From the 1860s onwards, Sydney newspapers, clubs and boat operators organised fishing excursions to Camp Cove, Watsons Bay and overnight to the Heads. (This ad for a Snapper Fishing Excursion, tickets 20s including lunch and bait, is from the Sydney Morning Herald of 24 April 1880.)
And Sydney's rock oysters are justifiably famous.
Fish and Oyster Pie recipes appear in newspapers from Sydney to Cairns to Perth, especially in the 1920s and 30s. They all use leftover cooked fish and they are practically identical: 500g fish and 1 or 2 dozen oysters layered in a pie dish, nutmeg and parsley, a cup or two of white sauce poured over, topped with mashed potatoes or rough puff pastry and cooked for 20 minutes.
This Fish and Oyster Pie is based on the Boathouse Restaurant in Glebe's Snapper Pie - but with oysters. And without the white truffle oil which, frankly, seems an affectation designed solely to justify charging $48 for a main.
Since this recipe calls for 750g snapper fillets and 1 or 2 dozen oysters, it's worth making a real fish stock: 1 onion, 1 carrot and 1 celery stalk, finely chopped and sauteed in butter, fresh herbs, snapper heads and bones or a small whole snapper (scaled, gutted and cleaned) and 500 ml white white and 500 ml water, simmered for 35-40 minutes and strained through a fine sieve.
A more economical version of this dish can be made with 500g fresh snapper and half a dozen small potatoes, only just cooked, and no oysters. And the leftovers can be made into small pies - see photo.
Fish and Oyster Pie
12-24 Sydney rock oysters
1 sheet ready rolled puff pastry, preferably Pampas butter puff pastry
1-2 tbsp olive oil
4 medium onions, 3 sliced and 1 finely diced
375 ml fish stock, preferably home-made
200 ml cream
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 egg yolk, whisked with a few drops of water
Pre-heat oven to 220 degrees.
Saute three sliced onions in olive oil on a low heat for 15-20 minutes, until soft but not browned. Pour off excess oil. Stir in the fish stock, simmer until reduced by half, about 15 minutes. Stir in the cream, simmer gently until the mixture has reduced by half to the consistency of slightly thickened cream. (Mine was a bit too thin.) Add nutmeg, season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside to cool.
In a small pan, saute the remaining onion, diced, in butter until soft, season with salt and pepper, add this to the onion-cream sauce.
Invert pie dish onto the sheet of puff pastry and cut a round of pastry 2 cm larger than the circumference of the dish. Rest the pastry on a damp tea-towel while arranging the pie.
Pour a little sauce into the pie dish. Put in a layer of snapper, then a layer of oysters; lightly season with salt and pepper; put in another layer of fish and so on until the dish is filled. Pour the remaining sauce over the fish and oysters, to cover.
Brush the rim of the pie dish with a little melted butter, place the pastry on top and press lightly, brush the top with beaten egg yolk, and cook 20 minutes until pastry is puffed and golden. Serve with mashed potato and/or a green vegetable. Serves 4.