When frying any fish or meat bring the frying pan up to heat before you add any oil. Add a little olive oil and a small knob of butter. Sesame oil is quite strong and pungent so do not add anymore to the pan - the oil on the skin will be enough to bring out the flavour.
Lay the fillets in the pan skin side down, then put a lid over the frying pan for a few minutes so the heat is reflected back onto the flesh to seal the moisture in. Once the flesh is white and mostly cooked remove the lid and raise the heat to crisp the skin.
A nice touch, once the fish is removed from the pan, is to toss in some chopped spring onion and a touch of water (or white wine) then quickly stir and drizzle it over the fillets.
There is a great deal of tasty flesh around the belly flaps most people never think about keeping. These easily removed portions can be cut out and frozen in a zip lock bag for a future barbecue. Plan your futures carefully as they will thaw rapidly and you should only defrost what you need.
Quick smoked is my favourite method for belly flaps and they are a tasty treat eaten hot or cold. Simply wipe over with handy towel then paint over the fleshy side with maple syrup and rub in brown sugar (this can also be done prior to freezing).
Lay the prepared belly flaps on a rack in the smoker; they will only need ten minutes cooking.
A tasty heads up
When smoking any fish I also include the heads as they also can be used in a number of different ways. Once smoked it is easier to remove the flesh while it’s still warm.
The flesh from heads is perfect to add to fish chowder or to a bacon and corn fritter mix. A really special touch is to make up a dressing of garlic aioli with wasabi sauce stirred in.
Place the plate with the smoked fish in the microwave for thirty seconds, just to slightly warm the flesh, and pour the wasabi dressing over the fish pieces.
Alternatively, whip up a healthy salad with your favourite dressing and toss the slightly warmed smoked fish through it.
Fresh fried fish frames
Even the best of us can’t get every scrap of flesh off the frame with a filleting knife.
Try trimming off the top and bottom bones of the frame with a heavy-duty pair of scissors then dust with corn flour and toss into a pan of hot oil. It won’t take long for each side to go golden brown and crispy. It will take even less time for the troops to pull off the flesh. This recipe is better than potato chips!
Soup from the bones
To be honest, I have never been a great fan of fish soup. That was until I was on a boat with some Chinese friends who came very prepared on the day.
Seeing me, a typical wasteful kiwi, tossing the heads and frames over the side they grabbed a few and headed for the galley, soon emerging with a clear tasty bones and refreshing fish soup.
The trick is to simply boil the heads and frames in lightly salted water. Then, once cooked, add sliced ginger and spring onion plus a couple of small garlic bulbs.
On its own this dish is stunning but to give it another kick I add tiny touch of five-spice powder. When ladling it out don’t bother to remove any bones as they all add to the appearance.
We all know the value of berley so why is it that we never bother to cut out the gut bag of the fish we catch? Obviously the contents of their stomachs is the food the fish's have been feeding on so if kept and tossed in an ice cream container in the freezer it makes perfect ground bait rather than it ending up in the rubbish.
Be it seven or three snapper there is a lot more value to be gained from our catch, than just the fillets. All it takes is a little imagination.