Secrets of the Sydney Fish Market The world is your oyster

Text: John Newton

Is being near the Sydney Fish Market the greatest thing about living in Glebe? Ten minutes by car, 15 by light rail or 20 by leisurely stroll along the harbour front. And there you are, at one of the best fish markets in the world…Well, it’s not Tokyo’s Tsukiji, but it’s not bad. Living so close and going so often, I’ve learnt a few of its secrets. Gather round and I’ll share them.

If you’re like me, you’re no expert at slicing, skinning and filleting fish. You don’t have to be. All the traders will do it for you. Select your whole fish, and ask for it to be cut into fillets or steaks. And request it to be done dry – water washes away the flavour. Selecting a whole fish means you get to check its age: look for firm flesh, bright eyes and a pleasant sea smell. If it smells fishy, it is.

A while ago I was standing at Claudio’s looking at the prawns and one of the fishos sidled up to me and murmured, like a drug dealer, “Here, look at these.”

‘These’ being a plastic tub full of giant green prawns. “Every now and then they come down from the Clarence River on ice slurry, not frozen,” the fisho told me. As you walk in, if they’re there, you’ll see them on the left hand side of the centre bay, below the rest of the prawns. Not always, and not cheap, but worth it. Keep an eye out for them.

A Spanish mate taught me to cook them a while back: have two big pots of water, one boiling, the other full of ice and a half-handful of salt for each kilo. Throw them in the boiling water. As soon as they’ve changed colour to pink, drain them, and plunge them in the iced salted water. When they cool, put them in the fridge till you’re ready to eat them.

Who loves oysters? As you walk into the main building that houses the office and the auction floor, on your right you’ll see a stall selling live oysters outside Doyle’s restaurant. That’s oyster central. David Doyle picks the seasonally best Pacifics and Sydney Rocks, and they’re opened to order using a very clever device that does so without washing them. Check all the other oyster openers in the market and they’re washing away the flavour. Generally speaking Sydney Rocks from the north coast are best in summer, south coast in winter. Why don’t you learn how to DIY? You can buy a sturdy oyster knife (I like the French Sabatier) across the way at the kitchen and souvenir shop. And find someone to teach you.

A couple of weeks ago I ran into John Susman coming out of a meeting at the market. Sus is Mr Seafood in Sydney. Remember The Flying Squid Brothers? They were the first of the fishmongers to the star chefs, they introduced us to Coffin Bay Scallops, and persuaded us to eat them roe on. He also introduced us to the superb Hiramasa kingfish from Port Augusta. And way back when, Sus taught me how to open oysters. He told me at the time there are two essential skills for a civilised human: opening a champagne bottle and opening oysters.

We gossed about the state of fish biz. I asked him when he reckons the market will move, they’ve been talking about moving it for at least ten years. It’s been at Blackwattle Bay since 1966. “Won’t happen in my lifetime,” he said. I’d give him a good 25-30 years. You heard it here first.

You can learn how to open oysters at The Sydney Seafood School on Monday June 4, 6.30-8.30. Book at the school website.


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