Lauraine Jacobs

Food & Wine Writer

Lauraine’s blog

19 November 2020

CITY OF SNAILS

Auckland is firmly claiming a new designation, City of Snails. Some unkind folk have called, for good reason, this to be a City of Cones – not because of the wonderful volcanic maunga that dot the city – but due to the everlasting use of road cones that inevitably bring the city traffic to a snail’s pace while just everything is being rebuilt and reorganised.

Regardless of the traffic snarlups there’s another great snail pace reason to claim this the City of Snails. There’s so much renewed interest in food, there are so many wonderful new restaurants opening despite the curse of covid, and now the city has a bunch of local businesses who have recently been awarded the Slow Food ‘Snail of Approval’ certificate.

The Slow Food movement is worldwide, started last century in Turin by an Italian food aficionado Carlo Petrini, outraged by McDonalds fast food outlets opening in his country. He aimed to change the attitude of the world through food, and to celebrate and treasure the love of food cultures, rituals and traditions. There are now thousands of members all over the world and events, programmes and simple gatherings to follow his lead. One of the internationally recognised Slow Food programmes is the Snail of Approval designation for small businesses that exhibit passion for everything local, that celebrate locally grown and produced food that is good, clean and fair, and to distinguish intent, passion, and effort rather than perfection.

So congratulations to the following Auckland Small Businesses with the Slow Food Snail of Approval:

• A Lady Butcher •
• Brick Bay Wines •
• Cazador •
• Clevedon Buffalo •
• Curious Croppers •
• Earthbound Honey •
• Foundry Chocolate •
• Giapo •
• Hāngi Master •
• Kelmarna Gardens •
• Ooooby •
• Pasta & Cuore •
• Rangihoua Estate •
• Scarecrow

A terrific list that is really assisting Auckland in its position as culinary capital of Aotearoa. Please get out, support and buy from these fabulous, conscientious people.

Pic above. The excited Giapo ice cream kids - next generation Slow Food fans.

15 October 2020

E HOA at VISA WOAP

On a whim I booked tickets to a Visa Wellington On A Plate event. I was travelling there to speak at the Farmers’ Market conference so this rather special lunch the day before and the amazing Van Gogh on a starry night (well worth the visit) really appealed.

The lunch was at New Zealand’s restaurant of the minute, Hiakai. In stunning surroundings our newest food hero, Monique Fiso, is knocking diners out with her amazing use of indigenous ingredients and clever, almost intellectual, approach to cuisine. She wanted to pay tribute to her culinary mentor, the legendary chef Martin Bosley with a collaborative menu that reexamined his daring ground-breaking dishes at his eponymous Martin Bosley’s in the Port Nicholson Yacht Club and at Brasserie Flipp. Adding, of course, touches of the food she’s developed for Hiakai.

It was an afternoon of memories, excellent food and fun for the thirty guests. As always the menu started with generous snacks. A lovely soft bread roll with Hiakai’s already famous tītī butter and a fabulous gin cocktail was followed by clever plays on the Bosley chicken liver parfait, essential just shucked oysters in the shell with salmon roe, a stunning tomato tart, the cleverest rendition of chips and dip ever invented in a kitchen, and meaty rib seasoned with local herbs and spices.

Then came the serious courses. ATOM proved to be asparagus, tomato jelly and a perfect icy sorbet, (somewhat ruined for me by an “orange” wine), then a delicate cedar planked salmon which was always, always, a best seller at MB. Next up the perfect piece of beef that literally melted in my mouth with an accompanying mushroom pie and various sauces to enhance the wonderful Escarpment pinot noir and finally a stunning plate of desserts that included MB jelly, a Milo chocolate bomb from Hiakai and other brilliant treats from the kitchen that were sweet but not sugary.

What was so special apart from the reinterpretation of food memories and the spirited play was to see the respect the Hiakai staff had for Martin Bosley. They all gathered around him at every opportunity and hung on every word of this absolute taonga of a chef. The food was not complex, standing in the great space that lies between then and now. Bosley’s avant garde approach to the culinary scene of Aotearoa and his influence on a generation of its chefs has been considerable. It was a total privilege to observe the baton being passed to Fiso whom I have no doubt will be the biggest influence on the next generation.

