This recipe is most like a Ligurian-style insalata di frutti di mare (salad of fruits of the sea) but there is room to move. As much as possible, I like to use seafood from the region I’m in, but in this case the scallops were from Tasmania while the rest of the ingredients came from more central east coast waters. I leave pungent flavours such as garlic or onion out, to accentuate rather than overwhelm the delicate flavours.
I find these kinds of dishes so pleasing to prepare because each item is observed and reacted to according to its quality and place in the whole picture. Success comes from practice and observation, not some closely held secret or “hack”.
The potential to make this dish more decadent is endless – think of crayfish or bugs or crabmeat added to the mix. But since the cost of serving this as a standalone dish can be excessive in its most basic form, I try to keep the ingredients humble and focus on the quality of each item. It also works well as the sauce for a seafood pasta, thus offering even better returns.
Starting with each ingredient in its entire form makes the world of difference to the finished dish, as buying the components already prepared really dilutes the overall flavour and potential. So while any old person can buy a seafood mix and then add loads of flavours to make a tasty concoction, this recipe is from the Miles Davis school of restraint. It is the notes you choose not to play that make the composition special.
Time: 45 minutes preparation + 20 minutes cooking
- 400g pipis (or clams)
- 50ml sweet white vermouth
- 300ml white wine
- 2 lemon leaves
- 200ml water
- 2 small cuttlefish
- 10 scallops
- 200g prawns
- 500g snapper fillet (or firm white fish in season)
- 2 sea urchins
- 1 head of fennel, chopped
- 150ml olive oil
- 1 lemon, zest and juice
- cracked pepper
- ½ bunch parsley (finely chopped)
- 30g fish eggs (salmon roe)
- 1 tsp bottarga, grated
- fennel, extra, to serve
- salad leaves, to serve
- Place the pipis or clams into a hotpot with the vermouth. Steam over a high heat with the lid on for three minutes or until the shells start to open. Tip the lot into a bowl, then strain the liquid back into the pot and add the wine. Bring this to the boil with the lemon leaves and water, then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer.
- Clean all the seafood. Split the cuttlefish hood down the middle of the spine, remove and discard the quill and the guts et cetera. Next, pull off the outer skin and brush clean with a paper towel. Slice the cleaned cuttlefish into thin ribbons.
- Clean the scallops by running a butter knife along the underside of the flat shell to disconnect the meat. Shuck the meat from the curved shell using a spoon and clean the muscle from its skirt and roe. Brush clean with a paper towel and cut each scallop in half.
- Peel and devein the prawns, then cut them into thumbnail-sized pieces.
- Dice the fish into pieces about double the size of the prawn pieces.
- Cut the shell of each sea urchin around the top of the mouth and hold upside down over a bowl. Empty the contents of each urchin into the bowl with a little shake, then use chopsticks to release the roe. Pick up the roe and gently wash it in water (preferably sea water). Generally not all roe are in ideal condition so select only the most intact and set aside.
- Poach the cuttlefish, scallops, prawns and snapper separately – remove from the water before completely cooked and place on a tray to cool. Pick the pipis from their shells and combine with the rest of the seafood. At this point all the seafood – except the sea urchin roe – can be combined on the same tray.
- Tip the vermouth and wine liquid back into the poaching pot, add chopped fennel and reduce the liquid to a thick syrup. Remove from the heat and add the olive oil, then the lemon juice and zest with a good amount of cracked pepper. Whisk until emulsified.
- Tip this liquid back over the cooked seafood and let it marinate at room temperature for 20 minutes before adding the parsley.
- Spoon the seafood into a bowl and add the salmon eggs and the grated bottarga. Place the sea urchin roe on top and serve with some crunchy raw fennel and salad leaves.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on October 8, 2022 as "Fruits of the sea".
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