Jimmy Gerard hopes 2015 is going to be the Year of the Fish. One of the owners of Auckland's Harbourside restaurant for 24 years, the former head chef has run his popular Jimmy The Fish seafood stall at Ponsonby Central ever since the restaurant was sold in 2012.
Joined by son Tom, they keep locals happy with their highly regarded fish and chips and those with hangovers comforted on a Sunday when they do a belting trade in fish sarnies (crumbed piper fillets on the day we visit, wedged between slabs of Early Bird white bread). But this is no mere shrine to the deep fryer.
Along with wet fish sales, fillets can be ordered pan-fried and served with tarragon butter or with capers and brown butter. And in the winter there’s homemade crayfish butter, too. Even so, Jimmy wishes we'd all get a little more adventurous in the seafood we eat.
Take their snapper wings, once on the menu and now made on request. Dusted in potato flour with a pinch of nutmeg, the wings are cooked until crisp. Generally, middle-aged men, he says, who realise that fish on the bone is better, will try them but Kiwis tend to be very disappointing in their attitude to seafood. “They are averse to fish with bones. If this was Australia we would be so busy. Australians eat so much seafood.''
Asians are some of Jimmy’s best customers. “The Chinese opened us up to eating fish such as parore. When it is fresh it tastes just like barramundi. And Indians phone asking for sardines. We had a good run with sardines last year but there’s not much around this year. I think the fishing companies have commandeered them for bait. I sell sardines for $15 per kg and you pay about $10 at the bait station.”
And while Jimmy laments that he’d sell more interesting seafood if he was based in South Auckland, where customers will buy a whole fish and fillet it themselves, he concedes that things are changing . . . slowly. He is always there ready to suggest how to cook the fish he sells and now, thanks to TV chefs like Jamie Oliver, customers are happy to cook fillets with the skin left on.
Keen to utilise the whole fish, he makes stock twice a week with the bones, selling some to customers who request it and using more to make the veloute for his popular smoked fish pies. His mum's recipe, his pies contain tinned asparagus and hard-boiled eggs but, Jimmy says, “I don’t think she would have made a veloute like I do. There’s no bechamel sauce in mine.”
There’s also made-to-order vongole (clams with pasta in a white wine broth). Jimmy says his philosophy is to keep things simple and the vongole is his most exotic dish. Mussels are shucked raw to be put into fritters or to be topped with Montpellier butter (see recipe) for grilling. A Kashmirian who works for Jimmy who is “good on the pans” also makes a nice fish curry out of kingfish wings.
And what fish should we all be buying more of now? “Ling,” Jimmy says, “It’s very underrated; and yellow-belly flounder which is very affordable. In the winter, filleted skate. Lemon sole is becoming more popular and it is inexpensive too. Look out late winter and early spring for richardson boarfish. We get it from time to time. It looks like tarakihi. Once people try it they are into it big time. Man, that’s nice.”
A flavoursome butter to be used before or after cooking fish fillets or steaks. Good too for poultry, lamb or beef. Any leftover butter can be frozen for later.
100g of watercress leaves, fresh parsley, chervil, chives and tarragon
300g spinach, leaves only
Pinch of cayenne
500g butter, softened
1/2 Tbsp capers, pressed to remove liquid, finely chopped
30g gherkin, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
30g finely chopped shallots
3 anchovy fillets, finely chopped
- Blanch the herbs and spinach. Refresh in cold water and drain. Finely chop using a sharp knife (a food processor may be used but is not recommended).
- Use a piece of muslin or an old, but clean, tea towel to squeeze out all the remaining moisture from the herbs and spinach.
- Season with salt, pepper and a little cayenne.
- Beat softened butter, incorporating the dry, squeezed spinach and herbs and all the other ingredients until well blended.
- Roll butter into 5-6 cm cylinders in baking paper or doubled plastic food wrap. Refrigerate
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Jimmy’s baked turbot fillets, tomato, thyme and panko
2 large beefsteak tomatoes or 4 small vine-ripened ones
700-800g skinned turbot fillets (but lemon sole or yellow belly flounder will be fine too)
5g fresh thyme leaves, no stalks
80-100g panko crumbs
- Heat oven to 180C. Concasse the tomatoes: remove stalk end and nick the skin. Place in boiling water for 15 seconds or until the skin starts to come away. Remove and refresh in iced water. Peel the skins off. Cut tomatoes in half, remove seeds and cut flesh into uniform quartered-moon shapes.
- Roll the fish fillets up, ensuring the darker side where the skin was is on the inside of the roll and the whiter (presentation) side is outside. Place into a lightly buttered oven-to-table dish or anything with sides that can handle an oven.
- Season fish lightly. Sprinkle the tomato concasse over and around.
- Mix the thyme and panko crumbs. Sprinkle over the rolls. Place knobs of butter on top. Bake in oven for 10-15 minutes. Serve with your choice of salad or a ratatouille salad (but that's another story).
I cannot take the blame for overcooked or undercooked fish as it depends on thickness/size etc. Also, just like meat, a little rest is good.