Did you know that 130 species of fish are commercially fished in New Zealand? How many of those have you tried?

by Ginny Grant | Cuisine issue #156 | Thursday, 21 February, 2013
I suspect that many home cooks have a favourite four or five species and tend to stick to those. Many of us want to know if our fish purchase is sustainable – that the species hasn’t been overfished, or that the method of catching it doesn’t have an adverse impact on other species.

New Zealand’s Ministry of Fisheries Quota Management System is reviewed annually and sets quota for each species in order to keep catches at a sustainable level. The system has its critics, but worldwide it rates highly
for managing marine resources. 

If you’re looking for guidance when shopping, you can consult Greenpeace’s red list of what to avoid, as well as Forest & Bird’s Best Fish Guide. The latter looks at each species and assesses its biology and the risk of its being overfished (a stock level assessment, the impact of the fishing method and the possible by-catch). There’s also a free Smartphone app (Best Fish Guide).

Restaurants tend to be well served with sustainably caught fish. In Auckland, The Grove’s Ben Bayley is supplied by one fisherman; Fleur’s Place in North Otago has its own quota; and Rachel Taulelei’s Wellington company Yellow Brick Road supplies good restaurants throughout the country (capital-dwellers can also purchase her fish at the City Market).

As with many things to do with food, it pays to ask – when and where was it caught, who caught it and how was it caught? Fish isn’t cheap, so it’s vital that it’s in pristine condition. Do check for bright, clear eyes, but my preference is to look at the gills – they should be bright red, not slimy, dark brown and dull. Here are a few suggestions for some lesser-utilised fish – more often than not these are sold whole, but most places will scale, skin and fillet them if you don’t wish to do this yourself. Visit;; and

This northern fish has dark flesh and a strong flavour. It’s a favourite fish for smoking because of its high oil content and its texture is such that it flakes into thick pieces. Fresh kahawai works well with robust flavours, though do remove the bloodline as it can taste bitter. 

  • Make a kedgeree by frying an onion in oil then add curry powder, ground fennel and chilli flakes. Add cooked cold rice and coat well. Stir in flaked kahawai and enough warmed milk or cream to moisten then season and cook until hot. Serve with halved boiled eggs and chopped flat-leafed parsley.
  • For a summer seafood chowder, fry chopped onion, celery and thyme then add chicken stock and halved new potatoes and cook until tender. Add some fresh corn cut from the cob, flaked smoked kahawai and a couple of tablespoons cream or creme fraiche. Garnish with spring onions, fresh chilli, flat-leafed parsley or chives.
  • Simply panfry kahawai then serve with salsa verde and grilled summer vegetables such as capsicums, zucchini and eggplant.
  • Make kokoda by marinating cubes of kahawai in lime or lemon juice then stir in coconut cream, sliced chilli and chopped spring onions.

Trevally has slightly darker flesh that will lighten on cooking. It is medium-textured and moist, with sweet flesh. It’s great for sashimi and also good baked or smoked.
  • Trevally pairs beautifully with gutsy Indian and Middle Eastern flavours – add cubes to a curry or serve fillets with spiced chickpeas and a pomegranate molasses dressing.
  • Wrap whole trevally in a baking paper parcel, together with finely sliced ginger, garlic and spring onions, and a dash of rice wine, soy sauce and sesame oil. Bake until cooked through.
  • Top trevally with a rich homemade tomato sauce, black olives and basil then bake until cooked through.

Red Gurnard
Often simply called gurnard, this small red-skinned fish feeds on crabs and shrimps. Some say that this is why its flesh is slightly pink (although it whitens on cooking) and is so sweet-tasting. Gurnard has been ignored in the past because it takes a little more effort to bone due to its spiny dorsal fins and its Y-shaped bone structure – hence why you’ll seldom see recipes for it roasted whole. It is quite firm-fleshed and holds up well in most cooking methods.
  • Make an Italian-style stew by frying onions, fennel and saffron threads then add white wine, fish or chicken stock and tomatoes. Cook gently for 20 minutes then add bite-sized pieces of gurnard and shellfish such as mussels, cockles or tuatua. Cook until tender then top with finely chopped parsley.
  • Layer thinly sliced new potatoes with chopped garlic and thyme then add chicken stock and bake until tender. Top with gurnard fillets and drizzle with oil then bake until cooked. Serve with olive tapenade and wilted spinach.
  • Serve panfried gurnard fillets with blanched asparagus or green beans and a lemon butter sauce.
  • Dust gurnard fillets with rice flour mixed with your favourite dry spices then fry in hot oil for a crisp crust.

Grey Mullet
This species has dark-toned flesh that whitens on cooking. It is a good choice for serving raw as sashimi due to its firm texture and fresh flavour, reminiscent of oysters.
  • Make a grey mullet carpaccio with thinly sliced fish, lemon zest, olive oil and fresh chilli.
  • Cooked grey mullet can have an earthy flavour, which makes it an exceptional match for mushrooms – fry your favourite mushrooms with garlic and parsley, then season well and serve with grilled or panfried mullet. 
  • Its strong flavour also pairs well with olives – try serving it with tapenade.
  • Grey mullet roe is traditionally used for the Sicilian and Sardinian delicacy bottarga – the salted and dried roe which is often served thinly shaved over pasta. It’s also found in the Greek dip taramasalata, where the salted or smoked roe is mixed with stale white bread moistened with water, plus olive oil and lemon juice. ginny grant


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