On the other hand, whole fish are definitely intimidating in the kitchen, so it was a great opportunity to allay some of these fears at the Sydney Seafood School at the Sydney Fish Markets.
|Giovanni Pilu from Pilu at Freshwater for Sydney Seafood School,|
Sydney Fish Markets, Pyrmont
I'd chosen the four-hour class with Giovanni Pilu, of Pilu at Freshwater and a soon-to-be cookbook author. Specialising in Sardinian fare, Pilu was at pains to highlight that 'Italian' as a cuisine is too broad a categorisation given the significant regional differences in food across the country.
For example, even on the island of Sardinia, coastal cuisine focuses on the abundant seafood harvest while inland cooking is based on pork, lamb, wild game, sheep's cheese and fregola.
|Pilu demonstrates cleaning of raw cuttlefish|
Pilu demonstrated three separate dishes that we would be cooking in groups of six afterwards. His multi-tasking and ways with cuttlefish and gnocchi made everything look a breeze, but the class seemed to know better as they studiously read the provided recipes, took notes and closely watched the large television screens above the demo kitchen.
|Pilu demonstrates making potato gnocchi|
After approximately two hours of our very own, live, in-person cooking show, we could see and smell the end results. But to taste, we'd have to make our own lunch in the class kitchen next door.
|Sydney Seafood School class kitchens|
All the ingredients and utensils were at our disposal, as too help where needed from Sydney Seafood School assistants. This is how cooking should be. Better yet, everything but the Global knives could be dumped into big containers for someone else to wash.
With six people per bench, my group split the three dishes among three couples - and I'd landed the big fish, quite literally.
The monster snapper was already cleaned and scaled while Pilu recommends not washing fish in water but wiping it clean, inside and out, with paper towels so as not to potentially lose flavour into the washing water.
Fresh snapper should have perky, not sunken eyes; firm pink flesh; and a pleasant sea smell and our specimen certainly complied. For ease of cooking and subsequent eating, Pilu tells us to take off the gills and excess tail; where gardening scissors come in very handy or in our case, a massive cleaver for trimming the tail.
|The snapper - scored and salted|
To cook, we scored the large snapper several times down to the bone (on one side only in this case) and generously patted the skin with salt flakes, which helps achieve a crispy skin.
|Grilling the snapper on the stovetop|
|Snapper scattered with garlic and green olives|
Twenty-five minutes in a hot oven with lots of basting with juices would have this snapper ready for lunch, with resting time as per a piece of meat. A sauce was to be made out of the fish's cooking juices, chopped parsley ("not the curly stuff, please," says Pilu) and butter.
Even Pilu's kitchen staff were opposed to having this cephalopod on the menu, which while cheaper than squid, is labour- and time-intensive to prepare.
Once cleaned, the white slices were cooked for all of a minute in a pot of boiling water flavoured with lemon, cloves, bay leaves, pepper, tomatoes and salt. The just cooked cuttlefish was to join a salad of pine mushrooms from Oberon, fennel and Pilu's very own Australian-produced bottarga cured mullet roe.
|Baked kipfler potatoes going through the ricer|
The most time-consuming part for home cooking would be baking the potatoes - a good hour at least to cook them to complete softness. They're best through the ricer still hot, though I seem to remember painful hours with a fork to mash my boiled potatoes years ago.
|Rolling long strips of the gnocchi dough|
|Kipfler potato gnocchi|
The gnocchi are cooked in salted boiling water, where it's apparently an Italian habit to use 10 grams of salt per litre of water to cook pasta. Some of the starchy water from cooking pasta can be added to the sauce for more flavour and natural thickening.
|Cooking smoky pancetta|
The smells coming from the pans of pancetta cooking in olive oil were sublime and the exact aroma that would get mouths watering on command.
|Spanner crab and smoky pancetta|
Pilu called the combination of surf and turf "nearly a perfect marriage", finished off with a textural contrast of crumbled carta di musica Sardinian flatbread over the hopefully fluffy gnocchi.
|Sydney Seafood School dining room|
Featuring a panoramic image of Blackwattle Bay and the most stunning, nautical-inspired light features, we dined like happy chefs.
|Kipfler potato gnocchi, spanner crab and smoky pancetta|
|Cuttlefish, fennel, pine mushrooms and bottarga salad|
|Snapper with Vernaccia, green olives and parsley|
A hunk of almost bone-free fish, olive cheeks, cooked garlic, the buttery parsley sauce and bread for mopping up juices - perfection.
(Note this was Pilu's demonstration snapper - we hoed into our fish with much excitement and demolished half of it before I remembered a photo. His looked just slightly better than ours). A fish this size also meant there was plenty of leftovers for another glorious meal.
|Sydney Seafood School - a fabulous cooking and dining experience|
And I think I can safely say, having swum with the big fish at Sydney Seafood School, I'm confident of attempting my own huge snapper at home for a seriously classy and impressive meal.
Sydney Seafood School classes run throughout the year at the Sydney Fish Markets. See more photos at my Facebook page. See Sydney Fish Markets Easter opening hours here.
Food, booze and shoes attended Giovanni Pilu's cooking class as a guest, with thanks to Sydney Seafood School and Inner West Live.