Scaling down the catch: Josh Niland on using every part of a fish

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Josh Niland uses his experience working in a French restaurant in Sydney to create a pissaladiere in which he substitutes latticed sardines for anchovies to tame the salf-forward dish. Photo by Rob Palmer.

Many countries and cultures across the world make a conscious effort to use the whole animal in cooking. Australian chef Josh Niland would love home cooks to see fish as more than a sum of their fillets. He discusses how privilege has led a majority of consumers to use boneless and skinless products, which make up roughly 50% of the animal. He suggests inquiring about ground tuna, mackerel, or swordfish at the fish counter for lasagna and meatballs. In Niland’s new book, “Take One Fish,” he schools readers on using different components of the fish, from small anchovies to the mighty tuna.

Pissaladière and pichade de menton 
Serves 4 

I fell in love with these two tarts while working in a Niçoise-style restaurant a number of years ago. It was far too difficult to decide which to include in this book, so I thought I’d do both. Traditionally from Genoa in Liguria, pissaladière is made with caramelised onion, olives, salted anchovies and a focaccia-style bread, while pichade de menton is similarly adorned but the caramelised onion is replaced with a base of slow-cooked tomatoes. Both are packed full of umami and are universally loved. 

I decided to use fresh sardines here instead of salted anchovies. I know! Not exactly traditional, but I find the bright minerality and clean flavours of fresh sardines actually balance the dish better. I’ve also replaced the bread with a sour cream pastry, which gives a rich, slightly soft centre where the toppings sit but also has crisp, buttery edges. The pastry shell can be prepared ahead, as can all the toppings, so break down the recipe into individual tasks during the week and share these tarts with loved ones on the weekend. Serve with a simple salad of dandelion and pink lady apple, or make them into bite-sized portions for a glamorous canapé option. 


  • 1 quantity Sour Cream Pastry (see below) 
  • 12 whole fresh sardines, scaled, filleted and ribs removed 
  • 24 Ligurian olives, pitted and halved 
  • 60 ml (2 fl oz/1⁄4 cup) extra-virgin olive oil
  • sea salt flakes, freshly cracked black pepper and Espelette pepper 
  • Tomato jam 
  • 1 kg (2 lb 3 oz) ripe tomatoes, washed and cored 
  • 8 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped 
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon Espelette pepper, or to taste 60 ml (2 fl oz/1⁄4 cup) Garum or fish sauce
  • 600 g (1 lb 5 oz) white sugar 
  • 200 ml (7 fl oz) red-wine vinegar 
  • Caramelised onion 
  • 100 ml (31⁄2 fl oz) extra-virgin olive oil 6 large brown onions, finely sliced
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt flakes
  • 1 bay leaf 
  • 1 star anise
  • 2 thyme sprigs
  • 1 rosemary sprig
  • freshly cracked black pepper 


  1. Make the pastry according to the instructions on page 259. Divide the dough in half then, using a rolling pin, roll out each piece between two sheets of baking paper to a circle about 5 mm (1⁄4 in) thick. Place on baking trays lined with baking paper and chill the pastry in the fridge for at least 1 hour before baking. 
  2. Preheat the oven to 170°C (340°F). 
  3. Top each pastry sheet with a heavy baking tray to stop the pastry puffing
    up in places, resulting in an uneven finish. Bake for 15 minutes or until evenly coloured. Set aside to cool. 
  4. To make the tomato jam, finely dice half the tomatoes, leaving the skin on and seeds in, and set aside for later. Place the remaining tomatoes, garlic, Espelette pepper and garum or fish sauce in a blender and blend to a puree. Transfer to a deep saucepan, add the sugar and vinegar and whisk to combine. Slowly bring to the boil over a medium heat, stirring constantly, then reduce the heat to low and add the reserved diced tomato. Simmer gently for 30–40 minutes, skimming off any foam as it rises to the surface.
    Stir every 5 minutes to remove any solids from the bottom and scrape the side frequently so the jam cooks evenly. (It is critical to be patient here; if the jam catches over a high heat and caramelises, the finished colour will be dull and quite tan rather than reaching its bright red potential.) To check if the jam is ready, place a small spoonful on a cold plate – it’s ready if it is softly set with no residual liquid running from it. If it has set too firm, add a splash of water and remove from the heat. 
  5. Pour the tomato jam into warmed, sterilised glass jars and allow to cool to room temperature. Store in the fridge for up to 4 weeks. 
  6. For the caramelised onion, heat the olive oil in a wide-based frying pan over
    a medium heat. Add the onion and salt and stir to combine and coat the onion. More than just a seasoning, the salt will draw moisture out of the onion, which is critical here. 
  7. Wrap the bay leaf, star anise, thyme and rosemary in a muslin pouch and add to the onion mixture. Reduce the heat to low, cover with a fitted lid and cook for 35–40 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes, until the onion starts to colour. Remove the lid and cook, stirring, for another 5–10 minutes. The onion is ready when it is jammy and a dark amber colour. Remove from the heat and cool, then store in a sterilised jar or airtight container in the fridge for up to 7 days. 
  8. Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F). 
  9. To assemble the pissaladière, place your baked pastry on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Spoon the chilled caramelised onion evenly over the surface, leaving a 2 cm (3⁄4 in) border around the edge. Bake for 10 minutes or until the onion has toasty edges and has adhered nicely to the pastry. 
  10. Meanwhile, working with a very sharp knife, slice each sardine in half
    from head to tail, creating a long boneless strip. It’s important to use a sharp knife to avoid damaging the fillets and ensuring the beautiful silver skin remains intact. 
  11. While the onion tart is still hot from the oven, arrange half the sardines in a neat lattice pattern, as shown in the photo overleaf. Dot olive halves in each lattice window. 
  12. Generously drizzle extra-virgin olive oil over the tart and season with black pepper and a little salt. Return to the oven for 2 minutes to warm the sardines and olives. Please don’t overcook at this stage, otherwise the sardines will quickly go from being lovely and oily to chalky and dry. Remove from the oven and serve immediately. 
  13. To assemble the pichade, follow the same procedure as the pissaladière using the remaining sardines and olives, but replace the caramelised onion with the tomato jam and the black pepper with Espelette pepper. 

