Fish is the protein we all want to eat more of but can’t always get our hands on - or we shy away from it, says Josh Niland. The fish whisperer, whose Sydney restaurant Saint Peter has changed the face of seafood as we knew it (who knew fish eyeballs and offal could taste so good?) has opened the country’s first boutique "fish butchery" a few doors down from his Oxford Street diner.
“All I’m trying to do is introduce what a butcher does for a customer into the fish world, by removing some of the confrontation people feel about buying fish,” Niland tells SBS. The questions he hopes will be answered by the seafood-savvy staff at his Fish Butchery include, “Which fish do I buy? How should I cook it when I get home?” and “this guy told me to buy it whole with scales on it, but I don’t want to make a mess in my kitchen – help”.
Don’t expect to find salmon, barramundi or snapper here; like at Saint Peter (which he runs with his wife, Julie), Niland is spotlighting more underrated sustainable species like blue mackerel, silver trevally and pearl perch. Fish is cut and prepared to order and handed to the customer with advice on how best to cook it, so overcooking and soggy fish skins will soon be a thing of the past.
The Fish Butchery is implementing the same groundbreaking dry ageing techniques as at Saint Peter, where fish are hung on butcher’s hooks in a 0-2 degree static refrigerator with no fans, brining, or ice in sight. The idea is that air can circulate freely around the fish without any residual moisture coming into contact with it. Niland believes that handling fish this way can add up to 12 days to its shelf-life.
“Everybody said to me that I was mad for opening a fish restaurant that just did fish because it's an expensive commodity," he admits. "Traditionally, when you get fish through the door at a restaurant, you’ve got three or four days before you have to start laying on the lemon juice.
“There’s only so long that a fish is excellent for.”
By being able to preserve a fish for so long, the chef says you’re also exposed to new flavour profiles as the days pass. A Spanish mackerel, for instance, will present more ocean-like characteristics on day one and then develop a more savoury flavour by day 15.
“It’s more of a logical business decision as well as discovering new flavours – it’s a good double solution.”
Dinner party banquets will never be easier or more aesthetically pleasing with boneless and butterflied options including a crumbed Port Lincoln King George Whiting (with the tail intact for added wow), or dry-aged Mooloolaba Albacore. There’s also a smoked and cured section where you can find swordfish bacon and smoked prawn oysters, oysters and “no fins” favourites like calamari from Flinders Island, king prawns from Ballina and deep sea bugs from Bermagui.
“It’s the same beautiful fish that I’m using at the restaurant that people eat and wonder where it’s been their whole lives,” Niland says. “And so, to make that accessible for people to take home – that excites me. But in addition to that, [we want] to offer the best method of cookery to apply to it and also get it as ready as I can in the butchery for people to put straight in their pan and have a good experience with fish.”
For a more express option, Saint Peter’s takeaway fish and chips shop has also moved into the Fish Butchery, which is now open for trading.
For those who can't visit the fish butchery in person, Niland shows you how to break down a 15 kilo wild kingfish on the all-new series Food Safari Water (starting Wednesday, August 1 at 8pm on SBS - he appears in episode 3, airing August 15). He'll teach you to use every part of the fish, including sharing his recipes for an “eye chip”, smoked heart, pan-fried liver, seared milt (sperm sac), and deep-fried scales, which extra salty goodness to dishes.
Lead image: Saint Peter - Instagram
Tues- Sun 10am - 6:30pm
388 Oxford St, Paddington, NSW