Perfect fish cooking tips from a seafood chef

Fish and seafood has always been an area of cooking that has interested me. Working at Sydney Cove Oyster Bar in Circular Quay, Sydney, really allowed me to discover my passion and love for all things seafood. Here are my tips on getting the perfect seafood.

Crispy skin

The secret to achieving crisp skin when pan frying fish such as barramundi or salmon is to always make sure the skin is dry first, and salted with a good quality sea salt. Always cook your fish skin side first in the pan on a moderate temperature. Using minimal oil also helps get a crisp skin.

I’ve always loved crispy skin barramundi served with a rocket and shaved fennel salad and lentil stuffed in capsicum. Here in New Zealand we don’t get barramundi so I’m really missing it a lot!

Perfect poaching

An alternative to pan frying fish is poaching. Ideally fish used for poaching should have the skin removed. In the poaching liquid you can add aromatic herbs or spices of your choice. Barramundi, halibut, bass and salmon are all excellent fish for poaching.

In my poaching liquid I like to crush a clove of garlic, chop an onion, add the peel of a lemon, peppercorns, a clove and a splash of vinegar. Never let the water boil — it should only gently simmer while you’re cooking fish. You know when the fish is cooked when it flakes gently in the centre when you put your knife into it. It all depends on the thickness of your fish so pay close attention to it along the way.

Tender calamari

The secret to super tender squid or calamari is in the marinade: add a diced up kiwi fruit to the marinade about an hour before cooking. The kiwi has an enzyme that helps break down the fibres of the seafood quicker, leaving you with silky soft squid. After an hour marinating, dispose of the kiwi and cook the squid in a hot pan or grill reasonably quick. It doesn’t need long at all to cook.

I’ve always enjoyed freshly cooked squid tossed in a salad of crisp iceberg with coriander, chilli, cucumber and cherry tomatoes. Sometimes I throw in some toasted sunflower and pumpkin seeds for added texture and volume.


Getting the freshest fish

Here are some key signs to identify freshness when purchasing fish from the markets:

  • Fresh whole fish have clear eyes, not cloudy or milky
  • Fish flesh is intact and not torn or broken
  • A fresh mild ocean smell and not a fishy smell
  • Packed on ice or in a fridge
  • Not sitting in a pool of water or juices. All seafood should be well presented on display
  • If you can check the gills, check that they’re pink and bright.

Serve with…

As a general rule with cooking, oily fish such as trout and salmon are best suited for grilling and pan searing, and best served with citrus and strong flavours like capers, garlic and ginger.

White, soft flesh fish such as whiting, flounder and snapper are more suited to gently steaming or poaching. White fish are always complimented better with gentle flavours such as dill, creamy butter sauces and fresh herbs.

HeadshotBorn and raised in Sydney, Ali grew up surrounded by Middle Eastern cooking. Having worked at the award-winning Aqua Luna Bar & Restaurant, La Sala and the iconic Sydney Cove Oyster Bar — winning several awards for his culinary genius in the process — 
he now trains future chefs at WelTec, the international award winning School of Hospitality in Wellington, New Zealand.

Ali is passionate about food and cooking, but also loves training hard at the gym, and not only knows what workout fuel tastes great, but the best way to cook it too. We’re excited to have him on our team! For more from Ali, check him out on Instagram and Twitter