11 September 2020

DEFINING THE CUISINE OF AOTEAROA

For years everyone in the food industry from chefs to food writers have struggled with the concept of a unique and identifiable NZ cuisine. Although we serve traditional roasts, whip up cream laden pavlovas, eat Weetbix or muesli for breakfast, and fill our plates with meat and three vegies that way of eating is mostly often emulating the very British fare that early settlers ate. Or we mumble about hāngi feasts without knowing and understanding the layers of rich tradition involved.

I have often puzzled about this, written for various publications and spoken at length in discussions, workshops and conversations. But not in a million years did I think that this difficult year, the Year of Covid, would be the year that finally the clues and stars to defining a true and unique cuisine for Aotearoa align.

Like many countries with their own admirable and recognisable cuisine, the focus is ingredients, shaped in the kitchens of leading chefs. We have being hiding the trump card in our deck, the indigenous fare of Aotearoa, for too long. The sheer brilliance of a small coterie of chefs are now proudly putting these ingredients on their menus, cooking them selectively with the influences and style they’ve been exposed to in the work around the planet.

Monique Fiso is not the first to track down the natural flora and fauna that is now showing up on menus, but it is her seminal work in her Wellington restaurant Hiakai, and the just released this week book of the same name that has finally made it to the mainstream. As I stated in my review of her book, originally written for the new website ketebooks.co.nz (see the post below,) I sincerely hope this book appears on every good chef’s shelf and is used frequently.

Over the past two years Vaughan Mabee has been doing some splendid cooking at Amisfield in Central Otago and most of his dishes could only be described as New Zealand on a Plate. His artistry plays homage to much of the traditional taonga and his foraging and hunting is noteworthy. Ben Bayly has opened Ahi in Auckland’s new Commercial Bay and his menu reflects traditional cooking styles and the very best ingredients that we grow or produce. In my local area, Chef Will Michell at the Sawmill Brewery’s Smoko Room is cooking some stunning food that shows the influence of a stint in the Hiakai kitchen and makes terrific use of some of our lesser known kaimoana. In Dunedin, Hannes Bareiter is sourcing wonderful indigenous ingredients in his recently opened restaurant, appropriately named Titi. And of course, Monique's work at Hiakai is outstanding in every way and true to this newly recognised cuisine.

We can also look at other recent openings and see the respect being paid to our brilliant ingredients and the adoption of much of the traditions of Māori cooking, done with subtlety, empathy and care. We have myriad chefs who have grown up elsewhere, and they’re keen to be part of this new identifiable direction. Their traditions, whether they’re Japanese, Korean, European or Middle-eastern, melded with our amazing flavourful food will take the cuisine of Aotearoa on an exciting path in the next few years. I can’t wait.

(Dish is paua and kahawai at Ahi)

11 September 2020

HIAKAI - THE BOOK!

Recently there’s been much discussion in erudite food circles about the New Zealand food story as writers, critics and chefs attempt to identify what our cuisine looks like to the world, and what could be claimed as distinctive about the way we choose what to cook and how we prepare it. We have become the masters of fusion cuisine as waves of immigrants from all over the world change what we eat (Auckland alone has more than 80 restaurants offering menus of differing ethnicities.) We’ve adapted, embraced and incorporated plenty of new ideas into a diet that for many years was essentially based on early colonial fare.

