We spent a lot of time fishing when we were kids. When the wind swung around to blow offshore my uncle would call and we would all head off to the beach to help put his kontiki raft out. I remember he used a barley sugar to hold the line of hooks on the raft. Once the sweet had melted in the salt water, by which stage the whole contraption would be way out in the deep briny, the line would drop down with all its baited hooks.
We would sit on the beach and have a bit of a picnic, waiting for a few hours before winding the whole thing in again. It was always such a thrill seeing what came back in, be it snapper, tarakihi or gurnard – and even the odd shark.
For this episode of my new TV series we headed to Waimarama Beach in the sunny Hawke’s Bay to go fishing with local fishing guru Wooly and his mates. I was expecting the kind of homemade raft and barley sugar rig that I grew up with, but how times have changed! My newfound fishing mates had all the latest kit – the most impressive item of which was a highly sophisticated GPS torpedo-like kontiki machine, which took the line right out to the exact spot where they wanted it. Dial up the coordinates and out it goes like a heat-seeking missile, with the line of baited hooks running out behind it. Our haul yielded some fat gurnard, just perfect for a beachside feast of raw fish ceviche followed by a Fragrant Fish Curry served with Cucumber Salad and Coconut and Cardamom Rice.
One thing hadn’t changed over the years though. In the same tradition of my youth, the men set up their chairs on the beach with a couple of sun umbrellas and a few tinnies, to wait out the tide change. I was in charge of the picnic, and in the spirit of tradition, cooked up my famous Picnic Roast Chicken. If there’s one thing in life you will get (and give) a lot of pleasure from cooking, it’s a good roast chicken. I served it in soft rolls with my homemade Horseradish Slaw, but it’s one of those useful recipes you can springboard off into salads and pies and sauces.
I’m a great fan of food I can prepare ahead – when my friends arrive I don’t want to be stuck in the kitchen, I want to hang out and be one of the crowd. So for dessert I made a wonderful Florentine Slice at home in Wanaka and took it along to eat on the beach. It’s a simple biscuit crumb base topped with nuts, fruit, coconut and chocolate that cooks up to utter deliciousness. You know how you have those ‘go-to’ recipes you pull out whenever you need to take a plate to a barbecue or picnic? Well this is one of those – it keeps well in a tin, is sturdy enough to be transported, slices easily and is always really popular. See me make it on my YouTube channel.
Back at home in Wanaka I had been thinking about how to encourage people with little or no garden to grow a little of their own food, so I set about making a vertical wall garden with a recycled wooden pallet. It’s amazing how much food you can grow in a small space and an old pallet provides you with six narrow pockets of growing space, each big enough for about six lettuces or the same number of spinach or bok choy plants.
All kinds of quick-growing leafy salad greens, Asian greens and soft herbs do well in this kind of growing environment and you will find a big bag of vegetable mix or container mix is just the right amount for the whole pallet garden. Be sure to water regularly and give it a good feed with seaweed-based plant tonic every few weeks and you’ll be rewarded with some wonderful fresh harvests. Instead of picking a whole plant when it’s big, just go through and pluck a few leaves from each every few days and that way you’ll find your wall garden will provide a continuous supply of fresh, tasty leaves over a period of several weeks.
Until next week, happy gardening and cooking!
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Want to find out more about this episode? Check out my TV pages for videos, bonus recipes and behind-the-scenes photos.
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Find out more about Season One of The Free Range Cook
Find out more about Season Two of The Free Range Cook: Simple Pleasures