Something fishy

Great excitement in the kitchen today, for the KitchenMaid has received a VIP invitation to the opening of a new fish restaurant. It didn’t come on gilt-edged card, but it is exciting all the same. In my old life I went to the openings of envelopes, but my new life is rather less glamorous. Still, it will be nice to take off my apron, leave the house without a small companion, drink pretend champagne and make chit-chat.

Anyway, back to fish. Despite being a small island nation it’s ridiculously expensive to buy fish in New Zealand and even the tinned stuff is pretty cheap and nasty. But the Boy Wonder hails from the wild West Coast and whenever his parents come to visit they bring newspaper-wrapped packages of whitebait; tiny translucent fish frozen in perfect rectangular packages.

Orowaiti Estuary, Westport, New Zealand

On the coast, whitebaiting is serious business. Prime spots along the rivers are guarded fiercely and woe betide an out-of-towner who stakes their claim on a local’s patch. For while Coasters are passionate about whitebait’s delicate flavour, it’s also a lucrative source of blackmarket income. Buying whitebait on the sly is not unlike making a drug deal – cash only, thanks, and don’t tell anyone who you got it from. It’s probably not the most ethically sound or sustainable way to eat fish, but you won’t make many friends by suggesting that.

Buller River, Westport, New Zealand

The traditional way to eat it is in fritters, or patties, as they call them on the Coast. The Boy Wonder’s mother makes them to a recipe that her mother made – 3 eggs to a pound of whitebait (Coasters only talk of pounds of whitebait, as if it’s immune to metric measurements), enough flour to thicken the mixture (about 1/2 cup) and a pinch of baking powder. She fries them in LOTS of butter, then serves them up with oven-cooked chips and buttered white bread. Salt, tomato sauce, and lemon halves are the only accompaniments. Whitebait cooked this way is delicious, but not the sort of thing you want to eat too often.

On our travels we ate lots of tiny fish that had been dipped in flour and flash fried in olive oil. The Boy Wonder has started giving our precious packages of whitebait this treatment and we’ve decided we much prefer it to the eggy stodge of fritters. If you manage to get some this season, here’s what to do with it.

Tiny fish, olive oil, what’s not to like?

Spanish Whitebait
This feeds two very hungry people as a main course but would make a lovely starter or canape treat for more.

1 lb (about 560g) whitebait
flour
salt and pepper
olive oil

Defrost the whitebait and rinse under the tap to get rid of any grit. Drain well.
Heat a thin pool of oil in a heavy pan until hot. Take a handful of whitebait at a time and shake in a coarse sieve with a handful of seasoned flour until lightly coated. Fry in the hot oil until opaque, then remove to a plate lined with kitchen paper and keep warm in a low oven. Serve with crisp salad greens and hunks of good bread. Lemon halves are a must; tomato sauce is optional.

Love is…

… putting the baby to bed on a wet, windy Saturday night and discovering that your Beloved has made you a heart-shaped potato cake to eat with rare Scotch fillet, a tumble of greens and a glass of pinot noir.

The heart shaped cake won points for cuteness but the round ones tasted just as good, thanks to their crispy exterior and soft, fluffy centres. The Boy Wonder loves potatoes and discovering new ways to cook them. Here’s how he did it this time:

POTATO CAKES

Preheat the oven to 200C. Peel a heap of floury potatoes (Agria if you’re in the southern hemisphere, King Edward or Maris Piper in the northern one) and boil until soft. Drain, then add a finely chopped onion, a couple of tablespoons of butter and a slosh of olive oil. Mash until soft and fluffy. Shape into cakes using a heart-shaped mould, a china ramekin or your hands, then place on a greased oven tray. Bake for 45-60 minutes until golden. Serve with love.

Backstage drama

Recipe testing last night for an upcoming issue of Frankie magazine – testing in more ways than one. I thought I had it all sorted – then remembered I’d forgotten to buy watercress. Then when I was foraging in the garden (in the dark) for rocket I remembered we didn’t have any soy sauce. Then I couldn’t get the skin off the salmon fillets. Then I overcooked the soba noodles and undercooked the fish. A mini-meltdown ensued.

Then I took a deep breath, plated it up and we ate. And life suddenly seemed much better. But it didn’t stop me from thinking that if all the world’s greatest chefs are men, it’s because they probably don’t have to deal with domestic dramas in the course of their work.

Anyway, the good news is that having my very own kitchen sink drama means I now know how to translate the chaos into a workable recipe for Frankie readers. That makes it all worth it, because you have to break a few eggs if you want to make an omelette, as someone in a similar position once said.

The recipe will be in the November/December issue of Frankie (on news stands from late October).

Practice makes perfect

Ever since last week’s loaf experiment I’ve been meaning to make another in the right sized tin. This morning’s effort has prunes, apricots and sultanas buried within its golden middle. It looks so pretty I can’t bear to slice it…

Waste not, want not

I like to think of myself as an inventive cook, able to whip something up from a Mother Hubbard-style cupboard at a moment’s notice. Of course, sometimes this is easier said than done, but after a week of nearly constant entertaining and menu planning it’s fun to mix and match leftover ingredients. (A much nicer job than mixing and matching leftovers!)

So last week, when the fridge held a tiny packet of salmon trimmings and half a bottle of cream, I knew just what to do. The cream went into our smallest saucepan, while I filled the biggest pot with hot water and set it on the heat.

Once the water was boiling I threw in enough dried spaghetti for two (about 250g, we have hearty appetites in this house) and enough salt to make the water “as salty as the Mediterranean”.

I heated the cream (about 150mls) to a gentle simmer, then tossed in about 200g of fresh salmon, sliced into batons. I used the skinny ends of tail fillets, but you could use any cut you like. After a minute or two I added a handful of frozen baby peas and a few ribbons of lemon zest, then turned off the heat.

Then it was just a matter of draining the pasta, adding the creamy salmon sauce to the big pot and hey presto, dinner was ready. Economy gastronomy – and hardly any dishes.