How to create an Easter seafood feast on a budget
A big seafood feast can get you some serious brownie points when it's your turn to host Easter.
But if your family has grown so large that you need planks of wood on paint tins to seat everyone, the grocery bill can be more than a drop in the ocean.
Rather than take out a second mortgage to pile your table with lashings of lobster, some sneaky hacks can help you create an equally impressive and delicious spread - with money left over for wine.
Slippery impostors can be passed off as premium species for a quarter of the price, without it appearing at all fishy, says seafood guru Alex Stollznow, of Sydney Fish Market.
He suggests gurnard and latchet as body doubles for flathead, one of Australia's favourite festive fish, which typically sells for over $50 per kilo.
"They're not fishy or bony, can be used in your favourite flathead recipe, and your guests won't notice the difference," he says.
Loligo squid was once the ultimate budget seafood in Australia, practically given away for bait and fertiliser.
Greek and Italian migrants knew better, and now their secret is out, with the species selling for up to $40 per kilo.
Gould's squid and cuttlefish are today's low-cost alternative, at around $14 per kilo.
The tubes are suitable for stuffing, can be sliced, tenderised and barbecued, or even slow cooked.
Carbing it up is another way to get more mileage from your seafood spend, says Tim Dudding, general manager of meat and seafood for Woolworths.
"A prawn linguine or a seafood marinara using simple flavours is an excellent way to keep the costs down, but still impress your guests," he says.
Similarly, fish pies are primarily comprised of mashed potato, but a fresh oily fish like blue mackerel or gemfish will infuse the whole serving with a briny seafood flavour.
Boiling up a bisque will get you even more bang for your seafood buck, and is a great way to up cycle prawn heads and shells.
"Throw them in the pot with some bendy veg from the back of the fridge, strain and add cream," Stollznow says.
"You'll get to appreciate your prawns all over again."
Mussels with crusty bread will also bulk up a meal, and sell for around $5 to $8 per kilo, loose.
"Demand increases every year, but more farms are opening up, keeping the price down," Stollznow says.
A seafood spread isn't complete without prawns, and there's huge scope to save money on these omnipresent crustaceans.
Double jumbo prawns are often used as an Easter table showstopper, but according to Stollznow, the expensive variety isn't so good on the palate.
"You're paying around $50 to $60 per kilo for bragging rights and photos," he says.
King, tiger and black tiger prawns are sweeter and juicier at a medium size, and generally half the price.
At the budget end of the prawn spectrum, school prawns sell for as little as $17 per kilo, and deserve to venture beyond the bait box.
"These are arguably the sweetest and tastiest prawns in the country," Stollznow says.
"Give them an egg wash, a dusting of potato starch, deep fry them whole and you can eat them like chips."
Eating them head and all, also means that nothing goes to waste.
Even if you've blown your budget on matching bunny onesies for all four generations, Lobster isn't necessarily off the menu.
China's ban on live lobster imports means you can bag one at the supermarket for just $20, says Coles ambassador Michael Weldon: "Turning it into a lobster cocktail can feed six people, rather than two".
Weldon also suggests flaking premium fish like salmon and barramundi over salads, or in tacos.
"You don't need to give everyone a 200 gram fillet," he says.
"Things like curries, stir fries and stews will carry their flavour through a dish."
TIPS FOR CHOOSING TOP SEAFOOD
1: Trust your gut, use your nose: Very fresh fish should smell of seaweed, progressing to a salty aroma when they're further along. Once seafood starts smelling fishy, it's nearing the end of its lifespan. If it makes your nose wrinkle, don't buy it.
2: Don't judge a crab by its shell: Crabs shed their shells several times a year as they grow, which expends significant energy and can leave them rather lean. Bypass crabs with perfect new shells, and go for the ugly ones which indicate that crabs are at their meatiest. The more scratched, barnacled and rusty-looking, the better.
3: Flex it: The flexibility of a crab's shell is another sign of how recently it has moulted. Similarly, a nice meaty prawn will have a firm shell and head.
4: Put your feelers out for freshness: In a tray full of fresh prawns, most of the feelers will be long and intact. Conversely, feelers on frozen prawns become brittle and will mostly have snapped off within a centimetre or two of the prawn's head.
Originally published as How to create an Easter seafood feast on a budget