Barbecued Salmon Fillet with Taro, Spinach Palusami and a Chillied Sweetcorn Salsa
Most New Zealanders think outdoor cooking in Samoa means an umu, an earth-oven similar to a hangi. Auckland chef Joe Lam - a Samoan Chinese who owns Scalini's Restaurant in St Heliers - agrees but says barbecues are also a big part of life in the Pacific Islands. "A barbecue happens when people arrive all of a sudden. It's so much faster than an umu. Or sometimes you can plan it and say there are just way too many people, so we do one umu for the taro and then all the meat is cooked on the barbecue because it's a lot faster and easier." Celebrations such as weddings or birthdays are often barbecue times. "As a small family unit - well, as small as Samoan families go - barbecues are definitely a social event. I remember it being good times. We all sat around and had a beer and talked about the rugby. Almost Kiwi-ish. Then we'd all sit down and eat together." In an island twist on traditional barbecue fuels, Lam says the shells of coconuts are often used for the fire, as they burn with an intense heat. "It holds the heat really well, and it's got a beautiful aroma." If coconut shells are unavailable, Lam uses charcoal to get that smoky barbie taste. He likes to use traditional island foods on the barbecue that remind friends and family of home. Thus, most dishes include taro and coconut cream. "The boys love their taro. Island flavours, most people say, are bland. But cinnamon is used quite widely, rosemary, coriander, wild basil and chilli." Traditionally in Samoa, people eat home-farmed chicken and pork on barbecues, as beef and lamb are expensive to import. The meat is almost always marinated, though, and a favourite is the coconut cream and chilli mix, which gives off delicious aromas when it drips on to the sizzling coals. Turkey tails are another common meat cooked on the barbie. These are fatty, says Lam, but drain by cooking on the grill. Now, Lam's home is a popular place to be every Monday night for friends wanting a taste of home. It's his day off, so he marinates the meats and then leaves the boys to cook it on the barbie. He doesn't claim to be making a traditional Pacific barbecue, but his dishes are inspired by the Samoan barbies he remembers so fondly.
- Salmon Place the salmon fillets on a dinner plate and season well with salt and pepper, a third of the garlic (crushed) and all of the lemon rind. Refrigerate until needed.
- Corn salsa Slice all the corn off the cob (precooked) into a small mixing bowl. Add half the choppped chili, juice of half the lemon and half of the chopped onion (or shallot if preferable). Add a tablespoon of olive oil, teaspoon of balsamic and a third of the garlic. Season with salt and pepper, mix well and refrigerate until needed.
- Spinach Palusami Place the other half of the onion in a small saucepan with the spinach and coconut cream (freshly grated and squeezed is best but you can substitute tinned), bring to the boil, then season with salt and pepper. Keep warm till needed.
- Taro Place the pre-cooked slices on a dinner plate and season well with salt, pepper, a third of the garlic and olive oil. Leave them aside to be grilled.
- To assemble Place the taro and the salmon on the grill to cook, turning them over after 4 to 5 mins and cook for a further 3 to 4 mins. Place two slices of taro on each plate. Scoop 2 tablespoons of palusami on each taro. Place the salmon fillets on top. Drizzle with the corn salsa.