January 13, 2020

The fish maturing school has reached Madrid Fusión represented by Josh Niland, the “fish butcher”. “The enemy of the maturing process is moisture, and so a piece of fish – the whole piece – must be put aside with no water and no contact”. Dani García endorsed the system.

Josh Niland (Saint Peter, Sydney, Australia), the “fish butcher”, demonstrated the potential of fish during its maturing process, in a gastronomic and environmental rail against overfishing. Noland hit the Madrid Fusión stage alongside Dani Garcia and Jorge Martín (Lobito de Mar, Spain) in a bid to “change fish consumption. Throughout the world”, adds the Australian, the first chef to cure full fish sections, in contrast to the Japanese tradition of curing parts of fish.

Niland explained his maturing process, which allows the entire animal to be used, and also extends its lifespan. “In this way, if we can get two fish out of one, we will fish less, keeping their numbers steady and preventing overfishing. It’s also a sustainable procedure”, he explained behind a table showing all the parts of a fish. The system “works with fish over 800-900 grams. It can’t be done if they’re any smaller”.

He starts by using a knife to descale the fish. “There’s a membrane around the scales which contains the colour of the fish. By cutting that and the scales, not only do you enhance the texture by keeping it firm, but you also remove moisture, the real enemy of the fish maturing process”. “The scales have gaps, and this can let moisture into the fish. If you remove the membrane and the scales, the fish will keep for days”, Niland explained to a packed auditorium.

Having removed the scales, the chef “interacts” directly with the skin. The fish’s organs are removed (“fast”) and are put aside, and he uses kitchen roll to work with the skin. “And it never touches water again”. The logic of the procedure is to keep the temperature steady, and to do this Niland hangs the piece on a hook in a cold room at between 0 and -2º with no blowing, and 75-80% humidity, although this may change depending on the species. “When it is hung up and has no contact with anything, the skin begins to dry out and this extends its lifespan”, by as much as one month.

This is the Australian version of fish maturing, a process “that does not produce dried fish”, Niland added. “Our method preserves the quality of the fish for days. Admittedly the texture is firmer and denser, but the result is not dried-out fish. The fish is still juicy. The idea is not to dry it out”, the chef went on. In a word, he claimed, the idea “is to locate the fish’s best taste”.

No to waste

After processing the skin, “the maturing process”, the Australian turned to the rest of the animal, “because we use it all”. “At the present time we lose 55% of the fish, and that’s just not on”, he pointed out. He demonstrated what he does with the various parts: “the eyes are blended like purée, dehydrated and fried; the liver, just like duck liver or chicken liver, is made into terrines or pâté, or foie gras, one of the products at our delicatessen (Fish Butchery, Sydney); the heart is sliced up fine to be griddled; the spleen can also be griddled, or salted or smoked to create something similar to katsuobushi; the tongue can be cooked like “kokotxa” cheeks, and the stomach is marinated for seven days and steam-cooked for eight hours to produce something resembling pig trotters”.

Using the whole animal also applies to the scales and the membrane removed at the beginning, “which are fried and caramelised as appetisers or even desserts”. That is how Niland achieves zero waste.

Dani García endorses the system

Dani García was close by Niland during the entire talk. The former winner of 3 Michelin stars explained how he became acquainted with the Australian (“on social media”), and how this helped him “learn to mature large sections. We had been doing a lot of tests and had come up with nothing. Finally, thanks to Josh, we realised that we had to do the exact opposite of what we had been doing: the fish should have no contact with water, and mature in a cold room with the least possible humidity”. When the piece matures, García went on, “the skin is incredible, especially when it hits the griddle”.

The Málaga chef was accompanied by Jorge Martín, the Dani García group’s R+D head chef, who demonstrated one of the Lobito de Mar restaurant’s specialities using this technique: a lobster “we hydrated with kombu leaves to produce a rich texture”.