Crispy beer-battered fish. Photo / Annabel Langbein Media
A couple of months ago, my sister Prue and I took a trip to Port Underwood in the Marlborough Sounds, on a quest to uncover some of our family history. Our 3x great-grandparents immigrated here
after a stint in the Sydney penal colony. Samuel Cave’s conviction was as a bigamist, and Susannah Dockerall, whom he married while in Sydney, carried the crime of stealing stockings. In 1837, after they were pardoned, they moved across the Tasman to this remote spot, a wide inlet that faces northeast to the wild waters of Cook Strait. These days it is reached by a very winding road from Blenheim.
The New Zealand shore whaling industry was in full swing at the time, and the famous whaler Jackie Guard had five whaling stations in Port Underwood. Samuel found work as a cooper making barrels for the “black oil” of the right whale. Later, he went on to run one of the Guard whaling stations. The couple’s daughter, Ann Cave, was 8 when she arrived in New Zealand in 1837 and was married off under the haze of a scandal, at the age of 15, to a sea captain. The officiating minister reported, “She is very young – not 16. But reports to her discredit having prevailed, whether true or not, rendered it prudent for them to be married at once.” The family legend goes that there were concerns about a possible abduction and marriage to a local Māori. Who this may have been, is a question that remains unearthed, but standing on the beach here I found myself wondering about these particular relations, the bloodlines we follow and those we don’t know about or leave behind. I read somewhere recently that there are now more than 5000 descendants from Samuel and Susannah’s Port Underwood line. Do we all share this love for the sea and for fishing?
As kids, we spent most of our summers fishing. My grandfather, Put, whose roots lay in the Port Underwood line, was a mad keen fisherman. We would head out from Portage, where his treasured launch the Shangri La was moored, to fish, sometimes for days at a time. Motoring through the Sounds, it was never long before we’d arrive at one of Put’s secret spots, drop our lines and haul in a feast of blue cod. Put was an excellent cook and would whip up plates of perfectly crisp battered cod from the boat’s tiny galley. He would chop up gherkins and hard-boiled eggs and mix them into store-bought mayo for a makeshift tartare sauce. We kids thought we were in heaven.
Fish for supper? Yes, please.
Crispy beer-battered fish
This lovely light batter is also good with oysters. Serve with tartare sauce and accompany with oven fries and a green salad
Ready in 15 minutes
1 cup rice flour
1 tsp salt
¾ cup beer
Neutral oil, to cook
4 boneless, skinless white fish fillets
Flaky salt, to sprinkle
1 cup good quality mayonnaise
2 Tbsp finely chopped gherkins
2 Tbsp finely chopped parsley
1 Tbsp finely chopped capers
1 hardboiled egg, peeled and diced (optional)
Lemon wedges, to serve
Combine flour and salt in a mixing bowl. Stir in beer to form a smooth paste.
Heat 4cm in a large pot over medium heat. Test that it is hot enough by dropping in a drip of batter. If it sizzles the oil is ready for cooking.
Dip fish into the batter to coat, then drop into heated oil, working in batches if necessary so as not to overcrowd the pot. Cook, turning once, until fish is cooked through (it should pierce easily without any resistance) and batter is golden brown (5-6 minutes). Drain on paper towels, sprinkle with flaky salt and serve with tartare sauce and lemon wedges.
Fish tacos with avocado crema
This avocado and coriander crema is also good drizzled over baked potatoes or as a dip with fresh vegetable crudites.
Ready in 25 minutes
600g boneless, skinless white fish fillets, cut into pieces if large
2 Tbsp Mexican spice mix
1 Tbsp each butter and extra virgin olive oil or 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
8 fresh tortillas, warmed
AVOCADO AND CORIANDER CREMA ( makes 1½ cups)
Flesh of 1 large ripe avocado
1 spring onion, coarsely chopped
1 long green chilli, coarsely chopped
Zest of 1 lime, finely grated
½ cup neutral oil
½ cup chopped coriander leaves
2 Tbsp lime juice
1 tsp toasted cumin seeds
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
Salad fixings of your choice, such as shredded lettuce or red cabbage, shredded carrot, sliced red onion, coriander leaves and/or pickled jalapeno chillies
Chipotle mayo and or tomato salsa
Lime cheeks or wedges, to garnish
To make avocado crema, place all ingredients in a food processor and whizz until smooth. Check seasoning and adjust to taste. If not using at once, cover, keep chilled and use within 24 hours.
