Chef Mark Limacher shares one of his legendary dishes from Ortega Fish Shack in Wellington.
The magic of cooking with fire is that it allows you to slow down and let all your senses interact with the process. You’re forced to be more intimate with the ingredients and the heat source that is transforming them.
Whether you’re watching with hawk eyes for the edges of your rosti to crisp, waiting for the aromas of a freshly charred chilli to infuse in warm oil, pressing the thigh of a saffron-butter-smothered chicken to monitor its progress or listening for just the right amount of sizzle as your crumpet batter is poured into the pan, there is a deep connection to be had with what you are cooking, eating and sharing with others.
Three ingredients I simply adore – corned beef (hot or cold), peas (fresh, frozen, even the dehydrated ‘Surprise’ variety) and eggs any which way.
I grew up on the farm eating corned beef most weeks. We would kill a steer once a year and while the fillets and roasts were always enjoyed, to me there was always something exotic about a large ‘chunk of pink’ simmering away in a pot with its familiar perfume of malt vinegar, brown sugar, bay leaves and vegetables permeating the air. Always served with mash, cabbage, leeks and mustard sauce, it could never be described as a pretty dish but, comforting and satisfying to the soul, there was nothing better.
I have accompanied my beloved corned beef here with a pea hash, which is also a kind of throwback to ‘bubble and squeak’ that was often served the next morning for breakfast made with the previous night’s leftovers. Crowned with a couple of fried eggs with runny yolks, a lick of hot mustard and a pot of coffee, that’s nostalgia right there!
"I grew up on the farm eating corned beef most weeks. It could never be described as a pretty dish but – comforting and satisfying to the soul – there was nothing better."
In my mind, comfort food is both the method of making a dish as well as the experience of eating it. It should be fairly simple and stress free, but tasty and filling. In Turkey they add chopped raw garlic to the yoghurt but, even for me, that’s not something I always do. I consider my friends Tarik and Savas to be part of my whānau. We’re not blood relatives, but we have shared many life-changing events together. They have introduced me to the wonder and joy of Turkey in more than 50 visits to Istanbul and other cities, and we have shared hundreds of meals together. I first tried this dish with them on a gulet (a typical wooden boat) off the coast of Bodrum 18 years ago and it’s one of my all-time favourite things to eat.
In Chinese custom, wontons are one of the must-eat dishes during winter solstice. This dish reminds me of my grandparents and my love for them. They showed their love for their family through food and I recall some of my best times with them. Today, I’m doing the same thing with my son.
I call them Yorkshire soufflés and this recipe is actually from my mother-in-law, Eileen.
They’re not an easy thing to make and there’s always some trepidation when you pop them in the oven. You never know what’s going to come out! Even in my household we have a 1-in-10 flop factor which always leaves you a bit flat, but when they are glorious there’s nothing else on the planet like a good Yorkie! And it’s actually my wife, Jo, who makes the best Yorkshire puddings on the planet.
I like to eat them on their own with gravy as a starter, then have roast beef and duck-fat potatoes for main course.
A tip I’ve learnt over the years is to always use full-cream milk, as light milk never seems to work. For me, cooking with animal fat such as lard, duck or beef, is both for the flavour and for sentimental reasons. My grandma, Esther, always cooked with lard when roasting and baking, as does my Mum, Margaret, today.
I have chosen to cook kingfish, as it was my childhood goal to catch one when heading out on the family boat. Being a third-generation boatie, fishing, diving and foraging for kaimoana is instinctive and a great family passion – whether I was trawling for kahawai as young lad, or now teaching my kids the fun in catching yellowtail at dusk.
Kingfish are very elusive, however when caught they are so versatile with stunning flavour and texture. As kids it was more about the hunt, while today it is more about the flavour. Kingfish sashimi cut atsuzukuri-style (thick-cut fishermanstyle) is one of my favourites, and another is this recipe; a prime thick tranche to be cooked over the open-charcoal robata barbecue.