Ask Peter: Wrap and go
A few of our end-of-year events are picnics and I’d like to make up picnic boxes that are a bit more special than sandwiches. What can you suggest that is easy to carry and eat in our hands? Thanks, Dot
I have to say I am ALWAYS a fan of a sandwich but I get that you don’t want to just take the same old things along. However, the very nature of a sandwich whereby a filling is encased in a wrapping, is worth focusing on.
You could argue that a sushi roll is a gluten-free alternative to a sandwich. Much harder to make of course, as a good sushi chef will train for many years before they perfect the art of rice cooking. But you can make a sort of-version fairly easily if you are a dab hand at risotto.
At this time of the year I’d suggest you make a lovely pea and mint risotto, packed full of parmesan cheese and shredded mint. Spread it 6mm thick over three quarters a sheet of nori and lay strips of various things across the middle — from thinly sliced smoked salmon or chicken through to flakes of smoked kahawai, avocado, sun-blushed tomatoes or barely blanched asparagus. Roll up the nori and rice, wrap tightly in cling-film then chill in the fridge to firm up and to allow you to pack it in the chilly bin. Mix wasabi paste into mayonnaise for a dip.
You could also make a risotto flavoured with portobello mushrooms and fill it with thinly sliced rare roast beef mixed with lime zest and juice, coriander on the stalk, whole spring onions and lots of mint leaves. Mix horseradish into mayonnaise or creme fraiche as a dip for this.
An egg, caramelised onion and potato frittata (or tortilla) is also perfect picnic fare (and also gluten-free). These can be easily made with whatever seasonal veggies are available and by using kumara as well as regular potatoes. You can use sliced spring onions instead of caramelised onions to save you time cooking it, and some sliced piquillo peppers (Sabato and good delis carry these) mixed into it look great and taste fabulous. A little smoked paprika mixed into mayonnaise or thick Greek style yoghurt works a treat too.
Ika mata (Cook Island raw fish salad) is really good to take on a picnic because no one will expect you to have it. Mix super-fresh fish slices (skin and bones removed) with lemon or lime juice, some salt and pepper and place in a sealed container. In another container have some coconut milk mixed with shredded coriander and mint leaves, and finely chopped red or green chillies. In a third container have some quartered cherry tomatoes and sliced peeled cucumber.
When you’re ready to eat, mix all three together, spoon into disposable coffee cups and serve with a disposable fork. If you are a fan of those clever New Zealand-designed Sistema containers (as I am) you can use one large one that hold three smaller ones inside — so your picnic hamper won’t be overfilled.
Fish cakes make great picnic treats but you can also replace the fish with shredded ham or poached chicken, blanched and refreshed spinach, peas, broad beans (podded) or other lightly cooked, thinly sliced vegetables. Bake large unpeeled potatoes or golden kumara until cooked. Once cool enough to handle, scoop out their flesh and mash it. Mix with half the quantity of whichever flavouring takes your fancy — being careful to avoid large lumps as these can cause the cakes to fall apart. Herbs and cheese are also good to add here, as well as seasoning.
Press firmly into a parchment-lined sponge roll tin, or small roasting dish, and cover tightly then freeze for no more than an hour. Unmould on to a chopping board and cut into 3-4 cm squares. Now, before they soften too much, coat in flour then beaten eggs and then breadcrumbs. Either deep-fry, pan-fry in a mixture of butter and oil, or bake, brushed with generous amounts of melted butter or olive oil, until golden all over. Leave to cool, then pack in your hamper. Like most of the other suggestions above, mayonnaise, or a flavoured yoghurt or creme fraiche, works well here as an accompaniment.
In our Ask Peter series, executive chef Peter Gordon answers your curly culinary questions. If you're stumped over something food-related, send your question to firstname.lastname@example.org and keep checking in for answers. You can read more on Peter on his website, have a read of his Ask Peter articles or check out his recipes here.