Food, Recipes

Fishing for compliments


I’ve just cooked my first ever trout. And it was good, perhaps even better than good. At any rate, the legend of my cooking prowess lives on. I thought I’d share the recipe with you. (Such as it is.)

First, catch your trout. If you’re lucky, someone else will do this, including the icky gutting head-chopping bit. In which case, it will already be slit along its belly, from tail to neck. (Do fishes have necks? Anyway, the bit where its head would have joined its body.)

If it’s not, throw the fisherman back and try to hook yourself one who will perform this perfunctory chore. (And yes, I know you don’t have to take the head off, but Tom needed his fly back. So, I was presented with a headless gutless trout, and seeing as I don’t have a cat to munch on the leftovers, it all worked out for the best.)

But, back to the method: Place a length of tinfoil in a roasting dish. Place the trout on the tinfoil. (Are you still following?)

Sprinkle the cavity with salt. Grind in some pepper. Stuff it with a good hunk of butter, a small bunch of parsley, a lemon cut into fat gin and tonic-worthy slices, about a tablespoonful of capers and three or four anchovy fillets.

Trust me, no one will know about the anchovies if you don’t tell them.

Pour a decent slosh of wine over the top. The dregs of the almost-finished bottle which has been kicking around in the bottom of the fridge for the past week will be perfectly okay.

Wrap it up well, bung it in a hot (200 degrees or thereabouts) oven for about 20 minutes. Et voila.

If it’s cooked enough, the flesh will have changed colour and be more opaque, and the skin will peel back easily. If it’s not, just remember millions of of people around the world eat raw fish every day and feel no ill effects. Or toss it back in the oven for another five minutes. Lots of lovely buttery juices imbued with tons of flavour will collect inside the tinfoil in a fragrant pool. Save it to spoon over the trout when you serve it.

We ate ours with red potatoes boiled in their jackets and broccoli cooked Italian-style. (Steamed in a frying pan until soft, with olive oil and chillies and garlic and three more anchovies, a little water and the rest of the wine, then roughly mashed with a fork. Looks very rustic, tastes out of this world.)

There’s nothing left to do but eat, drink, and do the dishes. Why does there always have to be a hard part?

Food, Recipes

Heart food

It can be difficult to write a column from the other side of the world – in addition to writer’s block, there’s the seasonal hurdle to overcome. As I write this, it’s a sticky midsummer’s evening, and my appetite has been sapped by the heat still rising from London’s grimy pavements. Besides, I’m newly in love, at that light as air stage where anything more substantial than the bubbles in a glass of champagne is just too corporeal. Food is the last thing on my mind.

Though, having been here before, I know it won’t last – before the summer is out food will become my all-consuming passion and I will spend far too many of my waking hours dreaming of delectable tidbits, shopping and chopping and stirring, composing menus to feed my love (my mother has a lot to answer for – all that stuff about the way to a man’s heart being through his stomach).

But in New Zealand, it’s cold, really cold, or so my mates there tell me. So while I’m fantasising about intense nectarines to quench my thirst and dribble down my chin, sweetly luscious berries exploding in my mouth, snappy string beans and new season’s spuds, barely-there salads and icy beer to wash it all down, at home you’re hankering for richly spiced cabernet in front of the fire and weighty winter fare to keep the frost at bay and warm you to the marrow.

This smoked mackerel and kumara pie from Kiwi food queen Annabel Langbein should fit the bill nicely then. Hearty food rather than heartfood, there’s nothing ephemeral about it. It will nonetheless win you good friends and inspire true love.Trust me.


two cups of cooked rice
five tablespoons of butter
one large onion, finely sliced
quarter of a cup of flour
three cups of full fat milk
a few grates of fresh nutmeg, salt and pepper
450g smoked mackerel, flaked
a couple or three tablespoons of capers
one and a half cups of grated tasty cheddar
two medium kumara and two large potatoes

First put the rice on to cook quietly while you get on with the rest of it. Next turn the oven on to 220C so it’ll be nice and toasty when you’re ready to brown the top of the pie (has the added advantage of heating the kitchen so you don’t freeze before dinner).

