Ban the mush by using the right seafood for your slower cooked recipes.
By
Bron Maxabella

6 Nov 2018 - 9:43 AM  UPDATED 7 Nov 2018 - 2:40 PM

There are certain textures you simply don’t want to be associated with your seafood dinner: tough and dry are two that instantly spring to mind, but mushy has got to round out the top three. Nothing makes your taste buds revolt faster than sloppy seafood.

Which is what makes a seafood stew, soup or braise so tricky. Smaller, delicate fish simply won’t hold up to the longer cooking time that these techniques demand. Flakier varieties will also turn to pulp. 

Here's the lowdown on how to ensure your slower cooked dishes like stews, curries, soups and braises are mush-free zones.

Stew on this

Nothing beats a good seafood stew for sharing with friends. Seafood curries are especially popular, like the Sri Lankan crab curry Nigethan Sithirasegaram prepared on Food Safari Water, which Maeve O’Meara described as “pure flavour”.

Get Sithirasegaram's amazing recipe here.

The crab is stewed whole in the shell – the perfect way to slow-cook a delicate seafood like crab, without turning it to mush. This technique would also work well with lobster, pippies, tiger prawns, abalone and scallops.

Lobster stew

King Juan Carlos of Spain goes on holidays to the beach every year. There, he finds his favourite dish: "Caldereta de langosta", a kind of lobster stew. Today, Spanish chef Antonia Herrero López will teach us how to prepare the king´s favourite dish.

Brodet

This is the classic, spectacular Croatian seafood stew from the Dalmatian Coast. I was amazed to see Ino preparing the eel by running his hand down the length of it to break any small bones. If you’re buying eel for the first time, get your fishmonger to show you how this is done, if you can find one that stocks eel! For the recipe you need to use at least three different kinds of fish and some shellfish, white-fleshed reef and rock fish are good choices. Ideally one fish will be for flavour, one for its flesh and one to boost the thickness of the stew. Scampi are great for flavour or you can use Balmain bugs or crabs instead. Serve with soft polenta.

 

For stews and curries without shellfish, it’s best to start with a good fish stock and then add the chunkier seafood pieces later. You’ll need firm-fleshed fish and seafood to keep the sloppiness at bay. Fish like leatherjacket, ling, flathead, whiting and dory are all good choices.

In curries, it’s also a good idea to use a fish with a stronger flavour, as the spicy flavours in the sauce will overpower milder flavoured fish. Oilier fish like mackerel, swordfish, tuna and yellowtail kingfish work well.

 

8 of the best Indian seafood curries
From Bengali barramundi and Goan prawns to Kerala’s spicy sauce, we’re working our way across India to bring you 8 of the most satisfying seafood curries.
 

Braised right

Braising is a slow cooking technique that may not naturally be associated with the short cooking times of seafood. However, with the right seafood choice, it works beautifully to gently flavour the fish and keep it from drying out. Braising seafood also doesn’t call for the hours required to braise meat. Most seafood is gently braised through to meltingly tender in minutes.

Think of braising as poaching, but with a lid. A small amount of liquid surrounds the base of the fish or seafood, but doesn’t cover it. The liquid can be wine, milk, stock, broth, sauce or just plain water. Cover the lot with a lid and cook on a slow simmer until done.

Spicy braised fish stew (smor ikang)

Mace is the red, lacy layer wrapped around the seed of the nutmeg fruit. Flattened out and dried, it has a more pungent flavour than nutmeg, and is often used ground or as pieces known as blades in savoury dishes. It adds depth and sweetness to this spicy stew from Manado, Indonesia.

Whole braised fish with spring onion blanket

This is one of those dishes that looks impressive on the table, but which takes very little effort to create. It's designed to be served as part of a banquet or shared meal.

Claypot cooking is ideal for this technique as the fish is both steamed and stewed to retain maximum flavour and texture. Angie Hong’s claypot fish recipe from Food Safari Water is a classic example. The clay not only adds moisture to help steam the food but also imparts an earthy note to the dish.

Find the recipe for claypot fish here.

Braising is a gentle technique that suits most seafood. Octopus, squid, cuttlefish and abalone are particularly suitable to this method of cooking. Fish species like Murray cod, blue-eyed trevella, monkfish and salmon are also well suited to the technique.