There was, however, a missing factor that can truly be claimed as unique to Aotearoa; the tradition, ingredients and methods of Māori food. It has been exciting, and not before time, to observe the awakening of chefs and cooks to the possibility of incorporating native foods into their menus. But it has taken a visionary young woman chef, Monique Fiso, passionate about her heritage (Ngā Rauru, Ngāti Ruanui) to immerse herself in research, to reimagine and present traditional Māori food which she does in her stunning Wellington restaurant, Hiakai (hungry or having a desire for food.)
Her book, Hiakai, may be the singularly most important food book ever published in New Zealand with a deep dive into everything that plays into modern Māori food. Fiso’s painstaking investigation into traditions and ingredients gathered information from numerous sources in libraries and collections, here and abroad. Māori traditionally told their stories and history orally, handing it down through generations. This is the first time this valuable information has been recorded and crammed into one volume. For the mind-boggling ambitious task, which encompasses Māori history, mythology, tikanga (customs) and indigenous ingredients, Fiso was assisted by an associate professor of food culture, Tracy Berno and local food writer Lucy Corry.

The book has three major sections. The all-important section of stories, mythology and history is followed by a comprehensive explanation of all past and present indigenous ingredients, from the earth, land and ocean. Finally there’s a taste of the restaurant fare that diners have to book months ahead to try at Hiakai.

The recipes are brilliant and joyful, delving into previously unknown territory to encompass indigenous ingredients that can be sourced today, yet no doubt with much effort. Fiso’s extensive acumen for foraging and fermentation is evident but with few recipes that other cooks would even attempt. There’s no doubt she is leading the way for New Zealand chefs to embrace Māori cuisine and ingredients, and hopefully many (or all) will see this book as a highly desirable reference for their own kitchens.

The photographs by Amber Jayne Bain and Manja Wachsmuth too are stunning. Fiso’s personality and focus are well captured as she ventures into bush and shoreline on foraging trips, works with her staff, and cooks for the sophisticated and receptive audience at Hiakai.

Hiakai is serious, ground-breaking and a genuine taonga.

This review was first published in ketebooks.co.nz

7 September 2020

OYSTERS Mmmm!

We’ve been urged to buy local, and in a food producing nation like ours, it would be even better if that message was strongly ‘Buy Local, Eat Local.’ Plenty of great ingredients grow and food products are manufactured in the Mahurangi region, so we can feast on fresh, tasty and healthy fare that will get the local tick.

I love it that we have local oysters that can be bought direct from the farm, and personally can never get enough of these delicacies, freshly shucked and eaten straight from the shell with not much more than a squeeze of local lemon or lime.

At this time of the year, when winter is almost behind us, some of the sweetest oysters of the year are being harvested. While we’re used to savoury Bluffies with a season that runs from March to August, we need to recognise our own local Pacific oysters, growing quietly in the Mahurangi and Kaipara harbours. The subtlety of taste of each oyster varies according to where the oysters are from.

I spoke to Andrew and Lisa Hay of Mahurangi Oysters, who sell most of their harvest to restaurants around New Zealand, about the secret lives of these shellfish. Oysters are filter feeders, with each oyster processing 18 litres of seawater per hour as they feast on the algae. This helps to clean the environment, and Ministry of Primary Industry guidelines dictate that if there’s more than 25mls of rain over a 24 hour period, the farms must close for three days to ensure no runoff from the land contaminates the oysters. In the hottest summer months, after the oysters have spawned (each oyster can create up to 10 million eggs) they are thin and wan, but begin to build up the creamy fat that’s much prized by oyster lovers. Oysters are affected by the moon and vary between being crisp when the moon has waned, while showing the most creaminess as they build up to full moon when the tides are highest.

If you’re keen to seek out local oysters right now, when they are truly at their best, you can order online from Mahurangi Oysters, head to the Oyster Shed on the Leigh Rd, or purchase Orata Marine Oysters at the Matakana Farmers Market in the shell, half shell or little pottles. One pottle or 18 freshly shucked oysters are perfect for this delicious recipe.

OYSTER FRITTERS

  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 4 tbsps butter
  • 2 large fresh eggs
  • 3 tbsps self-raising flour
  • 18 shucked oysters, chopped
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 lime, finely grated zest only

Place the onion in a bowl with one tablespoon of the butter and cook for 2 minutes in a microwave until soft. Beat the eggs in another bowl and whisk in the flour to make a smooth stiff batter. Stir in the onion, oysters, some salt and pepper and the lime zest and mix well. Heat a heavy frying pan and melt half the butter. Drop large tablespoons of the oyster batter into the pan, and cook four or five at a time over gentle heat for 2 minutes until golden, then flip over and cook the other side. Stack the fritters up on baking paper and keep warm while you cook the next batch with a little extra butter. Makes 8-10 fritters.

