For the next six weeks, Fish of the Day host Clarke Gayford offers top tips to make the most of your catch.
Boy do we love snapper in this country. Like, really love them. Recreationally we spend more time and money chasing snapper than any other fish by a long cast, more than $400 million each year, every year.
It's the most featured star on our fishing magazines covers and its no contest that it's the most commonly shown fish on our fishing shows. And speaking of contests, it's a fish that whole competitions are dedicated to. Where keen anglers all chance their cast chasing the white-red-scaly beasts that swarm our inshore northern and increasingly southern waters.
It's a fish that even has its own club, the 20lb club that is.
Internationally they love our snapper too, with more than 39,000 charter trips booked each year, many of which are just to chase our special red-gold treasures.
You can catch them from boats and from banks, with bait or with yanks . . . on an enticing lure.
It's one of our most versatile table fish, stalking all manner of strata, from mangroves to deep-sea mounts. It even lines up its summer break with our summer break.
And that's the problem with them.
Having had such an effective marketing campaign, they've become so popular that they quash the often-undiscovered potential of all other nearby scaly delights.
This may come as a shock to those with a bad case of STV (Snapper Tunnel Vision), but the plankton soup bubble that cushions our shores creates a unique chain of life to give us some of the richest waters in the world. This means — shock horror — that other edible varieties abound. Often overlooked and thrown back, there are many also worthy of attention for sport and for plate.
As a great chef friend once told me, there's no such thing as a bad fish, you just have to find the perfect way to cook it. Is it raw, is it cured, is it smoked, fried, steamed, grilled or barbecued?
So, with that in mind over the past year, I've been pushing my figurative boat out, with some surprisingly good finds.
From squid caught from wharfs: cut into thin strips and covered with boiling water before placing in fish stock, to create a delicious squid noodle base.
To scorpion fish (granddaddy hapuku): with a face a gang member would be proud of and a back full of toxic spines, these often discarded by-catches have a surprisingly flavoursome white flesh. Try leaving the skin on and rubbing in salt then chargrill in pan, for a treat with a difference.
Also peaking out from the snapper's great shadow are everything from pink maomao (delicious white flaky flesh), to boarfish, pigfish and goatfish — which I can report taste neither like bacon nor goat. Everything from porae to parore — the former of which can be so rich as to have a laxative effect, and the latter some restaurants have been feeding to you for years relabelled as black snapper.
I've even got a spearfishing friend who targets only blue maomao, claiming the aphrodisiac qualities of its oily flesh keeps his marriage on track.
It's also been encouraging to see in recent years that people are finally waking up to the culinary qualities of our other once-spurned fish. I'm looking at you kahawai. No longer just bound for the smoker, fresh and properly processed, it's a fish that holds its head up in the pan.
Of course, there are two utterly different types of kahawai. Those that are left whole on the deck of the boat in the sun. And those that are spiked, bled, gilled, gutted and shoaled on ice. Not many people realise they have such strong stomach enzymes, that given a chance to spread, will spoil their flesh quickly.
And that's just the beginning. So this summer why not try releasing the predictable and test something new. Not only will you help spread fishing pressures but, who knows, you may even eclipse our white-bronzed finned deity with a new favourite catch.