For more delicate varieties like salmon and snapper (and other breams), you can sit the seafood on top of a bed of vegetables to lift it above the liquid. Technically, the fish is then cooked in a fragrant steam, rather than braised. It’s best not to sear delicate varieties before braising.

Souped up

Every variety of seafood has been used in a soup at one time or another. Seafood soup is popular in almost every cuisine, from a Breton cotriade to a Chinese crab soup to a Malaysian laksa.

Flakier fish like rainbow trout, salmon and whiting, and delicate fish and seafood like anchovies, oysters, clams and urchins, work best as single-flavour soups or paired with a similar-flavoured partner. Try a Russian ukha, using salmon and perch; or a Vietnamese oyster hotpot.

Cod chowder

The secret to chowder perfection? Homemade fish stock (and bacon helps, too).

Blue swimmer crab and sweetcorn soup

This is a deluxe version of a very simple Chinese dish, a particular favourite of mine, the sweetness of the crab and corn pairing very nicely. I use meat picked from a raw crab so as to utilise the shells in my stock to give a deeper crab flavour.

Clam and fregola soup

I’ve been inspired by Giovanni Pilu’s A Sardinian Cookbook to make a seafood soup with fregola – the island’s famed, small round pasta. You could use moghrabieh (Middle Eastern pearl couscous); just toast it in a dry pan first, swirling the pan the whole time over a medium–high heat. If you buy the vacuum-packed, cleaned clams, there’s no need to purge them.

For ‘chunky’ style soups like bouillabaisse or chowder, keep to firm flesh varieties of seafood, like calamari, prawns, octopus, and fish like wild-caught barramundi, ling, mahi mahi, blue-eyed trevally and coral trout. The parihuela featured on Food Safari Water uses bream, which is cooked partly then added at the end of the dish, along with mussels, pippies, scallops and calamari.

Try this Peruvian favourite here.

Bouillabaisse

This warming soup is traditional stew from Marseille, France’s largest city on the Mediterranean coast, by the fisherman who wanted to cook the fish they couldn’t sell at the markets. Traditionally made with bony rockfish, it's the kind of dish you can add whatever fresh seafood you manage to bring home from the ocean.

Filipino sour soup (seafood sinigang)

This is a traditional Filipino stew of seafood and vegetables, with a strong tamarind flavour. When I first came across this recipe, I immediately fell in love with it.

Of course, soups and broths are a fantastic way to use the whole fish: bones, heads, shells, tails. Make a broth using the fish parts you don’t want to eat whole, strain and discard. Use the stock as the basis for other fish braises, stews and soups.

Making fish stock ensures you extract every last bit of flavour from fish or seafood. One dish becomes another, and another and another...

This week it's all about feel good fish on Food Safari Water with Maeve O'Meara 7.30pm, Wednesdays on SBS and then you can catch-up on all episodes via SBS On Demand. Visit the program page for recipes, videos and more.

Curry on fishing
Malayali fish curry

“India is two-thirds coastal so it’s no surprise everyone loves their fish. When I think of coastal food I think of fish curries and coconut and this one from Kerala is one of my favourites.” Anjum Anand, Anjum's Australian Spice Stories

Cinnamon and coconut fish curry

This recipe, from my Dock Kitchen Cookbook, is based on the classic Keralan fish moilee. It’s a bit time-consuming because you have to make your own coconut milk, but is worth it. Homemade coconut milk is much more delicate and lighter than shop-bought. If you don’t have the time, water-down tinned coconut milk by half.

 

Hot and sour fish curry (gulai tumis ikan)

Like all curries, this recipe begins with a great curry paste. The heat in this Malaysian dish comes from the chillies in the paste as well as the Vietnamese mint, which is peppery. Tamarind concentrate takes care of the sour component.

Cape Malay fish curry

Hazel McBride shares the fragrant and spicy world of South African food in her recipe for Cape Malay fish curry. While you can substitute the rock ling or hake with any firm white-fleshed fish fillets, Hazel cautions against adding ginger as her mother says "it breaks the fish".

Quick fish curry

"One day on Turtle Island in Fiji, a guest returned from our daily deep-sea fishing trip with one of the biggest coral trout I’ve ever seen. It was lunchtime and he wanted to eat his fish immediately, with a hint of local inspiration. I asked one of my Fijian chefs to make me some fresh coconut milk and we put together this quick fish curry dish in a few minutes, using the produce from our garden. The guest liked it so much, he ordered this dish regularly for the rest of his stay", says Jacques Reymond.