Book review: The Whole Fish Cookbook

12 September 2019 by
Book review: The Whole Fish Cookbook

The Whole Fish Cookbook

By Josh Niland

Hardie Grant Books, £25

Some 20 years ago the industry looked to the blessings of St John and, in return, Fergus Henderson revolutionised our approach to food. Now, Australian chef Josh Niland is here to do the same for fish, with the style he honed at his Sydney restaurant Saint Peter.

Any similarities between the two ecclesiastically-named restaurants are far from coincidental. During a four-month stint in the UK, where he worked with Heston Blumenthal, Niland ate at St John. Here, he plotted a course between the two chef's styles, combining the down-to-earth, no-waste approach of the Clerkenwell institution while retaining the fun and whimsy of Blumenthal's molecular gastronomy

This path has culminated in a book that is an important, potentially revolutionary, look at the way we cook and treat fish. Niland walks the reader through dry-ageing the meat, curing moonfish into guanciale and breaking grouper into its constituent parts, from top lip to anal fin (perhaps a slightly less marketable phrase than nose to tail, but such is the nature of the beast).

Much of the book is dedicated to flexing of the chef's little-surpassed knowledge. The section dubbed ‘fissues', for example, goes beyond the ‘lift the gills, glance at the eyes and give it a sniff' checks, instead dissecting what causes various abnormalities in the flesh.

Then there are the dishes. What gives Niland his fanbase is his ability to create unimaginable recipes that are relatable. The full Australian breakfast, for example, looks like a meat dish until you get to the description – sausages made from trout, swordfish bacon, eel hash browns and smoked mackerel heart baked beans. This is seen again in the marlin ham on the bone, the barbecue-glazed bar cod ribs and the moonfish steak frites. Old favourites are also reworked – like the bubbly mullet fish and chips or the crumbed sardine sandwich.

Without a hint of hyperbole, this text could be as much of a game-changer as Henderson's Nose to Tail Eating – and if this book is anything to go by, Niland may be one of the most innovative chefs working in the field today.

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