Port to (local) plate

With help from fishers and chefs, artists and photographers, Lynda Sloan has created a seafood cookbook that is a feast for both eyes and palate. And it’s good for the planet too.

Lynda’s love for great food goes back a long way. Born in New Zealand, she came to Australia aged 14 and started working in the family business. “My family had motels and restaurants, and my first job was in the kitchen, doing dishes and prepping for the chefs,” she says. “That’s where I really learned about food and from there, my love of food simply kept growing.”

She was living in Victoria, cooking at a local restaurant and was open to a change of scenery when fate intervened. She went north on a field trip, came to Port Stephens and was blown away.

“It reminded me of my home town with its sand dunes and great surf beaches, a little bigger in size but the feel was the same. Heading out of Nelson Bay, I looked up and saw my new home. I put in an offer and by the time I got home it had been accepted.”

Just a few months later and Lynda was working at Nelson Bay Fish Market, answering questions like “what’s fresh, what’s local? or how do I cook this fish?” a dozen times a day.
“I often say I should put it all on a recording and just hit play,” she laughs.

Instead, she decided to create a seafood cookbook. It was to be a book that would encourage readers to move beyond the typical daily choices and spruik the deliciousness of lesser known species like mullet, yellowfin bream or luderick. In promoting diversity on the plate, it would also contribute to educating consumers on what’s local in our region, and emphasise sustainability by taking the pressure off standard fare.

Fish shop owners Ian Mitchell and Darryn Hearn were happy to support the project, even as plans to publish a little book with community recipes quickly ballooned into Port to Plate Port Stephens, a coffee-table style publication that features recipes from the likes of Ludovic Poyer (The Poyer’s), Michael Jenkins (The Anchorage), Sergey Bobylev (Lime Mexican) and Ben Way (Little Beach Boathouse), framed superbly by the works of local photographers and illustrators.

Artists Megan Barrass, Linda Greedy, Ileana Clarke and Kerrie Tobin along with photographers Malcolm Nobbs, Lisa Skelton, Stephen Keating, and Kevin Rowley all contributed in their very own, unique styles to a cookbook that is as delicious as it is beautiful and educational.

There are recipes for all-time Aussie favourites like prawns, crabs, and tuna, but the book also gives you a gentle nudge to leave your maritime comfort zone with suggestions for luderick (or blackfish), yellowfin bream, sea urchin or abalone, while offering plenty of insightful tidbits for fun discussions at the family dinner table.

Did you know that bream inhabits areas around oysters, that female flatheads grow larger than their male counterparts and that sea urchins breed just once a year, releasing their egg cells into the ocean and fertilising at random?

Cooking notes provide guidance beyond the featured recipes, on taste and texture, reproduction, and availability, as well as on alternate ways to prepare a particular species. As Lynda started creating recipes, she challenged herself and renowned chefs to go back to the fundamentals of simple cooking methods.

“I really had to think about a good recipe for ocean jackets,” chuckles hatted chef Ben Way. He suggests coating them in a mixture of harissa, turmeric and yoghurt with a side of scorched lettuce. He also contributed recipes for bonito and swordfish and explains, “Swordfish is an excellent choice if you are looking to replace meat in a robust style of meal. Don’t cook it past medium and let it rest for a minute before plating and eating.”

Lynda herself admits to a soft spot for blue eye, luderick, and snapper. She also makes a mouth-watering smoked mullet shallot pâté, a perfect entrée to Ben’s swordfish with black olive tapenade, prosciutto-wrapped beans with verjus dressing and kipfler potatoes.

Read more about Port to Plate and check out some of the recipes in the Spring issue of Hunter & Coastal Lifestyle Magazine or subscribe here.

Story by Cornelia Schulze, photography and illustrations courtesy of Lynda Sloan