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WA Seafood

Sustainable WA Prawns


Sustainable WA Prawns

Do you ever ask your fishmonger or restaurant waiter where the seafood you are eating is coming from? It is an important question, and one that can drive and change the way fish and shellfish are caught and then sold here in Australia.

We are a long way from achieving and maintaining the sustainable fishing practices of countries such as Norway, which currently holds the title for most sustainable fishing in the world. However,   by making an informed decision about what fish we buy and eat, keeping in mind those species which are 'over-fished', each individual contributes to the development of a completely sustainable fishing industry.

Let's take a look at the local market and a big local favourite: West Australian prawns. It is important to remember that eating local does not always mean that you are eating sustainably. See below for a list of WA prawns and their sustainability status plus the best seasons and ways to prepare them!


Wild caught Endeavour and Banana Prawns: Fished in the tropical waters of northern WA (and QLD), banana prawns are short-lived and fast-growing (these are two good signs). Stocks are healthy and these prawns are caught by otter trawler (at the sea surface) in WA, minimising sea bed and habitat impact. There is still a problem with by-catch reduction, with many species such as turtles and endangered sea snaked being caught up in the fishing equipment. Small-scale WA fisheries do not appear to be having a major impact on the decline in turtle numbers. So eat banana and endeavour prawns on occasion, perhaps chilled in a salad or tossed through pasta, but take care not to eat them everyday!

Western King Prawn: Available almost year round, King Prawn stocks are considered stable from fisheries including Exmouth and Shark Bay. It is still recommended that these be eaten in moderation as bottom trawlers are still used to harvest King prawns and the effects of this on the habitat are still to be seen. If anything, it would be more sustainable to eat Spencer Gulf King prawns from South Australia as the sustainability rating here is much higher. But, keep to Shark Bay and Exmouth if you prefer to stay with WA and watch out for their 2017 rating. King Prawns are perfect marinated with lemon myrtle and pepperberry and charred on the barbecue.

Tiger Prawn: These are meaty and tender and a big favourite. Wild Tiger prawns are also caught by otter trawler off the tropical north coast of WA, having a low impact on the muddy seabed. Those caught over in Queensland are said to have more of an impact on the habitats of the seabeds. Again, they shouldn't be eaten everyday, so stick to reputable fisheries when buying and try to eat when mainly in season ( Summer and Autumn). If available, farmed Tiger prawns are much more sustainable and are fed with non-fish feed, therefore not impacting wild fish stocks at all. Tiger prawns are beautiful just butterflied and glazed with butter and gubinge. They can also hold their own in a curry or casserole.

Most importantly, stay away from imported farmed prawns from parts of Asia including China and Vietnam where native prawn stocks are being displaced by farmed species and coastal habitats have been destroyed (i.e: Vannamei or White leg prawns are not sustainable and are fed on fish oil and fish feed...... they're not terribly tasty either).

To keep up to date with Australia's fish and seafood stocks and to understand more about which species are sustainable, check out the fantastic mobile phone app Australia's Sustainable Seafood Guide here. Let's all work together to make WA and Australia one of the most sustainable fishing countries in the world.





Exotic Pearl Meat


Exotic Pearl Meat

It's big in Asia. In fact, about 70% of all Pearl meat currently leaves Australian shores, destined for high end restaurants in Singapore, Japan, Shanghai and Hong Kong. There it is quick blanched, chopped and stir-fried into delicate, elegant dishes.   

The remaining 30% makes its way to fine dining establishments on Australia's east coast and to a handful of restaurants here in Perth and in Broome. Chefs who can get their hands on it and whose food cost budget allows (Pearl meat fetches over $100/kilogram) jump at the chance to work with such a prized ingredient. It is hard to get, which is why we don't see it appearing on ice at the local fish monger. 

