Last year I was invited by the US State Department to join its Culinary Diplomacy Programme. The process involved some serious vetting, but once the green light came through I found myself hosting talented American chef William Dissen here. Together we presented a series of cooking workshops and demonstrations around New Zealand, with a focus on sustainability and our shared farm-to-table philosophies.
We cooked wild paua from the West Coast, fresh truffles from Waipara, scampi from the deep waters off the East Coast, saffron from Central Otago, dried wild mushrooms from Nelson, heritage Berkshire pigs from the Wairarapa, beautiful Lot 8 oils from Martinborough and freshwater king salmon from Mt Cook. With these amazing ingredients at hand, we cooked up a storm. Our dishes ranged from the more traditional fare of Dissen's home country in a menu of Carolina Barbecue Pork, Bread and Butter Pickles, Blue Cheese and Green Apple Coleslaw, and Jalapeno Biscuits (like a super-rich buttery layered scone), to more contemporary global tastes with a focus on sustainable seafood, including grilled salmon with Mediterranean flavours, grilled scampi with Asian flavours and grilled paua with a charred broccoli salad, pine nuts, shaved parmesan and lemon aioli.
It was a complete privilege to work alongside this brilliant man and learn some of his food philosophy and skills.
It was a thrill to hear him buzzing about the quality of our produce and the passion of our growers and chefs. At our demonstrations at the polytech in Cromwell he was blown away by their sustainable and creative approach -for one of their sections the students have to create a full meal solely from foraged foods - wild greens, game, fish and harvests from the surrounding orchards, combined with pantry supplies. Hydroponic gardens supply greens and herbs for the students to use and a state-of-the-art compost maker creates the fertiliser for the outside gardens.
Dissen told me that at the start of each growing season he goes to the farmers who supply his restaurant, with a list of the varieties of vegetables he would like them to grow, and gives them some seed money to buy good seeds. It's not a lot, maybe a few hundred dollars, but it cements the relationship and his faith in them and ensures he gets the produce he needs for his menus. At the end of the day this is what it's all about - farmers, growers, cooks and chefs working together with care and integrity, a sense of community and guardianship for the land.
With the 4th of July coming up, I've put together a menu of American-inspired dishes for you to enjoy ...
Southern Spareribs with Blackjack Sauce
Ready in 2½ hours
2.2-2.5kg meaty short pork spareribs, cut into double-rib sections
2 Tbsp neutral oil
1 small onion, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, crushed
¼ cup very strong black coffee (instant is fine)
¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
¼ cup tomato sauce
¼ cup brown sugar
2 Tbsp cider vinegar or spiced vinegar
1 Tbsp butter or oil
1 tsp chilli powder
½ tsp chilli flakes
½ tsp salt
To make sauce, heat oil and cook onion over medium heat until soft. Add garlic and sizzle for a few seconds. Add all remaining ingredients and simmer over low heat, stirring now and then, until lightly thickened (about 30 minutes). Preheat oven to 160C fanbake and line 2 large shallow roasting trays with baking paper for easy clean-up. Arrange pork ribs in the prepared dishes, pour over the Blackjack Sauce and turn to coat. Cover dishes tightly and bake for 1½ hours, then remove covers, turn over ribs and tip their juices into a pot. Turn up oven to 200C and continue cooking ribs, uncovered, until golden (another 15 minutes). Simmer sauce until reduced and lightly thickened (about 10 minutes). Brush sauce over cooked ribs and serve the remainder in a jug.
Annabel says: For fall-off-the-bone lip-smacking ribs, cook the ribs first until they are tender and then baste with sauce to make them sticky and sweet.
Pickled Cabbage and Cucumber Slaw
Ready in 15 mins + standing
500g-600g cabbage (red or white or a mix of both)
1 telegraph cucumber
2 Tbsp chopped dill leaves
1 tsp toasted cumin seeds
½ cup white wine vinegar
1 tsp salt
2 Tbsp sugar
½ tsp fine white pepper
Use a mandolin or vegetable peeler to slice cabbage and cucumber paper thin. Place in a large bowl and massage lightly between your fingers to soften (it looks like a lot but mixture will collapse down once it marinates). Add dill and toasted cumin seeds. Place vinegar in a small jug or bowl and stir in salt and sugar until dissolved. Add pepper. Pour over salad and toss to combine. Stand for at least 1 hour before serving. Keeps for 48 hours in the fridge.
Annabel says: Slaw is just the best thing to make with cabbage, especially in the winter when cabbage becomes so dense and sweet. The trick is to slice the cabbage as thinly as you can - a vegetable peeler works well, peeling into the angle of a cut surface of the cabbage. Once the cabbage is cut up, massage it between your fingers to bring out the juices before dressing. This salad is great with ribs, any kind of roasted meats or in burgers.
Apple and Blackberry Coconut Crisp
Ready in 1 hour
1kg apples, such as Golden Delicious or Granny Smith
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp soft brown sugar
1 cup blackberries
1¼ cups ground almonds
1 cup desiccated coconut
¼ cup maple syrup or agave syrup
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ground nutmeg
70g coconut oil or butter, melted
Preheat oven to 160C fanbake. Peel, core and cut each apple into six wedges, transferring them to a bowl of water with a squeeze of lemon juice as they are done so they don't brown. In a 26cm ovenproof frying pan, heat butter and brown sugar until bubbling. Remove from heat. Drain apples, add to the butter sugar mix and turn to coat. Spread out evenly in the frypan and sprinkle berries over the top. Make coconut topping by combining ground almonds, coconut, syrup, cinnamon and nutmeg in a mixing bowl. Mix through melted coconut oil or butter. Sprinkle mixture evenly over the fruit. Bake until topping is golden and apples are tender (about 40 minutes). Serve hot or warm.
Annabel says: In the American lexicon of fruit-based hot desserts there are all manner of choices. Crisps and crumbles employ combinations of flour and/or cereal (especially oats), butter, sugar, nuts and spices. Cobblers are made with either a batter or a scone-like topping, slumps are cooked with a scone topping on the stovetop, and buckles are baked with a streusel or coffee-cake topping using nuts, butter and sugar. This coconut topping makes a great change from a traditional crumble - it's light and crispy and gluten-free to boot.