Sour cream pastry
Makes 450 G (1 LB) 

This pastry can be made in advance and stored in the freezer. Depending on the recipe, you can either thaw it before use or bake it straight from the freezer. 


  • 200 g (7 oz/1 1/3 cups) plain (all-purpose) flour, frozen 
  • 140 g (5 oz) butter, frozen and diced
  • 1 teaspoon fine salt
  • 2 teaspoons chilled water 
  • 100 g (3 1⁄2 oz) sour cream, chilled 


  1. Pulse the flour and butter in a food processor to create very fine crumbs. Tip onto a cold surface and make a well in the middle.
  2. Dissolve the salt in the water and add to the crumb, along with the sour cream, and gently push the dough together until the liquids are fully incorporated and the dough is smooth but has visible ripples of sour cream. It’s very important that you don’t overwork the dough at this stage. 
  3. Divide and roll out the dough following the instructions in your chosen recipe, then chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour before baking. 

Snapper baked in salt pastry 
Serves 4 

This is the simplest way to bake a whole snapper with show-stopping results. Once mastered, you can vary the technique with myriad flavours and species, or even the pastry (which is not edible here), but the most critical thing is the resting time after baking. As you can imagine, there is a lot of heat trapped within, and allowing this residual heat to work its magic results in perfectly cooked fish that comes easily off the bone. 

There is a big difference between a fish being cooked and being overcooked. When cooking on the bone, there is a sweet spot where the flesh decides to give way off the bone and the natural gelatine and fat are still present. After this moment a fish will start to lose moisture, which ultimately gives it its texture, flavour and appearance. You can always cook a fish a little more if necessary, so always err on the side of underdone for a fish like snapper. 

Aussies love a good, savory pie. Josh Niland creates his version of a fish pie using the whole animal. Photo by Rob Palmer.


  • 1 × 1 kg (2 lb 3 oz) whole snapper, scaled, gutted and pin-boned, spine left intact 
  • Salt pastry 
  • 600 g (1 lb 5 oz/4 cups) plain (all-purpose) flour 
  • 150 g (5 1⁄2 oz) egg whites 
  • 420 g (15 oz) fine salt 
  • 300 ml (10 fl oz) water 


  • To make the salt pastry, place all the ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment. Mix together on a low speed for 5 minutes or until a firm smooth dough forms, then turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 1 minute into a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and leave to rest for 1 hour. 
  • Preheat the oven to 220°C (430°F) and line a large baking tray with baking paper. 
  • Unwrap the dough, cut it in half and roll out each piece to a square about 3 mm (1/8 in) thick. The squares should exceed the width and height of the whole snapper. Carefully place one pastry square on the prepared baking tray and position the fish in the centre. Brush the edges of the pastry with a little water, then carefully cover the fish with the second pastry sheet, crimping the two sheets together with a fork to seal the edges. 
  • Trim away any excess pastry and reroll the trimmings, shaping them as you please for presentation purposes. Place in the oven and bake for 25 minutes. To check if it’s ready, insert a probe thermometer through the pastry into the thickest part of the fish. For best results, the temperature should be sitting around 40–42°C (104–107°F) when it is removed from the oven. 
  • Rest the fish in its pastry for about 10 minutes to reach a serving temperature of 48–50°C (118–122°F), then transfer to the centre of the table, ready for the theatrical removal of the pastry before serving. 

Recipes excerpted with permission from “Take One Fish” by Josh Niland, published by Hardie Grant Books, August 2021.

In the follow-up to his James Beard Award-winning cookbook, Australian chef Josh Niland schools home cooks on how to get the most from various fish. His latest work is “Take One Fish.” Photo courtesy of Hardie Grant.