Last winter I saw my first package of Australis brand barramundi at a local supermarket. Up to that point I only knew the fish was popular in Australia and only seen it on an occasional restaurant menu here in the States. Locally, with all our excellent wild caught seafood, it didn’t register to me. Barramundi could have been sold here for years but I never tried it, nor had anyone I knew. I bought a package on a whim since it was on sale and tried it. I can’t say I remember if I liked it or not, so I felt it was time for a second round of Australis brand barramundi.
Packaging and Price
Australis pushes barramundi as “the better fish” and their packaging is all about standing out in the crowded frozen seafood aisle. The bold black and gold packaging complete with a gourmet-presentation of barramundi looks much higher-class than the other frozen fish it competes with. The back label goes to great lengths in order to show the consumer the virtues of this fish, which is also known as Asian sea bass. Thawing and cooking instructions are included along with an easy to follow sample recipe. A 12 oz package, which in this case included 3 small pieces, cost $7.99. It’s within a range where a curious seafood lover can take a risk on something new. But I was not that impressed with what I got for that price.
My 3-individually sealed skinless fillets look similar to other types of fish sold as sea bass or grouper. They are an translucent grayish white with a prominent red line through the meat. They look a little on the small side for my tastes and since I’m splitting this with my wife, two 8 ounce pieces make more sense to me. But I guess that has to do with how big the fish are. What I didn’t like is that once the fillets were thawed and I removed them from their wrapping, they were flimsy, to the point of breaking apart. As I picked up the fillets to give a quick rinse the meat was separating on me. If I saw that at a fresh fish market I would have walked away.
Although Australis has a state of the art fish farm in Massachusetts, my package of fish was marked as being ocean farm raised in Vietnam. According to their website, Australis’ operation is not like the salmon cages that have met with criticism. The fish are not overcrowded, but don’t mind being in groups, are fed a diet that resembles what they eat in the wild, and they need no antibiotics, hormones or the like.Their website is very well done and includes a blog to promote various way of serving barramundi. I decided to make mine using the tried-and-true foil pouch with some lemon, herbs and assorted vegetables.
The Recipe: Barramundi in Foil with Mixed Vegetables
- 1- 12oz package Australis All Natural Barramundi
- aluminum foil
- 2 lemons, take zest from one
- 1-2 cloves of chopped garlic
- 1 small zucchini, diced
- 1/2 small red onion sliced thin
- 3-4 crimini mushrooms sliced
- 10 grape tomatoes
- salt, pepper
- fresh/dried herbs: dill, tarragon, thyme
- olive oil
- splash of white wine
Preheat oven to 400F and make two pouches from the foil, large enough to fit the fish and the veg. Slice a lemon in thin rounds and place on bottom of each pouch. Wash and pat dry barramundi fillets, season with salt and rub with olive oil before placing on the lemon. Add some sprigs of fresh dill, lemon zest and other herbs before placing the onions on top of the fish. Pile the rest of your vegetables on the onions and top with the capers. You can also add a pat of butter for an extra velvety sauce. Before closing up the pouches splash a little bit of red wine around the base of the fish and give a hefty dose of fresh ground black pepper. Close the pouches tight and make sure there is room for steam to tent around the food. In 25 minutes or less, everything should be cooked and ready to serve with mashed potatoes or jasmine rice. Either side goes well with that lemon-wine sauce from the pouch.
I really wanted to like this fish, especially with all the good PR associated with Australis. Barramundi reminds me a bit of striped bass, which I like, but also a bit like tilapia, which I hate. In the recipe above, I thought it came out ok, but my wife, was not a fan of the texture and some parts tasted on the “fishy” side. I am not blown away by barramundi, I have too many local wild-caught options, that are sustainable and lower in price. I paid $8 for less than a pound of flimsy, thin fillets when I could have got a pound of haddock fresh off the boat for the same price.
Although I can’t in good conscience give this a ringing endorsement, I can see barramundi, especially bigger fillets, being as versatile as claimed. A bigger piece of fish may have given me a better opinion. I probably would not be too crazy about salmon if all I could get were small, strong tasting tail sections. Nor would I enjoy swordfish if all that was available was the small frozen pieces you see in supermarkets. I won’t be making barramundi for my wife again, but I would like to see how larger fillets taste pan fried, or grilled.
From a ecological/sustainability standpoint, Australis barramundi is a safe choice in that it is raised responsibly and tastes better than some other farm-raised fish I’ve tried. I’m spoiled with great local fresh or frozen fish. However, I would easily pick barramundi over tilapia, farm-raised catfish, lower priced salmon or steelhead. and with Australis brand, I know the fish is raised in pristine conditions. For all its faults, at least Australis barramundi does not taste muddy or like it came out of my fish tank.
If you have an opinion on barramundi, especially if you’ve tried Australis brand, please add in the comments below.