  • This was first published in Mahurangi Matters

7 September 2020

A MUFFIN THAT'S GONE VIRAL

We’re so lucky in the north of New Zealand to have a temperate climate and plenty of keen horticulturalists and orchardists. Each season brings with it an array of sweet, fresh, seasonal fruit that we can feast on. So for my new monthly column in The Hobson for August, my thoughts turned to my favourite of all fruit – NZ grown oranges which had just begun their sweet but short season.

The citrus season starts with sweet little mandarins, but those first loose skinned, seedless varieties are over quickly. They’re followed by limes, lemons, grapefruit, tangelos and other varieties of mandarins. The citrus fruit I have encountered this season has been far juicier and far sweeter than any other year in memory. I suspect it was our long hot summer followed by late season rain that allowed to fruit to swell at exactly the right time.

Early July brought the start of New Zealand oranges, the absolute stars of our citrus season. Both navel and Valencia varieties can be found now, and both are perfect for juicing and eating. The navel orange can be identified by the little navel-like dimple at its base and slightly pebbly skin. It is easy to peel. It’s usually seedless, a rich orange colour and is deliciously sweet. The Valencia is paler, has a smooth skin and is the perfect orange for juicing.

Each of my columns in The Hobson includes a recipe, and I immediately thought of this one, an oldie but a goody, based on an American recipe I had collected back in the 80s on a trip to San Francisco. It is a wonderfully fragrant, moist muffin. It’s interesting when you write recipes, as you never quite know who will love it, adopt it and make it their own. The feedback has been sensational – so much so that I broadcast it when I was talking to Jess Mulligan on RNZ afternoons a week or two ago. Everywhere I go I am told what a success it is so here you go … you will need to buy about three fresh New Zealand grown oranges as one whole orange, (skin, flesh and all) is used in the muffin and there’s extra orange juice that makes the muffin batter truly moist.

WHOLE ORANGE AND DATE MUFFINS

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Butter a 12 cup muffin tray. Sift 210g flour, 1 teaspoon each of baking powder, baking soda and salt together and put aside. Pulse 100g pitted dates in a food processor with 50g brown sugar until the dates are coarsely chopped. Wash 1 whole orange, cut into 8-10 pieces and add this to the food processor, pulsing until all is finely chopped. Add 100g brown sugar, 110g chopped butter, 1 large egg and ½ cup orange juice and blend well. Add the sifted ingredients and pulse until they just mixed, taking care not to over process. Divide the dough among the muffin cups and bake until firm to the touch and lightly browned. (About 15 minutes.) Make 12 muffins. Serve warm with extra butter.

7 September 2020

THE LUXURIOUS TRUFFLE

I am a bit tardy in posting this but cannot overlook it. I was gifted a gorgeous truffle from Winter Truffles in the Waikato last month – the very first truffle I have ever had to play with.

More years ago than I care to reveal I was asked to invest in a truffiere north of Auckland. I didn’t have much money to fling around so I declined to join this bold initiative and often wondered if the investment reaped the promised rewards. At that time Dr Ian Hall was showing the first success in NZ with his Gisborne truffiere, but then the truffle scene went rather quiet. A few years later I visited Gareth Renowden in north Canterbury and watched his gorgeous truffle dog Rosie uncover a couple of aromatic black truffles underneath the trees he’d specially planted and infected with truffle spore. Chefs in the know have bought truffles for their restaurants from different suppliers lik3e Gareth over the past decade and it seems the NZ Truffle Assn has a network of successful growers throughout the country.

