When it comes to seafood treats from the deep, Australia has an embarrassment of riches on its doorstep. Summer here is all about seafood banquets: platters of prawns, succulent oysters by the dozen, and a generous array of shellfish.
Dany Karam, executive chef at Black Bar & Grill at The Star, knows this well. We asked him to share his expert knowledge about selecting and preparing Australian seafood this summer.
“With oysters, follow the season,” says Karam. He says Pacific oysters are at their best from April to September. Sydney Rock oysters peak between September and March.
If you’re buying oysters unopened in the shell, freshly shucked is best. “We open them just before service,” he says. “They’ll be juicy and moist and won’t dry out.” Do a visual check to make sure the oyster has the right fat content. “It should be nice and fatty, and it should smell good,” he says.
Serve fresh oysters with a simple dressing that won’t swamp their natural flavour. At Black Bar & Grill oysters are dressed with a red-wine vinegar and shallot topping.
Prawns should be bright, glossy and firm to the touch, with the head firmly attached and the body intact. Some think soft shells are a sign of poor quality, but it’s not always true – the prawn may have recently moulted. A good quality prawn should taste more sweet than salty. “We like Spencer Gulf prawns,” says Karam of Black’s king prawn dish. “They’re sweet and delicious.”
On the grill, cook butterflied prawns in butter – Black Bar & Grill uses a special seaweed butter – over a wood or charcoal fire (if possible).
On the stovetop, blanche prawns whole in the shell in a fish or vegetable stock to give them flavour. “Add salt, bay leaf, lemon and thyme to the water,” says Karam. After cooking, refresh the prawns in cold water and peel. In summer, Black Bar & Grill serves their king prawns chilled with a tropical dressing of avocado, coconut, mango and roasted chilli.
Tip: be very careful to not overcook your prawn. “They get dry and mushy,” says Karam.
When choosing any crustacean to cook at home – whether lobster, bugs or yabbies, they should be bought live to guarantee freshness. Look for a lobster that is still moving – a sure sign of life – with a bright, intact shell. Karam favours the southern rock lobster, a species with a spiny red-orange shell found in coastal waters from Geraldton in Western Australian to Coffs Harbour in New South Wales. “They are full of meat, sweet and have a good texture,” he says.
It's important to ensure you kill your lobster humanely. First, put it in the freezer for 45 minutes to make it insensible. Then either cut it in half or plunge it in boiling water.
At Black Bar and Grill, lobster is grilled with herb and garlic butter in a hot-charcoal oven (around 300 to 350 degrees) for five to six minutes. “Cooking it over natural fuel like wood or charcoal will give it flavour,” says Karam.
At home, Karam recommends keeping it simple. Try lobster mornay – lobster baked under a white-wine sauce – or take the tail out and serve it in a simple salad with fresh leaves and a vinaigrette.
Marron is a freshwater crayfish native to Western Australia. There are two recognised species: the hairy marron, found in waters around Margaret River, and the smooth-shelled West Australian marron. Both have flesh that is firm and sweet in flavour.
Again, to ensure it’s fresh, make sure your marron is alive with a bright, blemish-free shell. Dispatch of it in the same way you would a lobster, with a 30-minute spell in the freezer before plunging it in boiling water.
Smaller than a lobster, it doesn’t take marron long to cook. At home, grill it on the barbeque – preferably over charcoal – for just a few minutes. At Black Bar and Grill, Karam cooks marron covered in butter and vadouvan, a French version of curry powder, in the charcoal oven, before serving it with gremolata and roasted cauliflower.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with The Star.