Some matches are made in heaven and arguably the most delicious marriage of them all was when fish met chips and they lived happily ever after.
Australia’s love affair with fish and chips includes setting the record for the most fish and chips sold from one store in one day, a feat achieved in Melbourne in 1996.
Celebrating our fondness for fish and the charm of chips is the Australian Fish and Chips Awards, which attracts thousands of nominations and votes each year.
An initiative of the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (FRDC) the awards aim to raise awareness of and educate consumers about the sustainability of Australia’s fisheries and the wide range of seafood options on offer.
At the same time, the awards celebrate those who support Australia's seafood industry, including the mum and dad fish and chip shops essential to the fabric of our local communities.
Winners are chosen by judges and in people’s choice categories.
FRDC communications, trade and marketing manager Peter Horvat said many things contribute to the ultimate fish and chip-eating experience, even before customers sink their teeth into the catch of the day.
Entrants are assessed not only on taste, but how well the store’s service meets customer expectations, the choices available on the menu, whether the range includes Australian seafood, the accuracy of information and labelling and how well the menu complies with the Australian Standard for Fish Names.
Also assessed is how clean and inviting the store is, and how well the food is packaged to maintain quality.
What worked in one part of Australia might not work in another, Mr Horvat explained, and obviously the availability of produce was a factor.
“If you are somewhere like Mount Isa, for example, it might be more difficult to get fresh, locally-caught fish, but that doesn’t mean shops in a more remote area should be afraid of using frozen fish,” he said.
“What is important is for stores to be open and upfront with customers about where they source their fish from, not being afraid to say ‘we do this for a reason’’ and it works.”
Sharing information with customers might include displaying key information about fish and cooking methods, maps and country of origin information, he said.
But while fish and chips were synonymous with ‘the coast’, inland entries continued to shine in the annual awards, according to Mr Horvat.
“A good example is with a finalist from Wagga Wagga last year - a very popular store that had been around since the 1960s,” he said.
The fish used in various parts of Australia were as many and varied as the methods used to prepare them, Mr Horvat said.
“Some shops are now serving fish wings dusted in an Asian spice, deep fried and served with beer - how good is that?” he said.
“And probably the best fish finger I’ve had was a swordfish that had been cut into strips and crumbed – absolutely spectacular.
“Australian herring is one fish that doesn’t immediately come to mind but it’s fairly widely available, and when it’s butterflied, crumbed and served in fresh white bread with mayonnoise or tartare sauce it’s wonderful.
“Spanish mackerel is great, and you can’t go past gummy shark or whiting either.
“And we’re seeing a wide variety of cooking and serving methods whether it be steaming or poaching, right through to a lovely piece of grilled salmon with sweet potato, or even potato salad, for instance,” he said.
“The English style of batter is a thicker, crispier style whereas Australians tend to prefer a lighter, more Tempura-style batter.
“With crumbing we are seeing breadcrumbs, gluten-free and panko varieties, and even crushed up cornflakes.”
Deliciousness, albeit a very good one, was just one reason Australians were encouraged to eat plenty of fish and chips.
“Fish is very good for you and an easy way to get a good serve of Omega 3 (fatty acids) – for those who prefer not to have it deep fried, there are plenty of grilled and other healthy options,” Mr Horvat said.
“Importantly too, when people are buying fish and chips they are supporting their local stores and their local industry – and because we are a research organisation we know our fisheries are some of the most sustainable in the world.
“Similarly, you are supporting Australian farmers when you buy chips made from Australian spuds.”
Winners of the Australian Fish and Chips Awards will be announced in October.
- To vote or to find out more about the Australian Fish and Chips awards visit www.fishandchipsawards.com.au