So what did I do with this little piece of black magic that originated in Perigord in southern France? As you can see in the above photo, I gently prised the skin from a pair of Bostock chicken marylands and inserted paper thin slices of truffle along with some butter next to the flesh. I roasted the chicken and it has to be the most successful, tasty chicken we have eaten this year. Earthy, rich with a distinctive aroma that’s not like any other.

I still had half of my truffle so that went onto some pasta the next night, also thinly shaved and tossed with plenty of butter and some fabulous Meyer grated aged gouda cheese (also from the Waikato). I am eagerly awaiting next winter when the truffles appear again. Luxury personified.

6 July 2020

GORGEOUS SMOKED KAHAWAI

It really pays to keep your eyes peeled and to take a sense of curiosity with you when you shop. Farmers markets are generally the best places to find new and exciting food – food that is easy to make connections over as the grower/producer/forager/artisan is right there and able to proudly discuss and help with any exciting new foods and ideas that you may come across. Food you will purchase, take home knowing just how to cook it and love, with the same enthusiasm those farmers and food producers want to share.

It’s not quite so easy to feel connected to food in the supermarket. You may be lucky enough in a Foodstuffs store (Pak’nSave, New World, 4 Square) to get to know the buyer or owner, but with Countdown’s centralised buying it’s unlikely to be able to reach out to any individual who has had any part in the decision making of what’s stocked. Of course there are occasionally some passionate foodie minded supermarket workers, especially amongst deli staff and the butchery, but they are few and far between.

Consequently any curious cook is usually on his/her own while shopping yet almost every week something new and delicious will make an appearance in the store or supermarket. It’s tough for these new products as no-one takes the time to display an attention seeking sign on the shelf that proclaims, “New Product.” Larger stores might attract a food demonstrator to cook and sample new products. That sort of support can be vital but you probably need to shop between 3pm and 5pm towards the end of any week to catch them.

This week I was at my local supermarket buying fish (yay, by the way, they’re now stocking freshly caught fish with skin on!!!) when I spied that magnificent smoked kahawai pictured above. I had to have it, but when I enquired where it was from, the staff had no clue. I posted that pic on Facebook and Nichola Apatu of Apatu Aqua in the far north claimed it. As I have long admired the work she and her fisherman husband do, it was such a thrill to know the source and to know the fisherman!

We have had warmed kahawai sandwiches on 4and20 country sourdough, a magnificent smoked fish pie topped with potato put through the potato ricer, and some excellent fishcakes that we shared with friends over a wine on Saturday evening. Superb eating, local food and all from just one 1.5 kg fish.

I only hope that my New World continues to stock such amazing fresh smoked fish. I will be asking every single week. You can too.

21 June 2020

MATARIKI CELEBRATIONS

Today is the turning point of the year. We will have a mere nine hours and forty one minutes of light today, and the longest period of darkness and chilly cold weather. We begin the celebrations of Matariki and to mark this I invited good friends over to share in a festive dinner with top notch New Zealand produce.

It’s a little in advance, as the first day of the month-long observance, when the first crescent moon appears after the reappearance and rising of the cluster of stars known as Matariki (Pleiades) will officially fall in July. However here in Tāmaki Makarau, the city is hosting events from today.

There are seven stars in the Matariki constellation, and Māori foragers, farmers and food gatherers throughout the country will carefully observe the brightest of these to reset the Maori calendar, shaping food customs, planting and fishing and hunting for the coming year. The most important stars are Tupuārangi, signifying food from the sky, Waitī, fresh water, Tupuānuku, food grown in the earth and Waitā, the harvest of the coast and ocean.

I looked back through my old Listener food columns that had been dedicated to this important date on the Māori calendar. My favourite was written after I’d attended a fundraising Matariki dinner in Martinborough at the Hau Ariki Marae.

I wrote, “The members of Ngati Kahungungu welcomed us onto the marae; a tidy, sprawling complex bordered by fields of vines on two sides. Before our dinner we were entertained by school children singing lustily and assisting their elders in the traditions and performance of heartfelt hospitality.

