Sumac-crusted flathead with lemon

Sumac-crusted flathead with lemon

A Year of Practiculture
Rohan Anderson & Kate Berry

Flathead, the tasty bottom feeder. Sounds like a tagline in a marketing campaign! Such a tasty fish, but a bit of a bugger. Their spikes are deadly sharp and have some sort of toxin that makes you bleed like hell, but if you use a towel or metal gloves to handle them you should be fine. In the crystal-clear waters off Bruny Island we dangle our baited lines down into the water and peek over the side of the boat, watching as the flathead race for the bait. It’s such clear water you can sometimes dangle the baited hook to the closest fish. And as gross as this may sound, the best bait for flathead is flathead.

Each summer we target flathead for cooking in the caravan kitchen with the kids. Once we weren’t lucky, so we headed to a fish shop that had a sign saying flathead tails were on special. I was so excited. I asked if the fish came from the fish co-op near the boat ramp. Nope, these fish came from the Melbourne fish market supplier. My jaw dropped to the ground. The absolute madness of our food system right there – a six-hour round trip for fish to be delivered to a coastal town with a fish co-op. Made no sense to me. Better go bait my lines.

There isn’t much you really need to do to these fillets; they taste amazing cooked as simply as possible and served with some crispy hot spuds. But a little sneaky spice never hurt anyone. And sumac is always in the summer caravan pantry; I think it was invented to go with fish.

If you don’t have access to fresh flathead, you could try this recipe with gurnard or cod.


Quantity Ingredient
3 tablespoons sumac
sea salt, to taste
freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
150g plain flour
8 flathead tail fillets
30g butter
1-2 tablespoons olive oil, (or more)
1 lemon, cut into wedges, to serve
chips, to serve
Chilli and smoked pimentón aioli, to serve


  1. Mix the sumac and a little salt and pepper with the flour and coat the fillets in this mixture.
  2. Heat a knob of butter with a glug of olive oil (I’d be generous with my glug!) in a frying pan over medium heat. Fry the fillets on each side until cooked through, which takes only a few minutes. Test one fillet in your mouth for ‘doneness’. Oh, that was good, wasn’t it? Better test another.
  3. Serve with lemon, crispy fries and chilli aioli.
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