Battered Flathead with Kale and Carrot Slaw

It’s been fish, fish and more fish on our table this past month. Mr G spent most of January on summer holidays and almost half of that time fishing. He enjoys it so much, particularly from his modest fishing boat, in sprawling lakes and inlets. We are drawn to National Parks and remote places to put our boat in, where we both relish the seclusion of nature’s beauty, embracing her sovereignty. We usually head out early when the water is still, the sun just rising and the birds singing. Words cannot really describe the peaceful stillness in these first moments of the day and I find myself inhaling the serenity deep within. It's a moody scene watching steam rise from the surface of the water, as the cool of the night meets the warmth of the morning sun, along with the shadows and reflections of the trees on the water can be quite mesmerising. The truth be told it is this connection with nature that I pursue, far more than the fish.

I must admit my fishing endurance is really quite average. I do like the action, particularly the phrase ‘I’ve got one!’ and I do like the eating, as it is hard to beat fresh fish, simply cooked and enjoyed. However the sometimes hours of waiting for the catch, can bore me to tantrum or tears, which is why I take a good book and my camera to keep me distracted. It’s always a bonus if the weather is good, warm sunshine and even an opportunity for a swim, also make me a happy fisher-girl. I do often refuse to participate if it is not a fine day, as sitting on a boat in the wind and rain, waiting for fish to bite, is just not fun. Even Mr G will concur that poor weather conditions do make for miserable fishing.

We fish with live-bait either caught first thing in the morning or the day before, depending on the tide. This might mean pumping for yabbies’ (nippers) or trapping poddy mullet in the shallows, skills Mr G has mastered. It is certainly time well spent procuring the live bait, as it seems the fish like their food fresh too. Like many things the gauge of success is so often in the preparation or lack of it. Once the baited lines are cast into the water, it becomes exciting as the bites begin and pure joy when a big one takes the bait. Mr G gets ridiculously vocal either commentating on the action or yelling instruction to me, such as 'keep the rod tip up' or 'grab the net' as either one of us reel in the catch. All the time he's quietly hoping this won’t be the one that got away!

Most of the time we come back with a bag full, which Mr G will gut, clean and scale. Then it is over to me to decide how they will be cooked, either filleting them or keeping them whole. We usually catch bream, flathead or whiting and we eat them a variety of ways. This recipe for flathead appears in the Seafood chapter of my latest book Our Delicious Adventure – Recipes and Stories of Food and Travel and is extra delicious when the fish is super fresh. It is also a lovely alternative, rather than the batter, to coat the flathead fillets lightly in flour, egg and milk, and finally breadcrumbs, then cook them pan-fried in olive oil, served with home made potato wedges.
Enjoy x j

Mr G caught flathead in numerous places on our road trip adventures - we were flat-out eating flathead. We stayed with friends on the East Coast of Tasmania, who when they aren’t feeding their sheep escape to ‘the shack’ at Coles Bay to catch flathead by the boat-full and cook them up in a crispy batter for breakfast. 

serves 4
what you need    
600g flathead fillets
½ cup (75g) unbleached plain flour, for dusting
oil for shallow frying - see note
lemon wedges to serve
kale and carrot slaw:
1 cup (100g) finely shredded red cabbage
1 cup (100g) finely shredded curly green kale leaves
1 cup (110g) grated carrot
handful of fresh mint leaves, finely shredded
juice of 1 orange
sea salt and ground white pepper, to taste
tartare sauce:
1 cup (250ml) mayonnaise
3 gherkins, finely diced
1 tbsp capers, rinsed and finely chopped
½ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 egg white
¾ cup (180ml) soda or mineral water
½ cup (70g) cornflour
½ cup (75g) unbleached plain flour
sea salt and ground white pepper, to taste

what you do
1. Using paper towel dab the flathead fillets to absorb any excess moisture. Place on a tray in the fridge uncovered for 15 minutes. (Excess moisture can lead to a soggy rather than crispy batter.)
2. To prepare the slaw place all ingredients into a large bowl and mix to combine. Set aside.
3. To prepare the tartare sauce place all the ingredients into a small bowl and mix to combine. Refrigerate.
4. To make the batter lightly beat the egg white, add the sparkling water and gradually add the flour, whisking gently to incorporate. Season with salt and pepper.
5. Pour enough oil (to create a depth of 5 cm) into a large, deep-sided pot. Place onto a medium-high heat to warm the oil up to 190°C (control the temperature so as not to allow the oil to smoke).
6. Remove the flathead from the fridge. Coat each fillet with a dusting of flour. One at a time, dip 2-3 pieces of fish into the batter to coat. Drain off any excess batter. 
7. Place the battered pieces into the oil and shallow-fry for 3-4 minutes on each side, or until golden brown and cooked through. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towel. Keep warm. Repeat in three more batches, with remaining fish and batter, and reheat oil between batches. 
8. Serve fish immediately with lemon wedges, a dollop of tartare sauce and a side of slaw.

Note: When choosing an oil to use for frying there are a few things to consider. Some oils can stand much higher temperatures than others. You want to choose oil that has a high smoke point, is stable, and doesn’t react with oxygen when heated. It is important to choose oils that consist mostly of saturated fat and monounsaturated fats, because these are the most stable at high heat. Coconut oil is the best choice overall, closely followed by olive oil. These are both healthy choices and although they are not completely neutral in flavour they offer great crunch, colour and taste.

© Recipe - Our Delicious Adventure - Recipes and Stories of Food and Travel by Jane Grover