Very important plates (+ recipes)

By Grant Allen

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Impress guests with quality New Zealand-grown ingredients.

The freshest fish available is best for sashimi. Photo / Doug Sherring
The freshest fish available is best for sashimi. Photo / Doug Sherring

It's a sad state of affairs but the best of our produce is exported, and locals have to pay top money for the what's left of the prime harvest from our land and sea. I have always believed that New Zealand should be like Italy and keep a good percentage of our best produce here.

Thankfully we can holiday in places where our unique seafood may be fished, dived for or gathered for free. Or we may get lucky and be able to buy over-runs of our export meats.

Recently I catered a dinner in a private house for a visiting Chinese delegation. The brief was to showcase New Zealand food. I chose to keep it simple with Asian influences. This dinner is high end, but the execution is easy. The best ingredients need less fuss.

There are ideas here that you could replicate during the holidays when you might have access to our country's abundant offerings. I'm looking forward to the Christmas holidays when I will be staying at a bed and breakfast called The Port, on the coast between Kaikoura and Christchurch.

Crayfish, paua and fresh fish is on tap, whitebait caught from the Hurunui River will be in the freezer, there's an excellent butcher shop supplied by local farmers, and vegetables from The Port's over-productive garden are there for the picking. I'll be cooking food like this in a much more rustic style and relishing every mouthful. We all deserve to eat like this every day in a country as bountiful as New Zealand.

If you do prepare these dishes for your own black tie dinner, remember to always serve the best food on white plates.

CANAPES

Baby whitebait fritters and sashimi snapper

The only true way to eat whitebait is to whisk some eggs, season well with pepper and salt and mix in as much whitebait as possible.

Drop spoonfuls into a pan with sizzling butter (teaspoons for canape food, tablespoons for entree size). Brown one side, turn, cook a little more and finish cooking in a warm oven.

Serve with lemon quarters.

Sashimi

Find the freshest snapper you can, (or any other fish just out of the sea), and slice into bite-sized slivers with a very sharp knife.

Get disposable chopsticks from Asian supply shops, gently separate the tip and secure each fish sliver. Be careful not to break the joined chopsticks. Fill a little bowl with light soy sauce and squeeze in a good dollop of wasabi to make a dip for the raw fish.


- Herald on Sunday

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