Australian chef Josh Niland created something of a culinary storm a few years back with the publication of his groundbreaking book The Whole Fish, which saw the nose-to-tail approach taken with meat adopted for seafood, often with surprising and enlightening results for Western chefs unfamiliar with such techniques.
Two years on and Niland has followed it up with a book that is a continuation of his ‘scale-to-tail’ approach that aims to utilise some 90% of every fish – nearly double the commonly accepted yield.
Niland has selected just 15 international species of fish for his book, each of which are given a dedicated chapter. The chosen fish range from the cheap and accessible, such as sardines and herring, to those that might be slightly harder to come by – or indeed to sell on the menu – such as groper, coral trout and gurnard. That said, alternatives are offered for each fish alongside tips on what to look for when buying them, optimum cooking techniques and suggested flavour combination.
As well as having chapters for specific species, Take One Fish is subdivided into five parts that are based on the size of the fish – x-small, small, medium, large, and x-large – with Niland choosing to break some fish down into a number of cuts and cooking others whole.
The differences between Take One Fish and other more conventional seafood cookbooks don’t end there. While with The Whole Fish Niland wanted chefs to rethink carcass utilisation and generally change their approach to fish butchery, with Take One Fish his aim seems to be to show how interchangeable meat and fish can actually be. The book features numerous recipes of classic meat-based dishes where the protein has been switched for piscine in a manner that many would not have thought would be possible. Examples include Peking coral trout two ways, a fish alternative to duck pancakes and san choy bow; tuna ‘nduja on toast; a tuna ribeye served with fish fat Yorkshire puddings; tuna kofte kebabs; swordfish tacos el pastor; and swordfish schnitzel.
The book contains 60 recipes in total of varying degrees of ability and butchery skills. As Niland acknowledges in the foreword: “fish in every sense can be challenging, expensive, laborious, fragile and bloody difficult to work with” and some recipes are certainly more challenging to reproduce than others.
Indeed, some recipes are just plain challenging. One in particular is for a custard tart with a sardine garum caramel made using the heads, bones and scraps of sardines, which Niland admits may be a stretch for many. Are you game enough to try it?
Take One Fish - The new school of scale-to-tail cooking and eating
Author: Josh Niland
Number of pages: 272
Must try dish: John Dory liver terrine with chopped sauternes jelly
Publisher and price: Hardie Grant, £26