Coat fish with spice mix. If not using at once chill up to 4 hours until needed.
Heat butter and oil together in a large heavy-based frying pan or on a heated barbecue hotplate. When butter sizzles and starts to go nut-brown, add fish in a single layer (don’t overcrowd the pan or hotplate) and cook over a high heat until lightly golden and cooked through (1-2 minutes each side). The flesh should flake easily when skewered.
To serve, top tortillas with crema then fish and salad fixings and dressings of your choice. Serve with lime cheeks or wedges.
Asian fish cakes with Vietnamese dipping sauce
You don’t need to use an expensive fish for these so it’s a great way to use sustainable species that you may not be familiar with such as red cod or very fresh mullet. The dressing is a traditional recipe from the owner of a little Vietnamese grocery store in Sydney and it’s just so useful. It’s my favourite Asian salad dressing and it makes a great dipping sauce for any kind of fritter or fried snack.
Ready in 15 minutes
250g boneless, skinless white fish fillets
Zest of 1 lime, finely grated
2 Tbsp chopped coriander leaves
1 Tbsp Thai red curry paste, or more to taste
2 tsp fish sauce
1 tsp soft brown sugar
A little neutral oil, to fry
Microgreens or small salad leaves, to garnish
VIETNAMESE DIPPING SAUCE (makes 1½ cups)
1 long red chilli, very finely sliced
Zest of 1 lime, finely grated
½ cup water
¼ cup fish sauce
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup rice vinegar
3 Tbsp deseeded and very finely chopped cucumber
1 Tbsp chopped coriander leaves
To make the dipping sauce, place all the ingredients in a small bowl and stir to combine.
Combine fish, egg, lime zest, coriander, curry paste, fish sauce and sugar in a food processor and pulse 4 or 5 times to a coarse paste. Do not overprocess, you want some texture to the fish cakes.
Heat a little oil in a heavy-based frying pan and, working in batches, shallow-fry tablespoons of the mixture over a medium heat until springy to the touch and cooked through (about 2 minutes each side). They can be made a few hours in advance, chilled until needed and reheated in an 180C oven for 5 minutes.
Serve warm or at room temperature garnished with microgreens or small salad leaves and accompanied by dipping sauce.
by Yvonne Lorkin
Crispy Beer-battered Fish
Speight’s Summit Zero 0.0% Lager ($21 doz)
Long before Frank Whitten played Ted West, the curmudgeonly ex-crim grandad on Outrageous Fortune, and Marton Csokas became a Hollywood superstar with an IMDB list the length of a cricket bat, they were two 1990s, Speight’s-drinking, high country cowpokes lamenting how hard the road was finding the perfect woman. These days, the overwhelming stats say they’d actually be out hunting for the perfect zero-alcohol beer instead, and the Summit Zero is actually darn decent. Refreshing, lightly hoppy and showing a surprisingly generous, malty, mid-palate, Speight’s debut no-booze brew is a solid, sober option for battering your fish and wetting your whistle.
Fish Tacos with Avocado Crema
Astrolabe Kēkerengū Coast Marlborough Albariño 2019 ($30)
Add even more magic to the Mexican spices of these tacos with a large goblet of my favourite albariño of the moment. Not heard of it? That’s hardly surprising because tiny yields in the vineyard mean precious little is made and the folk at Astrolabe basically beg their growers to keep it in the ground. Snappy and succulently dry, it’s mineral-rich and rolling in green apple, honeydew, light lemon and crabapple complexity. With citrus oil and hints of honeysuckle, it’s light yet loaded with flavour.
Thai Fish Cakes
Zeffer Slack Ma Girdle Cider 2021 ($30 1ltr)
It’s a rare Thai meal where I wouldn’t eat more fish cakes than are sensible. Traditionally I’d sling back a beer or a glass of gewürz, but that’s all changed since my girdle got slacked. Using a blend of more than 50 cider-specific apples including Mother-in -Law, Bisquet, Kingston Black, C’Huero Ru Bein and its namesake, this vintage reserve cider was wild-fermented for five weeks in old wine barrels then aged for six months on its lees to develop its deep amber colour, baked apple and roast stonefruit scent and beautifully dry, chewy mid-palate. It’s perfect with chilli, ginger, coriander and all manner of spicy morsels.