10 seafood dinners
We may not have our own traditional seafood dishes, but there’s plenty we can borrow from other cuisines. Ray’s 10 ideas show you how.
New Zealand has no repertoire of traditional fish dishes like other countries such as France, Italy or Spain — or indeed like most other countries in the world.
Tony Simpson in his definitive book on Kiwi food, A Distant Feast (Godwit 1999), says the reason for this is that fish (including things like oysters) was the food of the poor. The first immigrants to New Zealand were often rural labourers who were looking for a better life. Their aspirational diet, the one they wanted to be able to eat when they arrived here and had made good on their own land, had nothing to do with fish. As far as aspirations went, the diet to aim for was the meal they had seen rich farmers eating at the local inn on market days. This was called the Farmer’s Ordinary and consisted of a thick soup, roasted joint of meat with vegetables and a heavy pudding. Fish didn’t feature.
Fish and chips is about the only fish dish that could be described as traditional in New Zealand, even though we didn’t invent it. Jewish food writer Claudia Roden says fish in batter was brought to England by 16th century Jewish refugees from Portugal who had connections with Liguria where they got to import the olive oil to fry it in. But again, it wasn’t something to aspire to in colonial New Zealand as it contained poverty-tainted fish and the other thing the poor ate, potatoes.
Happily we have all realised we live on islands surrounded by fish and seafood and have had a healthy injection of fish cuisine from other countries, so seafood is now much more popular.
It is also good that people understand that fresh fish smells like, well, nothing. I can quite understand people who say they don’t like fish because it smells fishy. They should try it fresh as no one likes fish that isn’t fresh. I usually ask to smell it before I buy it if I’m not buying from my local Mt Eden fish shop which I trust implicitly when it comes to freshness.
Sadly, owing to commercial fishing scouring the seabed, there isn’t enough of every species left. I always have the Forest and Bird Best Fish Guide on my desktop and phone so I can make informed choices when deciding what fish to eat. It makes slightly chilling reading.
Of course, if you catch fish yourself, you can eat anything legal. The good news for cooks is that there are still many species that are good to eat and fish recipes are usually quite versatile and can accommodate alternative fish species. Just remember not to overcook the seafood.
Ray’s quick ideas take fish dinners up a notch
Peel some beetroot and cut into 3cm chunks. Place in a casserole with a little extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. Cover and roast in a 200C oven for 45 minutes or until tender. Place some green or brown lentils that have been boiled, drained and tossed with a little extra virgin olive oil, finely chopped red onion and parsley on a serving platter. Place the diced beetroot on top then pile flaked smoked fish on top. Serve with a dollop of plain unsweetened yoghurt and chopped dill.
Pan-fry john dory fillets in a little butter until almost done. Remove from the pan to a warm serving platter that has a bed of wilted spinach on it. Put the pan back on moderate heat and add a little more butter and lots of chopped shallots. Fry the shallots until soft then add a big splash of dry white wine or vermouth. Let it bubble for 30 seconds then add some cream and lots of chopped parsley. Boil until slightly thickened, taste, season and sharpen with lemon juice. Serve over the fish.
Traditionalists may flinch but make a dashi stock with instant dashi powder. Bring it to a simmer and add sliced rehydrated dried shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced carrots, spring onions, lemon zest and peeled broad beans. Simmer until the vegetables are tender, then add prawns and 3cm chunks of white fish fillet. Simmer 5 minutes or until the seafood is just cooked, season with Japanese soy sauce and serve over thick noodles with more soy sauce on the side.
Put some peeled, 3cm chunks of agria potato and sliced carrots and parsnips in a saucepan with a diced onion, finely chopped garlic, zest of a lemon, a bay leaf, and chopped parsley. Cover with chicken stock, bring to the boil and simmer until the vegetables are soft. Puree a quarter of the soup, add it back to the unpureed soup and bring to the boil. Add plenty of 3cm chunks of white fish fillets and some live, well-scrubbed mussels and simmer until just cooked. Beat 2 or 3 egg yolks with a little cream. Take the soup off the heat, whisk in the yolks and cream mix and serve with croutons and chopped parsley
Is there anything better at any time of year than hot spaghetti and clams which have been tossed in a saucepan with extra virgin olive oil, garlic, chilli and chopped parsley?
Boil lots of peeled agria potatoes until tender. Drain and place in a deep serving platter. Pan-fry or barbecue plenty of garlicky squid tubes and chorizo then slice and pile on to the potatoes. Place some hot green beans around everything and dress liberally with a vinaigrette of extra virgin olive oil, sherry or red wine vinegar, garlic, thinly sliced sundried tomatoes, sliced spring onions, pitted black olives and chopped parsley.
Fry lots of chopped onion, some garlic and lemon zest until the onion is soft. Remove from the heat and cool. Put the onion mixture along one edge of some rolled out (made with butter) flaky puff pastry. Put lots of 3cm-diced salmon on top of the onion. Cover that with cooked white long grain rice, capers and chopped dill. Fold the empty side of the pastry over the salmon and rice mixture. Crimp the edges closed, brush the top with beaten egg, make some slits in the top for the steam to escape and bake at 200C for 25 minutes or until well cooked. Serve in slices with lemon for squeezing.
Thinly slice lots of the white part of leeks and gently fry in butter with lots of finely diced preserved lemon peel until the leeks are soft. Add some white wine and let it bubble away then add some cream and boil until slightly thickened. Serve over very fresh, flour-dusted, pan-fried trevally fillets (or other fish fillets).
Barbecue lots of kingfish fillet (not tuna, there aren’t enough in the world) until medium rare. Serve with steamed long grain rice, cooked kale and broccoli and a dressing of extra virgin olive oil, white wine vinegar, a spoonful of dijon mustard, anchovy fillets, a sliced red chilli, garlic and chopped parsley. Make a mix of equal parts Japanese soy sauce and mirin and add thinly sliced ginger, garlic, spring onions, chopped coriander and lemon zest. Pour this over thick fish fillets (monkfish, kahawai, kingfish, salmon, blue codor trevally) side by side in a roasting dish and bake in a 200C oven until the fish is just cooked. Serve with rice and steamed bok choy tossed in a little oyster sauce.