Fresh fish recipes

by Lauraine Jacobs / 17 January, 2013
Eating freshly caught and cooked fish is a quintessential Kiwi summer experience.
Whole stuffed baked snapper with lemon, ginger, onion and fresh herbs
Whole stuffed baked snapper with lemon, ginger, onion and fresh herbs, photo Elizabeth Clarkson/Styling by Kate Arbuthnot.

For Kiwis, summer is synonymous with the seaside, whether it’s surfing, swimming or catching some sun on a sandy beach. We dream of enjoying freshly caught fish while sitting in full view of the ocean. Around the country, a handful of cafes and restaurants provide exactly that experience.

At Mangonui in the Far North, a simple cafe perched over the water that offers a traditional feed of fish and chips has attained the elusive “don’t miss this experience” status among travellers. The Takapuna Beach Cafe, recently named Auckland’s best cafe, has designer chips and battered fish that can be enjoyed along with the sweeping views of Rangitoto and passing cruise ships. Arguably the most luxurious version you can eat in the country is the beer-battered fish direct from the City Market, served with chunky chips as a Sunday night special at Martin Bosley’s eponymous fine dining restaurant overlooking Wellington harbour.

In the South Island, Fleur’s in Moeraki on the Otago coast, and the Boatshed Cafe on Nelson’s Wakefield Quay, specialise in fishy treats. Both are perched over the water and enjoy a continual stream of regulars and tourists in the know.

My new favourite place, the Oyster Inn overlooking Oneroa Beach, opened just in time for the influx of summer visitors to Waiheke Island, a 40-minute ride from Auckland’s downtown ferry terminal. It’s the brainchild of two Kiwis returned from London, Jonathan Rutherfurd Best and Andrew Glenn, who are experienced in the world of hospitality and event management. They host guests in an airy modern restaurant and offer three luxurious suites for anyone who wants to stay.

The pair have captured the essence of what makes New Zealand special, enhancing the simple décor with a quintessentially Kiwi collection of artefacts, maps and old photos. On a verandah overlooking the ocean, guests can feast on a menu that includes those essential fish and chips.

The Oyster Inn’s masterstroke is the chef. Cristian Hossack had been away from New Zealand for 15 years, most recently holding the position of head chef at Peter Gordon’s Providores in London. He now delights in cooking in a kitchen that has glimpses of the sea, and he has been quick to embrace the island’s bounty: fish, oysters, olive oil and lovely wines.

Hossack has put his own stamp on the food, with a simple menu that befits the surroundings, although it still contains some quirky dishes such as tender octopus salad with barley and herbs and crunchy crumbed fingers of lamb belly with mint vinaigrette. Most importantly, it’s affordable in a world of restaurant prices that are hitting $30 or $40 for a main course. It’s $22.50 for those fantastic fish and chips (line-caught fish, triple-cooked fries). A range of “bites” such as tarakihi sliders with burnt butter and crispy capers is $18 and an enamel bowlful of salt and pepper squid with coriander cress is $16. I loved his Very Green Salad, a tangle of lots of green things with a crunchy finish.

Each time I cook a whole fish, everyone is impressed, but they seem to have no idea how easy it is. To serve a whole fish, leave it on the bone and offer sections of fish from the upper side. When all the flesh on that side has been eaten, do not try to flip the fish. Instead, take a firm grip of the skeleton and prise it up and away, leaving the underside sitting on the plate.

This recipe is ideal for any large fish you want to cook whole.


  • 1 whole (1.5-2kg) fresh fish (eg, snapper, tarakihi, kahawai, salmon), gutted and scaled

  • 3 lemons

  • 50g fresh root ginger

  • 6 spring onions

  • 1/2 cup mint leaves

  • 4 tbsp olive oil

  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 bunch of watercress

Wash the fish, then trim off the fins and, if necessary, tidy up the tail. Thinly slice the lemons. Peel and chop the ginger into thin sticks. Slice the spring onions and roughly chop the mint leaves. Rub the surface of the fish with oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place the fish on a large sheet of non-stick aluminium foil. Arrange the lemon slices, ginger, spring onions and mint leaves in the body cavity and over the skin. Enclose the fish in the foil and bake in a 200°C oven for 35 minutes.

Alternatively, cook it on a barbecue. If using a barbecue, keep the heat low so the fish cooks without burning. Once cooked, place the fish on a large serving platter, remove the foil and put a bunch of washed watercress over the head. Serve with potatoes and salad.
Serves 4.
Wine match: chardonnay.


  • 6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

  • 1 small fennel bulb, trimmed and sliced, fronds reserved

  • 1 carrot, cut into julienne strips

  • 4 x 200g fish fillets of equal thickness, skin removed (any fresh fish will work)

  • 1 lemon, sliced finely

  • handful of fresh parsley sprigs

  • 4 bay leaves

  • sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a frying pan, then sauté the fennel and carrot over a medium heat until just wilted. Preheat the oven to 200°C. Spread olive oil liberally over 4 sheets of baking paper or non-stick foil large enough to wrap the fish fillets.

Arrange the fennel mixture and the reserved fennel fronds on the paper as a bed for the fish. Position the fillets on top, add the lemon slices, then the parsley and bay leaves. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, season with salt and pepper, then carefully fold in the edges to seal the parcel. Transfer the parcels to a baking tray (a scone tray is ideal) and bake for 8 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fi sh. Let it rest for 3 minutes before serving.

When everyone opens their parcels, there will be a wonderful aroma as the juices spill onto the plate. Serve with a green vegetable or salad and buttery steamed new potatoes.
Serves 4.
Wine match: pinot gris.

Tasting Waiheke

Food produced on Waiheke Island, in Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf, rarely makes it to the mainland, because of distribution problems and transportation costs. So it was a treat for those attending the NZ Guild of Food Writers AGM recently to feast on some of the fine food and beverages produced on the island. A marketplace was set up on the lawn at Cable Bay vineyard, and we tasted Ringawera breads; honeys; sheep cheeses, yoghurt and milk; ginger beer; beer; pâtés and cured meats from Casita Miro; creamy gelati; and the pungent Waiheke Herb Spread.

This year, organisers of the biennial Headland Sculpture on the Gulf event, a 2.5km walk along the Waiheke coastline to see more than 30 sculpture installations, have extended the experience to include a showcase of food and beverages.

A huge marquee pavilion has been erected on the waterfront at Matiatia. Two islanders, French chef and caterer Nico Fini and Master-Chef runner-up Ana Schwarz, have prepared a menu of locally sourced specialty foods and combined that with a selection of Waiheke wine and beverages, so visitors can have snacks, brunch and lunch throughout the day.

Headland Sculpture on the Gulf runs from January 25 to February 17, opening at 8.30am daily. Buses take walkers from Matia tia Wharf to the trail, which winds back to the food and beverage marquee.

For more on the Oyster Inn, see
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