5 mins with Peter Hilcke

Name: Pete Hilcke
Business and location: Sustainable seafood chef, Melbourne

Can you share a happy fish and chip memory?
Fish and chips for me was really great when leather jacket was around, and you’d go down and get a piece of battered leather jacket and chips and it was just wrapped up in newspaper. It was just so fresh, and the chips were so crunchy. That would be the ultimate fish and chips when I was a young fella, just natural flavours from a beautiful fish. Today, I don’t think a lot of fish and chip shops have just Australian seafood. In my opinion that’s the biggest problem we face, because as soon as you freeze fish you lose the flavour.

Where have you eaten the best fish and chips?

Being a chef, I’m going to say my own are the best! I say that because I like to steam the potatoes before I fry them. That way they’re nice and light on the inside and crunchy on outside. And the fish has just got to be battered from scratch with a good seasoned batter.

If there was one fish and chip shop I’ve really enjoyed recently, it’s probably Blu in Coburg North in Melbourne. It’s a great fish and chip shop and restaurant.

You’re an ambassador for Victorian seafood. What do you think is the most popular fish for fish and chips in Victoria?
In Victoria, it would have to be flake, that would be the most common. But blue grenadier gets a really good run as well.

Flake’s been popular for more than a hundred years, and I think for good old fish and chips it holds to the batter well, it’s moist, it’s just a beautiful piece of fish. It’s not overpowering, it’s not fishy, so for someone who’s never really eaten fish, they can have a piece of a flake and feel quite comfortable that it’s going to be beautiful and quite neutral.

With blue grenadier, there’s a specific flavour; I like to say there’s a little bit of sweetness with it. That flavour is absolutely fascinating, and I adore it, I think it’s beautiful.

What is your personal favourite fish to use for fish and chips?
My personal favourite, and I haven’t seen it for a while, is Barracouta. I used to love a piece of battered ‘couta.

How do you like to prepare it?
When I used to have it as fish and chips, it would be a beautiful long fillet, just sliced in half and battered. Really simple; into the fryer and done. A squeeze of fresh lemon over the top; too easy.

Do you have a favourite condiment you like with fish and chips?

For me, there’s one thing I just love having with fish and chips, and it’s a bit of a weird one. I’ll make my own tartare sauce, and I love putting dried seaweed flakes through it. It just adds to the intensity of the flavour, it’s stunning. I use wakame seaweed. You can buy it from any Japanese grocer, and it’s already pounded up and ready to go, and I sprinkle that through the tartare sauce. It takes it to a different level.

What Australian wine (or other beverage) would you match with your fish and chips?
In general, I’d be looking at chardonnay. But a good pinot noir, I tell you what, that goes down with it extremely well. Pinot noir from Mornington, but with a chardonnay probably something from the Adelaide Hills – a nice cool climate white.

How long have you been making/serving fish and chips?
As a private chef, I’m always doing fish and chips.

I’ve been a chef for 17 years, and it’s a staple.But I’m always trying to do something a bit different. Last time I did fish and chips, I did a tempura batter, and I sliced the potatoes very thin and cooked them three times, and put truffle salt over them. And we had that with battered salmon, which is beautiful. But it has to be done at a really high heat, because you’ve got to bring out those flavours, but if you overcook salmon it’s horrible.

Pete Hilcke