Murray cod is making a comeback on our plates thanks to ingenious improvements in commercial fish farming.
Murray cod producers – 12 in New South Wales, three in Victoria and others in Queensland and South Australia – farm more than 600 tonnes of fish a year in an industry with sales of around 10 millions of dollars. But these numbers are growing rapidly.
“After COVID, we can’t keep up with demand,” says Ross Anderson, chairman of Aquna, which produces Murray cod near Griffith in New South Wales. “By 2030, we plan to grow 10,000 tonnes.”
Anderson’s company has solved the riddle of the muddy taste of fish.
“The problem with farmed Murray cod in the past was that the fish was always too small, too soft, too muddy tasting,” says Sydney seafood retailer and restaurateur Josh Niland. “Then Murray cod farmers figured out how to grow great cod,” he says.
Slime in fish is caused by a compound produced by algae and bacteria called geosmin and MIB. They accumulate in the flesh and, although harmless, cause an unpleasant earthy taste.
“We have a good understanding of water health,” says Anderson. Its Murray cod is raised in about 40 dams spread over different farms, all fed by the waters of the Murrumbidgee.
“Our team figured out how to make the right microscopic algae and insects work together to keep the water clean. Clean water equals clean tasting fish.”
“These farmed Murray cod taste like the wild cod we used to catch when I was an apprentice years ago,” Niland says, referring to native fish that were commercially fished. in the Murray-Darling system.
Commercial fishing was banned in 2000 by the NSW government after more than a century of overfishing, and environmental degradation has seen numbers plummet.
According to Good food guide editors, Murray cod has gone from relative obscurity to becoming a staple of fine dining this year.
“Upscale restaurant kitchens have embraced Murray Cod,” says The Age Good Food Guide 2023 editor Roslyn Grundy. “I see it on menus all over town, whether it’s raw in tartare, delicately set with other native ingredients, or baked in browned butter.”
The Guide’s Sydney editor, Callan Boys, agrees: “I’d be surprised to find a restaurant, a hat or more, that didn’t have Murray cod on the menu,” he says.
“Fish farmers have finally succeeded,” says chef Aaron Turner of Igni in Geelong. He is known for a dish of Murray cod rubbed with emu bush, wrapped in young cabbage leaves, grilled over red river gum coals and served in a golden chicken stock enriched with melted cod fat.
Turner says the fatty component of fish can be melted down and used in cooking like duck fat.
“It tastes so clean,” says Turner. “It tastes like the river.”
Five Murray cod dishes to try in Melbourne
Cod Murray with sherry sauce at Freyja
Chef Jae Bang does not compromise. First, he buys whole fish and dry-ages it for up to six days, then he seasons the fish inside and out via a quick brine. Next, the oily fish is cooked skin side down on a flat grill to achieve a chip-like crunch on the skin. “The way we cook it, the skin almost bursts,” says Bang, describing it as crispy pork.
477 Collins Street, Melbourne, freyjarestaurant.com
Laap pa to Jeow
Laaps – tangy, herbal salads – are the cornerstone of Lao cuisine. At Jeow, Murray cod is tossed with generous amounts of lime juice, fish sauce, chilli and herbs such as paddy rice, all topped with an aromatic smoked eggplant dip.
338 Bridge Road, Richmond, jeow.net.au
Cod Murray with mussels, ginger and carrot at Stokehouse
Executive chef Jason Staudt buys whole fish to make the most of its versatility. For this dish, the fillets are wrapped in carrots and steamed, then the fish is topped with local mussels and a velvety carrot-ginger sauce. The rest of the cod? The bones are used for the broth, the smoked belly for the seafood platter, and the head goes into crispy croquettes.
30 Jacka Blvd, St Kilda, stokehouse.com.au/melbourne
Fish and chips at the Brunswick Ballroom
This northern showplace makes native Australian fish the leader in its fish and chips. Firm-fleshed Murray Cod holds up well in the fryer.
314-316 Sydney Road, Brunswick, brunswickballroom.com.au
Cod Murray, seaweed, white butter sauce at Pretty Little
The fillets are steamed then finished with a white seaweed butter sauce.
296 Carlisle Street, Balaclava, prettylittle.com.au
with Emma Breheny