Provisions: Eating Cheaply at Home

by Metro / 02 October, 2012
Fong Wu at Seafood Harbour, Newmarket.

Simon Farrell-Green on eating like a peasant.

I have two flatmates. We are all 30-something and since I’m a food nazi and can’t stand everyone having a separate shelf in the fridge — there always seems to be half an onion buried at the back stinking out your cheese — we have a food account into which we all put $40 a week. This pays for all our food (but not our booze).

I think $120 a week to feed three hungry adults and friends who “happen” to be in the area at dinner time is pretty good. We manage this by eating like peasants — helped by Farro Fresh, which recently opened up down the road. I’ve found myself wandering there on Friday nights in search of green Sicilian olives and coming home with a pile of stuff we “really need” like dried porcini mushrooms, which cost $8 for 35g.

And each weekend, I raid the account for whatever happens to be left in it and head off to a farmers’ market to buy what else we need. We are strictly seasonal, which is to be expected: we eat only tomatoes, beans and zucchini in summer, when they’re cheap and they’re good.

In winter, we switch to cabbage, silverbeet, beetroot and watercress. Current favourite  sources are Fresh Produce, which you’ll find at La Cigale, Grey Lynn and Hobsonville, and Annie and Sean Wilson at Parnell Farmers’ Market. (Their Miranda Farm Shop at 1107 Miranda Rd is well worth a visit when next you’re heading out towards Miranda.) But the real key is meat, or rather, the lack of it since — news flash! — meat is expensive.

When we do eat it, it’s either a summer barbecue, when we have a bit of a splurge and buy an expensive piece of pork or beef, or it’s in very small quantities. There is almost always a bachka sausage or two from Salash Delicatessen in the fridge. They cost $18 for two big ones and last across four or five meals (in pasta sauce, a smoky addition to Bolognese, even fried up as a terrific filling in an omelette on Friday night).

Roast chook? After dinner on Sunday night, leftovers go into the freezer until there are two or three, and it’s chicken soup a few weeks later.

Or I’ll buy something really cheap and cook it for a long time. Farro Fresh is great for this: it has good prices and everything from kidneys to oxtail to my favourite, beef cheek, $10 a kilogram. You need to trim off the silvery membrane (with a very sharp knife) but it makes a beautiful ragu if you put it in the slow cooker overnight with red wine, a can of tomatoes and a bayleaf.

But where I’m really cooking like a peasant is with fish. These days, snapper costs $40-odd a kilogram. So I buy shellfish — clams if we’re flush, mussels if we’re not — and go to Seafood Harbour under the Rialto carpark in Newmarket for both. I buy tarakihi if I want white fish and kahawai, mackerel, sardines and pilchards, and then I have fun working out how to cook them.

But my crowning glory has been my fish-head soup (recipe below). Just as I was leaving La Cigale one Saturday, I noticed Jimmy “the Fish” Gerrard had a big snapper head and a frame sitting there, which he sold to me for $5.

The next day, I consulted Chez Panisse Cooking and Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking — both great for classic peasant eating — put the fish into a big stock pot and cooked it up. It was rich and salty and somehow silky, and the following Sunday we craved the same thing.

Jimmy didn’t have any fish heads, so I dispatched Liz the Flatmate to the Auckland Fish Market, which has a massive bay of fish frames and heads left over from filleting. They cost about $3 a kilogram.

Lizzie smiled nicely at them and so they scaled and helpfully chopped a head and a frame, and then she picked up a few clams. She spent $15. We ate like kings.

Recipe: Fish-head Soup

You need at least one big fish-head and one fish frame. If the head hasn’t been scaled, vigorously run a knife with a stiff blade back towards the mouth to lose them. Chop an onion and maybe some celery, put it into the stockpot with some olive oil and fry until soft, then chuck in the fish, and cook it until it starts to colour up. Add a splash of white wine, then cover with water, and add a pinch of saffron and a couple of bay leaves and maybe some fennel seeds if you feel like it. Simmer for half an hour, when the stock should taste delicate and salty, and the fish will be falling off the head. Get a big colander and strain; if you can be bothered, pull the fish off the frame and head and set it aside — or you can buy extra fish fillets, which is nice, if more expensive. Add some par-boiled potatoes — nadines are good for this — and reduce it for five minutes. Bash up a handful of flat-leaf parsley and a couple of cloves of garlic and then add some olive oil. Add the clams or mussels to the stock and cook until they open, then spoon into bowls, and add the reserved fish. Serve with toasted sourdough and the garlic/parsley mixture and, as Julia Child would have it, a fruity red wine.

Simon Farrell-Green blogs at Eat Here Now.


Knight star: Sir Hec Busby on his extraordinary life
102328 2019-02-17 00:00:00Z Profiles

Knight star: Sir Hec Busby on his extraordinary li…

by Clare de Lore

Northland kaumātua, master carver, navigator and bridge builder Hec Busby was hoping for “no fuss” when he accepted a knighthood.

Read more
Keira Knightley shines in bodice-ripping period drama Colette
102397 2019-02-16 00:00:00Z Movies

Keira Knightley shines in bodice-ripping period dr…

by James Robins

The story of Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, a heroine of French literature, focuses on her early struggles.

Read more
Is barbecued meat bad for your health?
102255 2019-02-16 00:00:00Z Nutrition

Is barbecued meat bad for your health?

by Jennifer Bowden

Sizzling meat on the barbecue is the sound and smell of summer, but proceed with caution.

Read more
March of the Algorithms: Who’s at the wheel in the age of the machine?
102434 2019-02-16 00:00:00Z Tech

March of the Algorithms: Who’s at the wheel in the…

by Jenny Nicholls

Complacently relying on algorithms can lead us over a cliff – literally, in the case of car navigation systems.

Read more
IBM’s new quantum computer: The future of computing
102458 2019-02-16 00:00:00Z Tech

IBM’s new quantum computer: The future of computin…

by Peter Griffin

The Q System One, as IBM calls it, doesn’t look like any conventional computer and it certainly doesn’t act like one.

Read more
James Shaw: Capital gains tax key to fixing wealth gap
102456 2019-02-15 14:54:45Z Politics

James Shaw: Capital gains tax key to fixing wealth…

by RNZ

The week before a major tax report is released, Green Party co-leader James Shaw has again challenged his government partners to back the tax.

Read more
Jealousy, murder and lies: The killing of Arishma Chand
102448 2019-02-15 10:28:12Z Crime

Jealousy, murder and lies: The killing of Arishma…

by Anneke Smith

Arishma Chand was just 24 when she was murdered.

Read more
Top wine picks from Central Otago
102233 2019-02-15 00:00:00Z Wine

Top wine picks from Central Otago

by Michael Cooper

Tucked into small corners, Central Otago vineyards offer nuggets worth digging for. Wine critic Michael Coopers offers his top picks.

Read more