Fin to Gill – Masterclass with Josh Niland

After being diagnosed with a rare form of cancer at the age of eight and then beating it, Sydney-based chef Josh Niland gained a different outlook on the importance of food and life with a realisation from an early age that nothing should be taken for granted or wasted.

On becoming a chef and seeing that on average just 40% of a fish is used with the rest being binned, Josh started out on his ‘Fin to Gill’ mission to stop the waste. Josh has helped to transform the way we cook, transport, age and store fish with his ethical, sustainable and revolutionary approach receiving global recognition from fellow chefs, marine experts, seafood companies and fishmongers.

The genius behind the acclaimed Saint Peter restaurant and the Fish Butchery in Paddington, Sydney, in 2019 Josh was the first Australian ever to win the prestigious James Beard ‘Book of the Year’ for his debut book The Whole Fish Cookbook. His widely anticipated second book Take One Fish is out in August and we chatted to Josh to get his top tips on how to make the most of your fish.

Josh Niland comments:

“With regards to maximising the full potential of one fish, the only major piece of advice I can offer is to approach it with the mindset that you are working with a land-based animal so you are interpreting it a little more broadly, rather than one dimensionally. There are very few desirable fish-based recipes utilising the full scale of offal and secondary cuts of fish so rather than researching fish and fish-based methods of cookery, study up on meat!


Here’s a few tips to get more from your fish.”

Ten Top Tips

1. Never wash your fish!
By eliminating water from processing you will see great benefit in terms of flavour, texture and overall storage time.

2. Create a game plan!
Like a butcher presented with a whole pig that carefully removes the organs for use that day, the primary cuts for that week and then the larger joints prepared for curing or even dry-aging to develop a more robust profile. This mindset is what needs to be instilled in the individuals or teams that break down fish. No longer is it acceptable to rip two fillets off and toss the rest.

3. Dry-aging
This helps heighten nuances of flavour that are present in raw fish, which can oftentimes be undetectable in days one, two and three. Not all fish species benefit from long term storage.

4. Fried
Globally known, globally loved. I use ghee or clarified butter for pan and shallow frying as it has a high smoking point and I think the flavour is superior.

5. Ceviche
A delicious and efficient method of cookery. However, lime juice begins to degenerate the proteins in fish within seconds. Use other acidic ingredients such as verjuice, oxidised wine and fermented juices, which won’t damage the flesh as quickly as citric juices.

6. Fish Offal
Definitely a growing trend so fish hearts, spleens, kidneys, skin, blood and scales can all be utilised. Try making a simple fish liver on toast, black pudding with fish blood or our eye chips.

7. Grilling & Barbecuing
Becoming more confident on your barbecue or charcoal grill will give you a huge advantage in terms of transforming cheaper species of fish into something unrivalled.

8. Curing
Taking a fish that is in-season and curing it at its peak is a great way of suspending a particular moment in time. Try my Swordfish Bacon recipe, which is great with egg on an English muffin or try creating your very own Fish Charcuterie.

9. Poached
For some reason it has fallen out of favour but being a wet method of cookery, poaching aids moisture retention and has the ability to directly penetrate flavours into the fish.

10. Baking & Roasting
Don’t just limit this to the whole fish. Flathead chops, john dory darnes and tuna heads are all magnificent when roasted. Make sure you have a probe thermometer and a wire rack for the oven as this is imperative to elevate the fish off the direct heat that a pan or tray would generate.

Josh Niland’s The Whole Fish Cookbook is published by Hardie Grant and is available from www.mrniland.com and his second book Take One Fish is launching in August this year.