Legend has it that the Demi god Maui, the most famous figure in Maori mythology, stowed away on a fishing trip with his brothers. Once the Waka (canoe) was full of fish, Maui dropped his enchanted jaw bone hook to the depths and fished up the North Island. To this day the North Island is known to Maori as Te Ika a Maui or Maui’s fish. Take a look at a map of New Zealand to see the fish’s head in the south and its tail in the north. The South Island is also known as Te Waka a Maui or Maui’s canoe, and Stewart Island or Rakiura is known as Te Punga a Maui or Maui’s anchor stone.
Awakened in the dew soaked hours of pre dawn enthusiasm, we were bailed into the back seat of the trusty family four wheel drive, and pumped full of the good intentions of the thrill of the hunt. Today we would stride into the unknown, with sunburnt feet and wind blistered lips, guided only by the sure hand of our elders, and the reassurance of a millennia of evolutionary success. Begrudgingly we would pit our wills against nature and inevitable misfortune to land the greatest prize a man can give his prepubescent, and utterly ungrateful son; we were going fishing!
Minutes bled into hours, then haemorrhaged into days as we chased that beautiful dream. Fishing trips with my dear old dad were as much about quiet reflection as they were about actually trying to catch fish. Being of old school farming stock, and stubborn kiwi pride, these hours of silence and aquatic solitude were as close as I ever felt to my father, and probably some of the finest memories of my young life. And sometimes, every so often, we even caught something worth eating!
For the purpose of this blog, and due to lack of transport, local knowledge, and the fact that I am a pretty fucken average fisherman (to be honest I suck!), we took the sure bet and headed down to our local market. Nothing would have thrilled me more than bringing you a fanciful tale of battling the elements and conquering my worthy adversary in search of the grand “ocean to table” recipe, but even with the most liberal lathering of poetic exaggeration it would be difficult to get you to read two pages about us sitting on a rock, loosing about $12.50 in tackle, grimacing our way through our sand laced sandwiches, and ultimately returning home in sunburnt, empty handed defeat. So, OFF TO THE SHOPS!
The real joy in this dish for me is not the mastery of a beautiful technique. Nor the graceful pairing of subtle flavours enriched by the invigorating musk of the ocean. No folks, to me this dish is the carnal indulgence of devouring an entire animal. I know this is going to sit poorly with some very good friends of mine, but I cannot deny the primal satisfaction of eating a whole fish. Dubious navigation of the skeletal system and the odd unpleasant scale encounter only enhance the experience, a tickle way back into the forgotten regions of that caveman brain still lurking behind the pale walls of reason and intellect. This is my adaption of possibly one of the oldest culinary triumphs in the history of man kind.
Sauce for Fish
- 40g ginger finely chopped
- 60g green spring onion tops
- 6g konbu
- 160 Shao Xing cooking wine
- 50g mirin
- 100g light soy sauce
- 30g kombu tsuyu (soba noodle sauce)
- 250g water
- 1 piece of star anise
- 1 tsp coriander seeds
- 5g castor sugar
Place all ingredients into a large pot and gently bring to the boil. Simmer for 30 minutes and then remove from the heat and allow to sit for one hour to allow all those flavours to infuse. Pass through a sieve and chuck away the solids. Bring your sauce back up to the boil and then make a slurry from cornflour and water (approximately 2 parts cornflour to 1 part water), just like your mum used to thicken her good old gravy from the roasting pan! Whisk the slurry into the sauce until you have achieved the viscosity you require. Bring the heat down to a simmer and cook out the cornflour for about 5mins. Check the seasoning and put aside until your fish is ready to go.
- 1x 700g whole barramundi
Preheat your oven to 250ºc. If you don’t have a fry pan you can put straight into the oven then also preheat a suitable roasting dish. I had the guys at the fish market gut and scale the fish when I bought it. You can do it yourself by why would you? Scales are a pain in the ass, invisible, impossible to get rid of little fuckers you will find around your kitchen for days, so save yourself the hassle and let someone else clean that shit up! Check the fish when you buy it for firm flesh, clear eyes (the eyes are the easiest way to ascertain freshness, if they are milky or sunken in, it’s an old fish). Check the fish for scales when you get it home and give it a good wiping with a paper towel. Taking a sharp knife make several cuts along both sides of the fish from the back bone to the belly. Scoring the fish allows the heat to travel into the flesh easier and will speed up the cooking process. Heat a generous amount of oil in a large fry pan until a faint smoke is produced. Season your fish with salt and gently drop it into the pan and sear on a high heat for 2 minutes on one side. If using a roasting tray, oil your tray and put the fish into the tray with un-seared side facing down. If using a pan flip your fish onto the un-seared side. Put the fish in the oven for 3 minutes, flip it and give it another 3 minutes. Pull the fish out and using a spoon separate the flesh inside one of your cuts to check if it is cooked. A larger fish may require an additional 1-3 minutes in total.
To finish you will need
- 50g spring onion tops
- 1 red chilli deseeded and finely sliced
- 1 large lime cut into wedges
- fish sauce
Bring your fish sauce back to the boil and pour it into a jug or gravy boat. Slice spring onion tops finely on an angle and then wash in iced water to make them curly. I like to serve my fish in the pan (or roasting dish) as it keeps the rustic charm of this dish and also keeps it warm. Scatter your spring onions and chilli over the top and arrange your lime wedges around the pan. Thats it, apply a very liberal coating of sauce over the fish either in the pan or on your plate and eat it!
I served this dish with a little eggplant stir fry so I suppose I should give you that recipe too…..
Eggplant stir fry
- 1 large eggplant cut to 3 cm dice
- 10g garlic finely chopped
- 10g ginger finely chopped
- 30g chinese preserved olive paste
- 15g kecap manis
- 10g black vinegar
- 10g light soy sauce
- 2g sesame oil
- 5g loaganma Crispy chilli
- 20 spring onion sliced finely
Heat your wok (or fry pan) with about 4 Tbsp of oil until smoking hot. Sauté your eggplant until it starts to brown and add your garlic and ginger. Cook out for roughly 2 minutes and then add the olive paste. Cook for a further 2 minutes and add all the sauces. Bring back to the heat and allow to reduce over a high heat, stirring constantly until sticky and the eggplant is nicely glazed. Remove from the heat and stir through spring onion and crispy chilli. Boom!