By Annabel Langbein
Each year over the summer holidays when I was growing up, we would head out to sea for days at a time on my grandfather’s launch, the Shangri La.
My grandfather Put (short for Percy) moored his fabulous boat in Portage, way out in the Kenepuru Sound. To get there entailed a drive on the world’s windiest gravel road (I went back this year for the first time since I was about 10 and it hasn’t changed). I was car sick every time, but there was no way I was missing out. It was just the best holiday; that glorious feeling of unfettered summer freedom – jumping in the ocean to cool down when it was hot, going to bed salty and slightly sunburned in a little bunk to the sound of the waves lapping on the hull. And the fishing, ahhh the fishing was amazing.
We would always head for the giant grouper holes near D’Urville Island. Along the way we would fish on hand lines for cod – back then you just needed to drop your line to catch a fish. Put was an excellent cook and I have vivid memories of him coming up from the galley beaming from ear to ear, bearing big platters of his famous crispy battered cod. It was so delicious.
Fishing for grouper was a different matter. You needed a rod and it would take forever to haul up one of those monsters. They were like a dead weight, with none of the fight of other fish. Right near the end when, you were totally exhausted, the fish would pop up to the surface – the change in pressure would burst their swim bladders.
Back in our city life in Wellington, mum would make a weekly trip to buy fresh fish at the fish market down in Tory Street. Often she would buy ling for one of her famous fish pies. If it was oyster season she would use the frills and the oyster juices to make the most amazing oyster soup, cooked out in a roux base and then pureed and thinned with cream and milk. We would eat the tender oyster hearts fresh on buttered crustless brown bread with a squeeze of lemon and a little black pepper. When the scallop season started, for special occasions she would make wonderful individual scallop gratins with a lemony sauce and a crispy crumb.
While mum’s seafood repertoire wasn’t vast, we grew up eating a lot of delicious seafood, and we all loved it. So it came as rather a rude shock when my own kids wouldn’t touch seafood until they were well into their teens. If Ted and I wanted to eat it I’d have to make a whole separate dinner – the kids wouldn’t have a bar of it.
By the time the kids were teenagers and had finally got a taste for seafood, ethnic food had started to take off and dishes like laksa and fish tacos were a la mode. Finally I got the chance to extend my seafood repertoire well beyond the range of my mother’s classics.
For an island nation surrounded by an incredible diversity of seafood (over 100 species are fished commercially here), we really aren’t very good seafood eaters. Not only do we not consume a lot of seafood, but we aren’t at all adventurous about the way we cook it. It came as a complete surprise when I learned recently that 86 percent of Kiwis are falling well short of the two serves of seafood a week recommended by the World Health Organisation. About 66 percent of us eat seafood once a month or less, and only 14 percent eat fish weekly.
When we do eat seafood it tends to be one of the same four white fillets – hoki, snapper, gurnard and tarakihi. And we either buy it battered and fried from the fish and chip shop or, when we cook it at home, the chances are it will be pan-fried.
These days Auckland’s most popular restaurants have embraced a creative and sustainable approach to the seafood options on their menus. Rarely will you find snapper or cod. More likely you may be offered fresh Hauraki gulf kahawai, pan-roasted monkfish, kingfish crudo, red snapper sashimi, char-grilled squid or juicy pan-fried trevally fillets. The interesting dishes some of our top chefs are producing with the array of wonderful seafood we have available are very inspiring, and open the door for us to be more adventurous and creative when we cook seafood at home.
I’m passionate about promoting seafood diversification. Taking the pressure away from overfished species is an important way to support ocean health. Instead of buying the same old snapper, cod, hoki, tarakihi or gurnard, it’s time to look further along the counter and try one of the other 100+ seafood options being fished from our waters. Not only does choosing from a wider net of species help to promote a more sustainable approach to seafood, but it also makes for a more affordable way of enjoying seafood, as these lesser-known species tend to be much cheaper than their highly popular relations.
I’m super proud to have teamed up with Sanford and Sons to develop my Catch to Cook series. I want to encourage Kiwis to discover more of the amazing array of seafood we have on offer here, and I’ve taken all the guesswork out of it with my simple, quick recipes and cooking videos.
I have learned so much while working on the Catch to Cook campaign, discovering so many fish species I had no idea could be so delicious. Take kahawai – such a fabulous fish that is so seriously underrated that people often use it for bait or smoke it. In Australia, kahawai is known as ‘the salmon of the sea’, and for good reason – it’s meaty and juicy and holds its shape well. Fresh line-caught kahawai is an incredibly versatile fish. It’s super delicious pan-fried or used in a soup or a curry. The key is ensure the fish has been iki’d (short for iki jime, or the process of killing with a spike to its brain) and bled immediately.
Another fish you may not yet know about is trevally – wow, what a great fish, incredible for sashimi and great pan-fried. Next time you fancy fish tacos or a piece of pan-fried fish, try blue moki – you’ll be amazed how much it tastes like tarakihi. And did you know that john dory has two cousins, mirror dory and oreo dory, which taste the same as john dory but are a fraction of the price!
Pacific Islanders have long known that fresh mullet makes amazing kokoda or marinated fish – it’s sweet and really tender, and so cheap! Greenshell mussels are another great choice of high-quality protein that’s abundant and relatively inexpensive, as is squid. And that’s just the beginning…
With Catch to Cook, you can shop with your eyes at Sandford and Sons to find the freshest catch of the day. Whether you want a pan-fried fillet, a curry, a taco or a slider, there are always going to be lots of great fish to choose from. No one fillet has to be the answer, it’s all about the dish – not the fish. Embrace the variety and your taste buds, budget and our oceans will thank you for it.
New Zealand seafood is a taonga. We are so lucky to live in this glorious country surrounded by the astonishing bounty of the Pacific Ocean. My Catch to Cook series opens the door to the incredible diversity of seafood in our ocean, and brings you exciting new ways of preparing seafood with a fresh recipe and video every month. What better way to celebrate being a Kiwi!