A world of fish
Fish and other seafood chowders are made across the world. No one quite knows where they came from but there are European references to them in fishing villages along the coast of France from Bordeaux to Brittany, references in Cornwall in England and, of course, there are early references in the USA, most notably for the famous New England chowders which contain salt pork along with fish and shellfish. (Bacon can be a welcome addition to chowder.) Chowders usually contain milk or cream but Manhattan ones use tomatoes instead. As well as being made from fish, clams or vegetables, chowders usually contain potatoes and onions. Be sure to choose a firm fish, such as snapper, cod or hapuku, which won’t break up in the soup.
A good fish stock is a must and it is quick and easy to make your own, especially if you have a fisher in the family who can supply you with a fresh catch. Leftover fish stock freezes well. See recipe below.
Fish stock (Lauraine Jacobs)
- Rinse the fish frames and heads well in cold water, ensuring the gills and blood are removed.
- Break and chop the bones into chunks. Place everything in a large stockpot and gently bring to a boil.
- Lower the heat and simmer for 25 minutes.
- Strain through a fine sieve into clean containers, discarding all the solids. Refrigerate or freeze until needed. Makes 2 litres.
Some say the Scots invented kedgeree when stationed in India in the 1800s. However a version of it had been served in the subcontinent for centuries before that. Made without the fish and the eggs, it was called khichri and was a rice and bean or rice and lentil dish. The egg and fish being added by the British when kedgeree became a popular breakfast dish. It was served with just-caught fish which would have deteriorated in the Indian heat if kept for a whole day without refrigeration. The fresh fish was replaced by smoked haddock when the Brits took the dish home to England. Nadia Lim’s Kiwi version calls for smoked kahawai, gem fish, trevally or mullet. These days kedgeree works for all meals, not just breakfast, and is a great way to use up leftover rice. However, it is handy to make and serve for breakfast when you are feeding a crowd and it will keep, covered, in a low oven for up to 20 minutes. Be sure to use basmati rice and serve with lemon wedges to squeeze over. Curry powder and parsley are usual ingredients but some recipes add extra spices, such as fresh ginger, and use coriander instead of parsley. Cream is frequently included for a richer version. Don’t forget the butter! It is de rigeuer.
Raw fish salads are popular over the Pacific Islands and also in South America where they are known as ceviche. Kokoda is the Fijian version and it is quickly assembled and refreshing to eat. Very fresh fish such as trevally or snapper is sliced or cubed and ‘cooked’ in lemon or lime juice and stirred into coconut milk or coconut cream along with onion and sometimes tomato, cucumber, capsicum and chilli. When it comes to coconut, fresh is always best. However, whether fresh or canned, be careful to ensure your milk/cream is neither too runny nor too thick and cloying or the kokoda will taste oily and the freshness will be lost. Some recipes call for overnight marinating but do that and you risk chalky ‘overcooked’ fish.
Known as Thawt man plaa, fish cakes are a popular street food in Thailand where they are fried to order. Some contain red curry paste and some do not. Cucumber relish or sweet chilli sauce are traditional accompaniments. Usually long snake beans are used but this Kiwi-friendly version calls for regular green beans. If you want to be authentic (although the flavour won’t differ much) you can find Fijian snake beans at Indian and some Chinese greengrocers. Sandringham Road shops in Auckland frequently have them for sale. You will, however, have to reduce the quantity of beans. Snake beans are very long! When making these fish cakes, don’t cook all the patties at once to ensure the oil stays hot. To test the heat, drop a little of the mix into the oil. It should sizzle immediately. Keep the fishcakes warm in a low oven while you make the remainder.
Gravadlax has been made by Scandinavian fishermen since the Middle Ages. It is simply done (the sugar and salt draw moisture from the salmon, curing the fillets in the process) but it does take time - anywhere from 48 hours to four days. Gravadlax is served traditionally with pumpernickel bread as a starter or with plain boiled potatoes and in Scandinavia is also accompanied by a sauce made of dill, Dijon mustard, white or cider vinegar, honey, sugar and sunflower oil. Sometimes juniper berries are used, too, in the curing. To slice gravadlax you need to ensure your knife is sharp. Slices can be horizontal, long and thin, until you get to the skin which is then discarded. Otherwise, discard the skin first and slice the fish straight down.
Fish pie is a comforting and enduring family classic that can be made more complex with the addition of smoked as well as white fish and the inclusion of seafood such as prawns, scallops and cooked chopped mussels (if you don’t mind a bit of a chew). Usually white fish fillets are poached in milk (which may be flavoured with bay leaves, onion, cloves or peppercorns), the milk strained and used to make the white sauce to enrobe the fish. If adding prawns, take care to defrost first but do not cook them before stirring into the finished sauce. They will cook in the pie in the oven. Indeed any frozen fish/seafood should be defrosted first or you risk an unpleasant, watery result. Cheddar cheese is a common addition to the sauce but a couple of finely chopped anchovies stirred in provide salty flavour if you want to omit the cheese. White wine is added to the poaching milk here but if you want to forgo using milk completely, try lightly poaching the fish in stock with a little white wine, the liquid reduced and then cream stirred in at the end. Optional extras to your pie: Chopped hard-boiled eggs, peas, sautéed leeks, parsley and cooked shredded spinach (please squeeze before adding).