Just prior to the start of the America's Cup racing last year, I was invited to participate in another kind of challenge in Bermuda, one designed to bring awareness to the problem of the predatory and invasive lionfish.
All six America's Cup teams were represented by a cook or chef from their nation in the #eatlionfish Chefs' Throwdown, and I was lucky enough to represent New Zealand. Our task was to each come up with a lionfish recipe and dish it up to 200 guests at the Commissioner's House in the Royal Naval Dockyard in Bermuda.
None of us had ever seen, let alone cooked, this weird lionfish before. After all, it is venomous, and, with the exception of fugu (aka pufferfish), which comes with the threat of death if you get it wrong, chefs just don't tend to gravitate to species that might kill them or their guests.
None of us knew how the fish would cook – would it fall apart or was it tough? Could you deep-fry it or sashimi it or turn it into ceviche?
The great thing about cooking is that there are always new ways to do things. Lots of the ingredients I had requested didn't turn up on the day, so my improvised ceviche for 200 people was prepared with fresh produce from the local market, dressed with a wicked coriander and ginger sauce and topped with an Asian-style fish cake. It looked pretty and tasted so fresh and good. Even without my requested kaffir lime leaves, fish sauce and sushi vinegar, with the help of my fabulous New Zealand assistant Ali Bahmad, we nailed it.
Cooking lionfish in Bermuda made me realise how locked-in we all are to buying and cooking only those types of seafood we know and love. But there are so many other great fish out there to try, and using lesser-known fish takes the pressure off the popular fish species and helps to create a more sustainable fishery.
Paulie Hooton, the chef at the Auckland Seafood School, has introduced me to a number of highly rateable fish I really hadn't thought of cooking before. Number one: boarfish. If you haven't tried it yet, you will be amazed. A boarfish might look ugly, with its big, long snout and olive-grey skin, but the flesh is white and sweet, with a dense, pleasing flake. It's great pan-fried, and the flesh is dense enough to work well in curries and ceviche.
Another real find is leatherjacket or creamfish. Always buy this skinned, as the skin is as tough as the name implies. However, the flesh is sweet and holds together. Paulie recommends scoring the flesh on both sides, rubbing in a little togarashi spice and salt and cooking it on a barbecue.
I hope this week's recipes inspire you to try some lesser-known fish species and help build a more sustainable future for our oceans.
Ready in 15 mins + marinating
Serves 8 as a starter
4 boneless, skinless white fish fillets, such as kahawai, trevally or boarfish, cut into bite-size slices or chunks
½ cup lemon or lime juice, more if needed
20 (about) cherry tomatoes, halved
Flesh of 2 large just-ripe avocados, diced
2 spring onions, thinly sliced
½ red onion, very thinly sliced
½-1 long red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped (optional)
salt and ground black pepper, to taste
½ cup coconut cream or 2 Tbsp boutique extra virgin olive oil
A handful of coriander leaves, to serve
Lemon or lime wedges, to serve
Place fish in a bowl with lemon or lime juice and stir to combine (there should be enough liquid to cover the fish — if not, add a little more juice). Cover and chill until the fish whitens and appears "cooked" (about 45 minutes). Drain off and discard juice. Add tomato, avocado, spring onions, red onion and chilli, if using, to the fish, reserving a little of each to garnish, and mix gently to combine. Adjust seasonings to taste. To serve, drizzle with coconut cream or olive oil and top with coriander and reserved tomato, avocado, spring onions, red onion and chilli, if using. Serve with lemon or lime wedges for squeezing.
Annabel says: Most people think of kahawai as a fish best suited to smoking, but provided it is bled as soon as it is landed, it makes a fabulous kokoda or ceviche. It's also great in a fish curry and cooks up beautifully as a fillet.
Thai-Style Barbecue Fish Cakes
Ready in 30 mins
400g boneless, skinless firm white fish fillets, finely chopped
2 Tbsp coconut milk powder (optional)
2 Tbsp chopped coriander leaves, plus extra sprigs to serve
2 tsp red curry paste
1 tsp turmeric
Zest of 1 lemon or lime, finely grated
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
a little neutral oil, to brush or spray
lemon or lime wedges, to serve
Combine all ingredients except oil in a food processor and whizz to a smoothish paste or very finely chop the fish so it's almost pasty, then mix in all ingredients except oil. Use wet hands to form into 24 small balls and flatten slightly. If not using at once, cover and chill for up to 24 hours. When ready to cook, brush or spray with oil and cook on a preheated barbecue plate or in a frying pan over a medium heat until golden and cooked through (about 3 minutes each side). Pile on to a platter and garnish with lemon or lime wedges and coriander sprigs to serve.
Annabel says: I prepared a version of these up in Bermuda and they were a real hit. You don't need an expensive fish, just something nice and fresh. Kahawai, trevally or boarfish all work well. I like them with spicy Thai flavours and a chilli dipping sauce but you could also flavour the pureed fish mixture with other spices and herbs.
Ready in 45 mins
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, crushed
Zest of 2 large lemons, finely grated
½ tsp chilli flakes, or more to taste
4 tomatoes, cored and coarsely chopped
1 cup fruity white wine, such as riesling
3kg fresh cockles, clams, pipi, tuatua and/or mussels, washed and beards removed from mussels
750g dried linguine or spaghetti
Ground black pepper, to taste
1 cup coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
Heat oil in a very large pot and sizzle garlic, lemon zest and chilli flakes for a few seconds. Add tomatoes and wine, bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Add shellfish, cover pot tightly and cook for 3-4 minutes, lifting the shellfish out into a bowl as they open. Discard any that remain closed and reserve the cooking liquid to use as a sauce for the pasta. Remove the meat from half of the shells, discard the empty shells, and reserve the meat in a bowl with the cooked whole shellfish. The shellfish and sauce can be prepared ahead to this point an hour or two before serving and chilled until needed.
Bring cooking liquid sauce back to a boil just before you add the pasta. When ready to serve, cook the pasta in plenty of salted water for 3 minutes less than packet instructions. Drain and add pasta to the hot sauce, season with pepper, and return to a boil over a high heat until pasta is just al dente (2-3 minutes — it needs to still have a bite). Add reserved shellfish to heat through (about 1 minute). Add parsley, stir well to combine flavours, check seasoning and serve.
Annabel says: This is one of my all-time-favourite ways to cook clams, cockles, pipi and tuatua. For a classic version leave out the tomatoes. I prefer just to use the zest of the lemons and no juice to keep a more intense seafood flavour, but if you prefer a tangier finish add a squeeze of lemon juice. The recipe is easily halved for 4 people.