I spent last weekend in the small fishing village of Moeraki, on the South Island's east coast north of Dunedin and south of Oamaru. It's probably most famous for the large and spherical Moeraki boulders, scattered along a stretch of Koekohe Beach, but in recent years, for some people, that fame has been surpassed by a restaurant called Fleur's Place. It's run by the ebullient Fleur Sullivan, whose slightly ramshackle restaurant sits right on the water near the old jetty and gets its fish in fresh every day.
The menu at Fleur's is pretty simple; for our mains we had the tasting plate for two - five kinds of fresh fish, pan-fried and your choice of sauces. The skin-on gurnard was a highlight, alongside fillets of red cod, monkfish, rig and sole. For sauces we went with traditional tartare, which was excellent, and the caper and lime aioli, which I thought I'd try making when I got home.
The night before that very long lunch at Fleur's, we had dinner at the Moeraki Tavern, which boasts a damn good seafood chowder on its menu, as well as fresh blue cod. The cod was beer-battered, which went well with a pint of Speight's, and it reminded me of a beer batter recipe given to me by chef Jimmy Gerard a few years ago. Jimmy had a small shop in Ponsonby Central called Jimmy the Fish, and as well as sharing his famous beer batter recipe (he always uses Lion Red), he also taught me to fillet sardines. If you're lucky enough to have people in your life who have been fishing, this is a great way to cook it.
I used snapper, but any firm white fish such as terakihi, gurnard, or cod would work well. This recipe was taught to me by Jimmy Gerard, who used to have a fish shop in Ponsonby called Jimmy the Fish. He explained adding water to the batter makes it lighter and less porous, so it doesn't soak up as much fat when cooked. The result is a lightly coated and crisp batter.
1 cup beer
½ cup water
1 cup flour
500g fresh tarakihi, sliced long ways down the fillet into about 3-4 pieces
250ml canola oil, for frying
Place beer and water in a large mixing bowl. Add flour and whisk well until smooth.
Pour the oil into a medium sized, deep-sided frying pan - about 2cm deep. Heat on medium high heat. You'll know it's ready when you drop a dollop of batter into the oil, and it turns golden and rises to the surface.
Dip each strip of fish into the batter, and lift out, letting excess drip away.
Carefully place into the oil, you can do 2-3 at a time. Cook for a few minutes until golden, then carefully flip using tongs and a fish slice, and cook the other side.
Sprinkle with flaky sea salt and serve immediately. Serve with salad, homemade chips, and fresh lemon.
Caper and lime aioli
Serve with pan-fried fish of your choice.
2 large garlic cloves, crushed
1 tsp sea salt
2 egg yolks
2 Tbsp capers
1 Tbsp plus white wine vinegar
1 Tbsp lime juice
2 cups olive oil
2 Tbsp water
Mix the garlic with the sea salt to form a smooth paste. Use a mortar and pestle for this if you have one, otherwise use the back of a spoon to squash and mix together.
Add garlic paste to a food processor, with the egg yolks, capers, vinegar, and lime juice. Pulse to mix, then leave the machine running and slowly add the olive oil in a steady stream. Add about half the oil, then add a couple of tablespoons of water to stop the aioli from splitting. Add the rest of the oil, and then a little more water, until you get the right consistency. Taste, and add a little more flaky sea salt if necessary.
Serve with your favourite pan-fried fish. Will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.