Fishing for Al Brown's Top Seafood Tips

The chef — and keen fisherman — shares his advice for catching and cooking fish

Chef Al Brown adores fishing but will only ever catch as much as he can eat. Picture / Supplied

Not only does Al Brown's fresh seafood service Freshcatch deliver boxes of our ocean's bounty straight to your door, the ebullient chef it can help instill a new way of valuing seafood for its customers. You only need to try a raw Russell or Mahurangi oyster from Al's inner-city restaurant Depot to taste how much he champions fresh, local flavours and how preparing and presenting them the right way can make all the difference.

"Kiwis have been eating unfresh and poorly handled fish for too long, and for the most part don’t even realise," Al says, which is an interesting observation given how close most of us live to the coast in this country.

"For me, Freshcatch is also an opportunity to educate consumers about how they’re catching and consuming fish," he explains. The most important parts of this include "eating more seasonally, eating different parts of the fish, and enjoying a wider variety of species", to reduce waste and the demand for types of fish that need time to repopulate. 

He also has advice for those heading out on a boat, or to the beach, rod in hand: "Catch what you need to eat rather than your limit and treat every fish as precious.

"I’d like to think the days of posting photos of the 20 snapper you caught are over — why not post a photo of the beautiful fish you caught and released?"

How did you get into fishing?
It's been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, and something I simply adore. I’ve always been a keen fly fisherman, and more recently I’ve got into saltwater fly fishing.

The one thing I enjoy more than catching a fish is releasing it afterwards. I put the majority of what I catch back, and nothing gives me more of a thrill than seeing that fish back in the water, swimming away.

What would you say to people who are a little reluctant to cook or even eat fresh seafood — or those that go the safe route and get tarakihi, hoki or snapper from the supermarket?
Cooking fish is actually one of the simplest and most delicious meals you can make. Nothing beats a simply fried fresh fillet, with a little bit of salt, pepper and lemon juice. You can see for yourself quite how simple it can be by looking at some of my videos on the Freshcatch website.

I really want our customers to branch out and discover the huge range of delicious fish available, usually for a fraction of the price. Trevally for example, which has traditionally been considered a bait fish, has an amazing flavour and can be cooked in so many different ways.

READ: 16 Ways with Fresh Fish

What are some of the more underrated varieties of seafood you’d encourage people to try?
You name it! Trevally, piper, ling, blue mullet. I cooked up some eagle ray, which would normally be discarded as a bycatch, the other day and it was simply amazing. Better still it was only $4 per kilo.

Why is sustainable fishing so important and what are some of the sustainable fishing practices you’re excited about?
Sustainable fishing is a no-brainer and a win-win for the fishing industry, consumers and most importantly, the planet. There are so many great sustainability stories out there and technologies that are transforming the industry. For example, I spent a day on a trawler recently learning about their precision harvesting methods, which brings fish to the surface alive and therefore in great condition. Not only were the juvenile fish able to escape before they were landed, but the bycatch were released alive; the catch was in better shape and therefore far more delicious to eat.

Best way to cook and serve fish if you're a novice?
It couldn't be simpler: hot pan with canola oil, salt, pepper, butter to finish with a squirt of lemon to taste. 

What part of the fish are people throwing out that they could really be eating?
The whole lot: the wings and collars hide a lot of great meat, the roes can be smoked, and after that the whole frame can be boiled down to make broth or stock.

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