Ask Peter: Awesome plum chutney
Hi Cuz! Our plum tree is heaving with fruit. What was that awesome recipe you had for plum chutney you made for the Fusion Feast at Tuahiwi Marae in the South Island? Love to you and Al. Aroha nui always Hinewehi
Hi Cuz, lovely to get your question at Bite — good to know you read my column in the Bay. For those of you wondering, Hinewehi Mohi is my cousin and she produced a TV series I fronted called Fusion Feasts. In it I travelled around New Zealand, visiting eight marae including my own in the Wairarapa — Pāpāwai. We had a lot of fun cooking up feasts with the local people on the marae. On the way I learnt a lot about my Māori heritage (I whakapapa through Ngāti Kahungunu and Ngāi Tahu) as well as learning some great dishes from the aunties, how to cook shellfish in Rotorua’s hot pools, eat the stomach of a pāua (the hua — which is truly delicious) and I also taught Uncle Lance at Orākei Marae that using garlic in a hāngi really isn’t that bad!
In the South Island we filmed at Tuahiwi Marae, and visited my great-great-great grandparents’ graves — Rewhaunga (also known as Ellen) who died in 1882 and Stenton Workman who died in 1904. That’s also where I discovered a connection to Ngāi Tahu, as I walked along the beach with the Solomon whānau. All in all it was a remarkable episode and it was full of really tasty kai. One of the things I cooked was tītī — mutton bird. I’m a fan but I’m also aware many people find them too salty and too fishy flavoured. They’re the juvenile birds of the sooty shearwater, harvested in a sustainable fashion on the Tītī Islands around Stewart Island. Getting to eat one is quite a privilege as there are only so many harvested each year, and they have a taste of anchovy crossed with mutton and duck. I’ve been served them simply grilled, feathers and guts removed beforehand, and these can be salty and quite chewy. But the flavour is wonderful, really grunty and full on.
The bones make a great soup afterwards, too, as they’re also packed with flavour.
I decided I’d make patties from the preserved titi — there were quite a few. I took a third of them for my dish and started by blanching them, taking them from cold water to rapidly simmering water, then draining and doing it again three times. This removed some of the salt and softened the flesh. I pulled the meat from the carcass, roughly chopped it and mixed with mashed kūmara with a little egg and flour to bind it — rather like a salmon fish cake. I rolled them into patties, dusted them with flour, and fried the patties in butter. Truly delicious with all of the flavour of tītī evident, but slightly subdued. I must say, the ringawera (helpers — some who were way more senior in the kitchen than the term implies) stuffed the rest of the birds just as you would a chicken and roasted them whole, so all bases on the tītī appreciation level were happy, as my recipe was a first for everyone on the marae.
However, I also wanted to serve a chutney with my titi patties, something to cut through the richness of the meat. I made a plum chutney in the oven as we had plenty of oven space but not quite enough hobs — we were cooking a huge feast, after all.
From memory, I caramelised red onions in oil on the hob with cumin and coriander seeds, chopped ginger, red chillies and garlic, and fresh thyme.
I tipped that mixture into a large roasting dish and added 2 parts seeded, roughly chopped plums to every 1 part of onions. Then, because the plums weren’t super-sweet (it was April) I added a good amount of sugar, and a moderate amount of vinegar.
I roasted the mixture in the oven, stirring often, to caramelise the plums and reduce the liquid.
Of course it could have been cooked on top of the stove, but you do get a really good concentrated flavour when a fruit-based chutney is roasted.
I seasoned it at the end and we all agreed it would work well with the patties.
However, I then decided it needed something else, and served each portion with a dollop of creme fraiche on top which worked surprisingly well with the fatty bird. It made the flavours meld together really well.