Pearl meat comes from the largest oyster in the world, the Pinctada Maxima. Pearls from the silver-lipped pearl oyster, found in the coastal waters off Broome in the Kimberley, are highly sought after. In fact, the pearling 'industry' first started with settlers in the Pilbara region in the 1860s eventually moving to the shell laden waters of Broome. To learn more about the history of the pearling industry in the Kimberley check out the following website.

Most importantly, long before the pearling industry, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people used pearl and shells for ceremonial purposes and the meat as a food source for centuries.

With recent approval by the State government for the construction of a multi species hatchery at the opposite end of Western Australia in Frenchman Bay, Albany, it seems the amount of pearl meat that may soon be available to West Australians will increase. Not only will this aid the economy and create jobs, it will boost export market potential and allow the meat to appear on more menus throughout the state. How exciting!

Generally pearl meat is lightly tenderised before cooking. But, texturally it is not as chewy as Abalone (unless you overcook it) nor is it as soft as say, scallops. It has a minerally,  fresh-from-the-sea taste to it which can take on light subtle flavours whilst still holding its own.

The best way to cook it? Don't overcook it first of all. Unless it is being braised, thinly sliced pearl meat can be quickly seared in the pan for no more than 10 seconds each side. We like to serve it raw on RiverMint menus seasoned with native flavours including finger lime, bloodroot, native lemongrass and a touch of Geraldton Wax oil. It also works beautifully just flash fried with sugar snaps, mirin, Tamari and ginger. Or try braising sliced pearl meat slowly for 2 hours in a basil tomato sauce. 

If you would like to get your hands on some pearl meat, have a look at respected pearl farmers such as Clipper Pearls or Great Southern Shellfish. Otherwise, if you are in Broome why not check out the awesome Willie Creek Pearl Meat Cook-off, held annually as part of the Shinju Masturi Festival in September each year. This year's winners from Matso's Brewery, served the pearl meat ceviche style marinated in lime and tequila and topped with champagne poached apple and spiced potato crisp. Delish!!




Crayfish and Two Up

Crayfish and Two Up


Lest We Forget……” A squeaky, out of tune bugle demands respectful silence as it struggles to lament the Last Post. Anzac Day in the middle of the Indian Ocean. How did I end up here?            

The Australian flag flaps quietly as waves crash on the beach below. Anzac biscuits are distributed, sausages start to sizzle and the fizz of beer bottles opening all mix with the hum of anticipation………. Let the Two-Up games begin.

I shuffle in close to join the circle of cray fishing families and privileged visitors, all waving 50 and 100 dollar notes. Fifty headsone woman cries…… “One hundred tailsyells a well-lubricated fisherman. And so it continues for three hours. A man everyone calls Docsteps into the circle, he looks vaguely familiar with his sandals and rather prominent ears ……. ‘Head em up Doc! Head em up!a true-blue Aussie fisherwoman squawks. He hastily flips the coin in the air; it lands on tales. There is a groan from the crowd. Money changes hands, beer flows. I take a closer look and realise that Docis in fact British actor Martin Clunes – Doc Martin. Well, I wonder, how did he end up here? I later find out that Martin Clunes was visiting the Abrolhos Islands whilst filming his series "Islands of Australia".    

 I had no idea when I accepted a freelance cooking position on a yacht, that I would end up anchored overlooking some of the most beautiful and remote islands in the world. The Abrohlos Islands are 122 islands located 60km north west of Geraldton on Western Australia’s Coral Coast.These islands are divided into three groups: the Wallabies Group, the Easter Group, and the Pelsaert Group, surrounded by 90 kilometres of Indian Ocean abundant with marine life. The reefs here have claimed many vessels, including in 1629 the Batavia. The seas are treacherous, the sharks curious, and the crayfish abundant.

As the skies begin to darken and the wind rises, the visiting boating community clamber back into their dinghies and allow the small seasonal population that resides in the island’s fishing shacks to return to their quiet existence.  It has indeed been a local experience like no other.

