Where: Best enjoyed in Kaikoura, New Zealand
Top Tastes: Subtle flavours – between tiger prawn and lobster
Serving Suggestion: Freshly boiled served neat or with a mild sauce
The New Zealanders love their meat – lamb, hogget (one year old sheep which is tastier than lamb, but not as tough as mutton), chicken, beef, and venison; barbecued, roast, in pies, as sausages, the list is almost endless! If you want to try something a little more unique, there is always the Maori delicacy, mutton-bird (a type of game bird), best described as fish flavoured chicken. However, it would be a mistake to think that the Kiwi’s are exclusively carnivorous. The climate here means that they can grow fresh fruit and vegetables all year round, and have many more exotic varieties than are commonly found in the UK or America, common national staples are the kumara, or sweet potato, and the kiwifruit. They are also very fond of their desserts, and favourites include Pavlova (meringue with fruit, and whipped cream) and natural ice cream – artificial additives are frowned upon here.
Seafood is a national speciality and although it can be quite expensive, it is definitely worth the money – there are many varieties unique to New Zealand, and the country’s island status means that its invariably fresh. There is an amazing array of different types of fish, delicious battered (the Kiwi’s are equally enamoured with ‘fish n’ chips’ as the English) or cooked in a variety of other ways – oven baked, grilled or fried. They also have a wonderful selection of shellfish, including their famous green-lipped mussels, which are said to have some unique healing properties, and particularly good for rheumatism and other bone and joint conditions, scallops, and best of all crayfish.
Known as koura to the Maori, crayfish are a type of crustacean resembling small lobster, which grow up to six inches long, complete with claws, and like their larger counterpart, they also turn bright red when cooked. They are usually prepared in similar ways to lobster, and if eaten in a coastal town you can pretty much guarantee it’ll be fresh. A good crayfish has a delicate, slightly sweet flavour, and a meaty, succulent texture similar to tiger prawns. It shouldn’t be cooked with a strong flavoured sauce, as this will drown out its subtle flavour. Those fanatic about table etiquette should steer clear, as crayfish are generally eaten with the fingers, and picked or sucked out of its shell. They can be bought from roadside stall/shops along coastal highways, but best place to eat it is Kaikoura, which in Maori means, ‘to eat crayfish’, where there are a small number of restaurants specialising in it.
For those on a strict budget, or just curious to try cooking their own, crayfish can be bought in supermarkets or from fish mongers, and in some places you can have a go at catching your own while diving or snorkelling, but be warned, this isn’t easy! To cook crayfish takes just twenty minutes in boiling water, and although the traditional method with lobster is to drop it live into boiling water, it is believed both more humane, and to produce better results if the crayfish is refrigerated until it stops moving, and then placed in a pan with water and brought to the boil gradually.
Background information on foods to look out for, and lists of recipes
A site about traditional culture in New Zealand, including the Modern Maori Cookbook
Including Tallyrand’s recipes for Crayfish in an Orange and Dill Sauce, and Crayfish Thermidor.
By Guilia Vincenzi