Something fishy

A reader was bragging to us the other day about how many fish they caught this summer holidays, which got us thinking about the best way to cook different types of fish.

Kingfish is often served as steaks, and is best when baked or stewed. It can be caught by line from rocks or a boat, but you will need some decent tackle as they put up quite a fight.

Kahawai is suitable for all cooking methods. Like kingfish, it may be caught by line from rocks or a boat. Bleed the fish immediately after it has been caught. Here’s a tip from a reader in Whangarei. “I marinate Kahawai fillets in milk overnight before frying – they taste just like snapper.”

Trevally is a good all round fish for eating, but especially nice smoked or raw with soy and wasabi.

Lemon fish is from the shark family and is also known as dogfish and gummy shark. It has a very white firm flesh. It is best when fried, deep-fried, poached, steamed or baked. Because it has no small bones it is ideal for children and for use in stews and pies. It is generally caught by line from a boat.

There are a number of varieties of flounder: sand, yellowbelly, greenback (not to be confused with the US dollar) and black. They are generally speared at night in shallow mudflat-type waters when the conditions are right (you will need a sharp eye to pick them out in the sand or mud), but they can also be netted. They are best fried, deep-fried, poached, steamed or baked.

Snapper is our most common table fish. It has a white flesh of medium texture. It can be cooked as fillets or whole, using any one of the cooking methods mentioned. It is also the most common recreational fish caught by line from rocks or boat.

Catching sprats (herrings) is a great pastime for small kids and big kids alike. They are easily caught on a light line, in a bait catcher (an excellent Christmas gift for the younger members of the family), or in a net. Piper, which look like miniature swordfish, can also be caught on a light line or netted. They are delicious deep-fried in batter. Cut the head off and gut. They are bony critters, but if you run a bottle or rolling pin down the backbone it should pull out easily.

Mullet flesh is soft with a high-fat content. They taste good grilled, smoked and baked whole. Because they have a very soft mouth they are difficult to catch on a line. Not a problem with a net though.

Trout and salmon are fishalicious when steamed or smoked. They’re an absolute treat. A reader writes that they swap produce from their garden for trout caught by a friend who is an expert fisherman. The fisherman has more fish that he can eat and is not a keen gardener so the arrangement is perfecto!

There are lots of ways to cook fish, but there is nothing quite like having it smoked. Most fish smoke well, but those that are particularly good include mullet, trout, snapper, blue cod, kahawai, hake and hoki.

Everyone has their own way of smoking fish, and of course everyone is an expert. It’s a funny thing, but what works for one person may not work for another. The type of smoker you have will make a big difference, but the way you hold your mouth also seems to affect things!

A quick and easy way is to use a portable smoker, which is basically a small stainless steel metal cabinet with a heating tray in the middle, a grill rack for the fish, a lid, and a couple of dishes for methylated spirits. It’s dead easy to use. Spread a handful or two of untreated sawdust on the hot plate (the more sawdust you use the stronger the wood taste in the fish). Place the fish fillets on the grill rack, which is placed on top of the hot plate, then put the lid on and you are ready to go. Place the dishes filled with methylated spirits on flat ground, light and place the smoker cabinet over the top. Leave for about 15 to 20 minutes by which time the meths should have burnt off. Resist the temptation to remove the lid while it is cooking because too much heat will escape.

Give it go.