Shellfish

Shellfish

By
Justin North
Contains
4 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781740664028
Photographer
Steve Brown

A personal approach

In 1998 a Tasmanian-based not-for-profit youth training and employment scheme – the Beacon Foundation – turned its benevolent hand to the Tasmanian coastal town of St Helens. Georges Bay, on which St Helens is situated, had become so infested with Pacific oysters they were clogging the waterways, creating a hazard for tourists in the area. The Beacon Foundation established a short-term project to rid Georges Bay of the shellfish while training some of its unemployed local youth in the basics of oyster handling.

One of the employees was Anita Paulsen, who grew up in nearby Devonport and had dreamed of becoming a marine biologist as a child. When the Beacon Foundation project was over, Anita and business partner Lex Weekes decided to continue, broadening the produce traded to incorporate sea urchins, vongole clams, angasi oysters, scallops, crayfish and live fish. They put a great deal of energy into research and development, including sourcing new products and consistently marketing to top-end restaurants on the Australian mainland. Paulsen and Weekes have become ambassadors for the Tasmanian seafood industry.

The Salty Seas factory has a series of saltwater holding tanks that are used to purge the shellfish of impurities, sand and grit from the sea floor. Salty Seas washes its produce in saltwater direct from Binalong Bay, enhancing both flavour and appearance of the shellfish. The water is filtered using ultra-violet filters, as well as bio-filtration, fractionators and sand filters.

Their days begin early, sometimes as early as 1 a.m. if there is a big shipment to go out that day. Local divers and fishermen are contracted or sell to Salty Seas on a day-to-day basis depending on what is required. Dealing directly with restaurants, Paulsen and Weekes are able to keep a finger on the pulse of their business, and the immediacy with which they can act is unique – with the factory on the edge of the bay, Salty Seas can fill orders at short notice and with astonishing reach. Perhaps it is this personal and flexible approach that earned the company the prestigious Gourmet Traveller/Jaguar Award of Excellence for a Primary Producer in 2002.

From sea floor to restaurant door

Tasmanian waters are subject to quota restrictions to ensure the ongoing proliferation of all species of commercially coveted seafood. And at 23 metres in depth at its deepest point, Georges Bay is teeming with sea life.

Dale Ridgers, a contract diver, is usually in the water by 9 a.m. and completes two dives in his working day, finishing his last dive and delivering to the Salty Seas factory not long after 1 p.m. Ridgers and the other divers who supply Salty Seas unload their dinghies at the front door of the factory, which sits on the edge of Media Cove, on the Golden Fleece Rivulet that feeds into the heart of Georges Bay.

Between dives, Dale Ridgers stashes his haul in the open water at what is known as a ‘depuration site’, a series of suspended nets to cleanse the shellfish of impurities, sand and grit while allowing them to remain in robust health, enjoying the the pristine tidal waters of Georges Bay. As required and when each species has gone through its prescribed depuration period, Dale removes them from the water and transports them to the Salty Seas factory.

The only problem with this system is the poacher. ‘Yes, I’ve had the odd catch go missing,’ he chuckles, ‘but on the whole it hasn’t been too much of a problem’. He points out that poachers really only operate on a small, domestic scale and only ever when the water and outside temperature make being in the sea an attractive option. ‘It gets pretty cold down here, you know.’

A truck arrives daily at 5 p.m., and all produce must be ready for this transport to make the flights out of Launceston (several hours’ drive on the winding roads from St Helens). Following the collection, a couple of hours are spent returning the factory to its sterilised conditions before Paulsen, Weekes and their staff review upcoming orders for the following day and clock off at about 7 p.m. ‘You have to like it,’ Weekes reflects on his labour-intensive occupation.

Scallop (Pecten fumatus)

Harvest areas for scallops are rotated annually to ensure adequate restocking of the Tasmanian seas’ produce. The season runs from June to November, slowing into October as the molluscs begin to spawn. Rich, salty and sweet, I prefer Tasmanian scallops because of their generous size and the clean waters they come from. Because Salty Seas’ scallops are washed in salt water, the quality of the product is enhanced; when cleaned in fresh water a scallop will act as a sponge and absorb the water, making it more difficult to caramelise and prone to spitting in the frying pan. It will also affect its flavour, colour and texture.

Angasi oyster (Ostrea angasi)

Also commonly known as the ‘flat oyster’, the angasi oyster is native to Tasmania as well as the New South Wales coastline, extending to Queensland. This mollusc is unique for its strong, sweet and slightly earthy flavour when compared with other oysters. Angasi oysters grow on the bottom of Georges Bay, at depths of between 1 and 20 metres. The season runs from March to November. Georges Bay is currently Tasmania’s only authorised harvesting area for this particular type of oyster.

Vongole clam (Katalysia scalrina)

Available year-round and also called ‘Katalysia clams’, these molluscs are known for harbouring small pearls in their shells (which can be a nasty surprise if you bite on one). The clam is harvested from sand beds at nearby Ansons Bay and depurated for seven days to rid shells of the little pearls, impurities and other grainy matter that may reside within. Vongole clams have enjoyed a surge in popularity in recent years due to their plump, tender meat.

Sea urchin (Echinus esculentus)

Sea urchins belong to the marine species family Phylum echinodermata (spiny-skinned animals) – the same family as starfish, sea cucumbers and sea lilies. Harvested in the waters and mouth of Georges Bay, sea urchins are a delicacy in Japan that sell for a high price in their market. They are collected by hand from the sea floor – in shallow waters and to a depth of 70 metres. The edible part is the roe, or ovaries. There are five of these ‘tongues’ of roe in each sea urchin and it has an extraordinarily fresh, salty flavour with a distinctive floral aroma.

Recipes in this Chapter

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