The feast was held in the adjoining Nga Waka a Kupe dining hall where tables were beautifully set, speeches were interesting and brief and there was lively music. I expected a hangi-style feast but the meal was sophisticated and tasty, prepared by three jolly cooks in the modern kitchen. The starter of smoked eel, shrimps with an eggy mayonnaise, and a small bowl of creamed paua was accompanied by a light puffy ball of deep fried Maori bread. Roast pork complete with crunchy crackling and roast vegetables followed, all washed down with some fine local Martinborough pinot noir and syrah. Nga mihi.”

In other columns I drew inspiration from the young queens of Māori cuisine, Kasey and Karena Bird, and the undisputed leader of inspired restaurant fare, Monique Fiso. The refinement of Māori cuisine and the use of indigenous and unique New Zealand ingredients over the past five years has been the most important development I’ve witnessed in my food writing career. Believe me, it will continue to influence the food we eat over the next decade as talented chefs like Vaughan Mabee at Amisfield, Ben Bayly at his new venture Ahi and many others showcase the best of our amazing local food.

So for our dinner last night we feasted on local oysters and of course, since we live in Kutai Lane, delicious greenshell mussels to start. Then we had the most delicious organic NZ farmed pork, cooked porchetta style (recipe in the Recipe section of this website) and a kumara bake, steamed potatoes and cabbage lightly cooked in stock and served with wakame and apples. And to finish, a fresh seasonal fruit salad made with winter fruit from the local farmstands around here, with delicious New Zealand creamy grass fed yogurt.

"He kai kei aku ringa"- There is food at the end of my hands (Māori Proverb)

1 June 2020

SKIN PLEASE

If there’s one mystery about delicious fresh fish, it’s the inability of the industry and retailers to offer fish fillets with the fish skin attached.

I’m extremely lucky as much of the fish I get to cook is fresh catch delivered to my kitchen by my very keen fishing husband. He’s been hard done by over the past eight weeks of lockdown as there was the largest sequence of perfect fishing days in row in living memory. He’d high hopes that some sensible rules would be set in place, such as two boats venturing out side by side, keeping close to the shore, in calm waters with perfect weather, would have been allowed. But no, rules are rules, and all he could do longingly was gaze at the balmy calm seas.

There have, however, been just two ideal fishing days since he’s been allowed back on the water and yesterday he returned with four medium sized snapper and a kahawai. He scales and fillets his fish neatly, always leaving the skin attached. Those snapper will last us for a few days, and will also feed others.

Immediately I seized the kahawai fillets and smoked them. Friends came over and devoured half of this savoury, tasty fish while it was still warm and juicy – a simple snack. All that’s needed is a quick and liberal coating of sugar and salt, ten minutes in a little portable smoker and then some accompanying mayonnaise with a teaspoon of wasabi paste stirred through. Serve with hot toast. The remainder I made into smoked fish cakes.

But back to the skin on fish. By keeping the skin on any fish, the flavour and moisture are retained in the cooking process, and if it’s a slightly fatty fish, the thin fat layer between the skin and the flesh melts and enhances flavour too.

If I purchase fish it’s generally in the supermarket and apart from John Dory fillets and whole flounder, I have yet to find any other fish offered with skin on. I ask, and I ask, and I ask, but to date it’s made no difference. It can’t be that hard. The skin must be cooked to a crisp for best results. The photo above is not particularly attractive, but serves to illustrate just how to pan fry fresh fish.

Dust the fish fillets very lightly with flour on both the upper side and the skin, shaking all excess off. Add a little salt and pepper. Heat the frying pan with both good olive oil and a knob of butter until hot. Place the fish fillets, skin side down and cook for three to four minutes until the skin is crisp and golden and opaque around the edges. Flip the fillets carefully with a fish slice and immediately turn off the heat if you’re cooking on a gas hob, or remove the pan from the element. It will cook enough to be almost rare but truly delicious, and importantly, still very moist.

Have everything else ready, place the fish on a warmed plate and serve at once. And please start asking for your fish supplier to LEAVE THE FISH SKIN ON THE FILLETS!