When dealing with a protein as delicate as fish that’s prone to spoiling, it is important to understand the preservation methods that are needed in your culinary artillery to combat waste. The curing of fish has been seen for centuries as one such method of preservation – its primary function being to draw moisture out of food by the process of osmosis.
At Fish Butchery we use curing as a way to bring value to those less appreciated parts of the fish. Be it the hearts, spleen, thin belly flaps with little flesh, or those smaller fish that may be perfect to eat raw from days one to three but lose their lustre quickly. As we handle large volumes, we don’t see the need to purchase fish with the single purpose to cure. Rather, we cut what we need for fresh and the cuts that don’t present the way we want become cured or processed items.
I was fortunate when I opened Fish Butchery to employ the talents of Paul Farag. Paul had years of experience as a restaurant chef working in some of the best kitchens in both Sydney and London. The first day I spoke with him about working together at Fish Butchery, he was a little hesitant, as his previous experiences and training had been predominantly meat focused, but I felt this was in fact a huge advantage in terms of what I wanted to achieve.
Curing a fish that’s in season and at its peak is a way of suspending a particular moment in time that will yield a far better result. Just remember that when handling raw and cured fish, it is imperative that the strictest of hygienic conditions are demonstrated. Wear disposable gloves to handle your fish at all times and be sure to use sterilised containers for storage.
Paul’s Spiced Marlin Ham on the Bone
This extraordinary ham is one that Paul Farag developed very early on at Fish Butchery, and it showcases both his creativity and flawless technique. If you can’t find striped marlin, use tuna, albacore, swordfish, spearfish or moonfish instead. For this particular recipe, I recommend you use the lower half of the fish. Request that the fish be cut just below the anus so that the flesh that remains on the bone is free of pin bones (the shape of this section of the fish also resembles a leg of ham).
Makes 3.5 kg (7 lb 12 oz)
- 3-4 kg (6 lb 10 oz-8 lb 13 oz) striped marlin tail
- 400 g (14 oz/1 1/3 cups) fine salt
- 8 litres (260 fl oz/32 cups) cold water
- 10 g (1/4 oz) fenugreek seeds
- 10 g (1/4 oz) cumin seeds
- 20 g (3/4 oz) yellow mustard seeds
- 20 g (3/4 oz) ground turmeric
- 200 g (7 oz/ 2/3 cup) fine salt
- 70 g (2 1/2 oz) caster (superfine) sugar
- 2 g (1/2 teaspoon) nitrate
- To skin the fish, draw a small, sharp knife around the border of the fish, then working from right to left, coax the blade under the thick skin. Make small cuts to help peel the skin off the exterior of the tail.
- For the brine, stir the salt and water together in a sterilised plastic container. Place the tail in the brine and leave for 3 days.
- On the fourth day, toast the whole spices in a frying pan over a low heat for 1 minute, or until fragrant, then transfer to a spice grinder or mortar and pestle and grind to a powder.
- Combine all the cure mix ingredients in a large bowl.
- Remove the fish from the brine, pat dry and rub liberally with the cure mix, then place in a large, clean plastic container lined with baking paper. Place a fitted tray on top of the fish to weight it down and store for 2 weeks, turning the fish every day.
- Once the fish is firm to the touch and has a uniform turmeric stain on the outside, use kitchen twine to tie the tail up and hang it in a fan-forced refrigerator to continue developing the flavour. Alternatively, a wire rack in a tray will achieve a similar result, as long as the ham is well ventilated. Leave for at least 4 weeks, but if you can’t wait this long, then thinly slice the fish from the bone and serve as a cured fish.
- To serve, slice from the bone and serve with chutney or on toast with plenty of black pepper and extra-virgin olive oil.
Curing at home
When curing at home, a simple curing ratio of 60 per cent salt and 40 per cent sugar can be used to suit a long list of fish species. Mix 1.2 kg (2 lb 10 oz) salt, 800 g (1 lb 12 oz/5 1/3 cups) sugar, 1 tablespoon toasted fennel seeds and 1 tablespoon toasted coriander seeds together in a large bowl. Store in a clean mason (kilner) jar or plastic container. For the best results, use 200 g (7 oz) of the curing seasoning per 1 kg (2 lb 3 oz) boneless flesh. Rub the curing mix over the fish, then place on a clean deep-sided dinner plate. The juices that are extracted from the curing will produce a brine. Turn the fish over once a day for three days until the curing has firmed the flesh up completely, then set the fish on paper towel to dry slightly. Using the back of a knife, gently scrape off any surface juices from the fish, then slice thinly and eat. Alternatively, after draining, rub the fish with spices or other seasonings, such as herbs, aromatic spices or even ground coffee, to add another level of flavour. Assuming you have cured the fish with the skin on, you can also grill or pan-fry the fish.
Also from The Whole Fish:
Excerpted with permission from The Whole Fish Cookbook, published by Hardie Grant, September 2019, RRP $40 hardcover.