Then make the white sauce: melt the butter in a heavy pan, add the onion and cook gently for five minutes, until soft. Stir in the flour and cook for another minute. Gradually add the milk, stirring continuously. Season to taste. Cook, stirring all the while, until the sauce thickens and comes to the boil.

Take off the heat, stir in the fish, the capers and the cooked rice, and spread into a well-buttered ovenproof dish (by all means, leave out the capers if you don’t like ’em, but they do add a certain piquancy which lifts the entire dish – if you just can’t bring yourself to do it, perhaps squeeze a lemon in instead. The rice too, is not essential, but it makes it go further, feeding six instead of four).

Now cut the kumara and spuds into chunks and cook in lots of boiling salted water until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain, mash with a little milk, season, and spread over the fish mixture. (If you’re wondering why I didn’t tell you to put these on to cook earlier; it’s easier to spread the quite heavy mash on top of the pie once the bottom layer has settled and cooled slightly.)

Sprinkle the cheese over the top (if you like, the dish can be prepared ahead up to this point). Finally, bake in the pre-heated oven for 20 minutes, until golden brown and bubbling.

Food, Recipes




kaimoana – seafood, Maori

I’m on my way to London, but the journey starts with five days in Whangamata. It seems the best route to take, providing rest and relaxation and a nugget of Coromandel sunshine to take out and polish during the bleak winter ahead.

It’s perfect. Nothing to do but sleep, read, bodysurf, eat and drink, and then eat some more. Aside from our stomachs, the only thing governing our days is the tides. Sprawled on a deck at the mouth of the harbour, gin and tonic to hand, we watch the water rise and fall, the boats slowly turning together in a graceful dance of summer.

And at low tide, we head off to the beach, smothered in sunscreen and carrying sacks, to gather tuatua for tomorrow’s tea. Scrabbling in the shallows, doing the tuatua shuffle, we dig deep in the sand, waggling our butts and wiggling our toes in search of dinner.










People strolling along the beach point. They stop to look. They have no idea what we’re doing, sniggering at the freaks dancing about in the surf. But we will have the last laugh. Cos we’re not aerobics fanatics who couldn’t bear to go cold turkey, we’re not there just to tone our thighs, and tomorrow night when they’ll be grazing on overpriced kai in some poncy cafe, we’ll be feasting on barbecued kaimoana.


Tuatua fritters to start with, then whole Tarakihi baked over glowing coals, their bellies split and stuffed with fresh coriander and slices of lemon. Four-year-old Jake, spurred on by the Worzel-hunting exploits of Pooh and Piglet, has become expert at climbing over the wall to the neighbours’ and collecting fat juicy lemons from their very fine tree.



But first we have to catch our kai, so it’s back to the beach at low tide for that frantic scrabble under the sand before the next wave breaks. The kids are alternately fascinated by the tuatua squirting jets of water as they squirm back into their shells, and nervous, lest their seeking toes should find a crab instead.


The tuatua find cold comfort in a bucket of seawater which will be changed three times in the following 24 hours. Time passes in a haze of cards and cryptic crosswords. Every so often I peer into the bucket to see how they’re doing, little sphincters opening and closing and spitting jets of sand. When we eat them there will be no grit.


Finally, we’ll steam them open to dig the flesh from the shells, all cream and pink and white. We could just eat them like that, but we’ve got a lot of people to feed, so fritters it is.


Tuatua fritters
Use one egg and two heaped dessertspoons of flour for three handfuls of steamed and shucked tuatua. Throw it all in a food processor and pulse until you’ve got a relatively fritterish looking mixture which will hold together without spreading too much. Cook gently on an oiled barbecue griddle, turning once.