After a fantastic early morning at Sydney's Fish Markets in Pyrmont, Head Chef Jesse McTavish shares his tips and tricks for choosing the best fish. He says his first and most important step in choosing fish, is to establish a relationship with your fishmonger or supplier, who can advise you on what is freshest, local and in season. 




What do you look for in a really good fish?

This might sound strange but the first thing you should look for is that the fish has its head! So much about the age and quality of the fish is told by indicators on the head. Always look for bright, full and clear eyes. The flesh should be firm to touch and ideally in rigor mortis stage. It should have a fresh ocean/seaweed smell, depending on the species. 
Mulloway, for example, should smell like fresh kelp or seaweed - just like a stirred up ocean in a big swell. The gills, if still intact, should be bright red from oxidation. Salmon and trout should have a good coating of slime on the skin to show that they haven’t been washed with fresh water. No saltwater fish should have contact with fresh water. 



What are your top tips for selecting fish at the market? What do you look for? 

I look for something interesting and/or underrated. Some good examples are mullet, tailor, bream, yellow eye mullet, Australian Salmon, leatherjacket, wrasse, amberjack and wahoo. These are usually in smaller numbers and overlooked by the majority so their price point is lower and generally speaking they’re fresher because of the lower numbers. I will always look for the hallmarks of freshness and quality first though. 



When you're choosing dishes for the North Bondi fish menu, do you look at using a range of fish/seafood or are you guided simply by the seasons and what the waters bring?  

We balance our selections on season, species, brand, price point, variety and personal favourites. I receive a phone call from the markets each day letting me know what fish are being caught and what is quality. 

I also understand that there are certain times of the year that some seafood is in higher demand, and jumping on that trend is good for business (eg prawns at Christmas time). We do try to tactfully educate our guests as much as possible in regards to the ‘brands’ of fishing, and how we can work together to keep our fisheries sustainable. For example, flathead and snapper are powerful brands in the industry and will always be top sellers. But it’s worth trying to educate our diners that there are other fish that taste even better that those two without the price tag and the potential for overfishing to match. Quite often I will run with a fish that I simply just enjoy cooking and eating.