The next day I prepare the popular and highly-prized west coast crayfish, or rock lobster as some might refer to it for lunch on deck. Straight from the pot, poo trail removed and into boiling water. I whisper 'I'm so sorry little guy", to each not-so little crustacean that I lower into the water. 10 minutes later, out they come, sliced straight down the middle, then drizzled with melted garlic and native basil butter topped with crispy WA Samphire and lemon. The flesh is sweet, succulent and meaty.

I gaze out at the azure water and beyond on the horizon the almost blinding white sand of Turtle Bay. I reflect on this morning's swim break, below me exotic purple and blue corals inhabited by Dhufish and Coral Trout, above me circling white-bellied sea eagles. I think about the local cray fishermen who allowed us for half a day to become part of their closed circle. On Anzac Day, I ended up in one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Aussie sawdust - Smoked magic

Aussie sawdust - Smoked magic

It's time to say good bye to hickory. Yes, I know the American smoker chips are dense, stick well to the meat and give those ribs that 'authentic' smokey flavour. But, there are so many options here in Australia, and especially in Western Australia, why buy something not native to where you live and in such ready supply?

When it comes to choosing the right smoking chunks for the right meat, this largely depends on preference and the smoked-flavour intensity you desire. Select chunks if you intend to simply add them to your coals when placing meat on the BBQ. We use a Smoking gun in the RiverMint kitchen which requires fine sawdust. This is a great little gadget, as is a portable grill-top smoking box, and saves on clean up. Try to make sure the wood chips are seasoned (as in dry, not fresh cut) to help with a clean burn and avoid smouldering.

And what type of wood chunks you ask? Well, WA's Jarrah wood from the Southern forests produces a thick smoke with an intense flavour. Box woods are a favourite for some, but for us the smoke is too thick and powerful and takes over the flavour of the meat.  Two big favourites, Tasmanian Oak and WA Ironbark, are great for those wanting a deep smokey flavour and pair well with beef and lamb due to their longer burning times. Speaking of lamb, native rosemary when used for smoking wood imparts a medium herbaceous flavour to poultry and lamb and is easy to find, it can also be used half seasoned.

Apple and Cherry wood from Manjimup smells divine and imparts a sweet subtle flavour - excellent for chicken and fish or seafood. It burns quickly though, so have some heat ready to ensure the meat is cooked through. On a native foods note, Tea tree has a fantastic smell and is an all time favourite for Kiwis when preparing meats for a hangi. We also love using Sandalwood chips and lemon myrtle when preparing fish.

I try to steer away from Pine and many Eucalypts as the smoke can leave an acrid almost "ashtray in the mouth' aftertaste - rather unpleasant. One rule of thumb used by many smoking enthusiasts is if the smoke smells acrid and sticks to the back of your throat causing you to squint, then that is how the meat will taste. 

As you can see the list is endless! There are so many different flavour profiles that can be achieved through smoking and many different foods that can be smoked. Try smoking some of your favourite cheddar or sour cream with Marri wood chips, then serve with some local honey and a sweet Muscat.

Bunuru and Banksia

Bunuru and Banksia

Take a drive towards Esperance during summer and you will notice the distinct spreading shrub that is Bull Banksia.  Made up of cones containing hundreds of tiny flowers all grouped together in pairs, yellows, oranges and rusty red heads compliment the light green toothy leaves. The small flowers of the cones actually fall off early and make a lovely sweet drink when steeped in hot water.

One of many plants that colour the landscape with  'sunburnt'  hues, Bull Banksia, also known as pulgarla by Nyoongar people, is an instantly recognisable part of the West Australian landscape. With the season of Bunuru  and the second summer, we also see the flowers of the Red Gum and Ghost gums throughout the Marri and Jarrah forests emerging. 

This is the perfect time to be eating fish such as Tailor, Mullet and Marron. Steamed mussels are also great, especially when the flowers of the Bull Banksia are used to impart a sweet but savoury flavour to the broth. For those not so keen on seafood, now is the time to enjoy rich and satisfying duck meat or duck egg omelette. Confit duck leg salad with a wild berry vinaigrette perhaps?