1kg blue cod frames or heads
a few sprigs thyme
water to cover
1 litre cooking oil such as canola
4 pieces of blue cod skin, or what you have from a whole fish
rice flour
50g shelled walnuts
½ cup fresh breadcrumbs
1 dozen smoked oysters, finely chopped
1 shallot, finely diced
¼ preserved lemon, finely diced
fresh soft herbs such as dill and parsley
a squeeze of lemon juice
½ onion, sliced into moons
¼ cup olive oil
1 star anise
500ml roasted blue cod stock
a few sprigs thyme
500ml fresh runny cream
fish sauce to taste
Kaitaia Fire hot sauce
4 x 180g fillets of blue cod
rice flour
clarified butter
12 Littleneck clams
¾ cup 1cm diced Agria potato, steamed until just tender (6 minutes)
4 pieces crispy blue cod skin, to serve
smoked oyster crumble, to serve
dill sprigs, to serve

In New Zealand we tend to prefer our fish fillets skinless which is a shame. The skin of fish such as snapper, tarakihi and blue cod crisps beautifully in the pan and adds great texture and crunch to a dish.

At Fishbone we actually buy blue cod skins from one of our suppliers for this dish, as our fishers are loathe to sell us blue cod fillets with the skin on – the request upsets the workers on the filleting line. Of course, if you are buying a whole fish, like we do on occasion, no need to worry about sourcing some skins.

Maine in the north eastern part of the USA is the home of clam chowders and I must have dined on perhaps half a dozen during a road trip there nearly a decade ago. The thin soups, flavoured with dried thyme and swimming with clams and potatoes, were all served with oyster crackers that you crushed with your hands and added to the soup (the crackers were oyster by name only).

Still, when I wanted to tell the story of this trip through a dish at Fishbone I couldn’t pass on the idea of an actual real oyster-flavoured cracker or bread. That seed of an idea blossomed into the smoked oyster crumble recipe and now the crumble, atop a fillet of blue cod and surrounded by a saucey version of chowder, is one of our signature dishes on the menu at Fishbone.

Not only do we use most of the whole fish – blue cod – which we source from our mate Nate in Bluff who catches the fish by hand – but at Fishbone we shuck our own oysters, not always successfully, so this dish makes great use of those broken bivalves we cannot serve.


2.Preheat the oven to 200℃.
3.Wash the cod bones well as they can be bloody, then place the bones onto a baking tray and roast for about 30 minutes, until golden.
4.Tip the bones into a stock pot, add some thyme, and cover with cold water (at least 1 litre, more if required).
5.Bring to a simmer over a medium heat for 20 minutes and skim off any impurities that may float to the surface.
6.Strain into a large bowl, and then strain back into a clean saucepan.
7.Put back onto the heat and reduce the stock by half, again skimming off any impurities that may rise to the surface.
8.Either use immediately or chill rapidly and refrigerate for three days or freeze for up to two months.
10.In a heavy, deep-sided saucepan heat the oil to 180℃. Please pay attention to the pot as this can be dangerous and do not leave it unattended.
11.As the oil is heating up, lay the skin down on a clean chopping board with the flesh side facing up.
12.Using a sharp knife, scrape away any flesh that is remaining (save and use in the chowder).
13.When the oil is ready, dip the skin into the rice flour, shake off the excess and carefully lower into the pot of hot oil.
14.The skin will curl up into a cylinder and any scales remaining will fan out (the scales are edible).
15.Cook for four minutes, or until super-crispy.
16.Drain, then season with salt while still warm.
17.Cool to room temperature.
18.FOR THE SMOKED OYSTER CRUMBLE. You can smoke your own oysters like we do or you can buy tinned, smoked oysters or mussels for this dish. This can be made a day ahead; bring back to room temperature before using.
19.In a small saucepan, boil the walnuts for five minutes.
20.Meanwhile, in a small frying pan gently toast the breadcrumbs until golden (be careful as they can burn quickly).
21.Remove from heat and cool. Strain and chop the walnuts finely.
22.Add the chopped nuts, oysters, shallot, preserved lemon and herbs to the breadcrumbs, give it a good stir and add a squeeze of lemon juice. Set aside.
24.Add the onions, olive oil and star anise to a heavy-based saucepan over a low heat, cover and cook for one hour until the onion has softened, stirring often.
25.If the onions start to stick to the bottom of the pan, add some water. Try not to get any colour, as you want a pale, almost white, onion jam.
26.When ready, drain the onions on a paper towel to collect any excess oil and remove the star anise.
27.Wipe the saucepan clean before returning the onions.
28.Add the fish stock and thyme and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to simmer. Reduce by half.
29.Add the cream and reduce by half again. The soup should coat the back of a spoon.
30.You can do this step ahead of time, and refrigerate the chowder for up to three days.
32.Lightly dredge the fish in the rice flour.
33.In a pan big enough to hold all the fish comfortably, heat some clarified butter until it begins to shimmer. You may need two pans.
34.Now gently add the fish to the pan, cook on one side for two to three minutes. Flip the fish over.
35.Depending on the thickness of the fish you can leave the pan on the stove top or place the pan in the oven for a few minutes. Try not to overcook the fish (most fish is sweeter a little underdone) and remember the fish will finish cooking as you plate up the meal.
36.As the fish is cooking, rewarm the chowder, adding the clams and cooked potato and cook until warm and the clams have opened.
37.Season with fish sauce and Kaitaia Fire sauce to taste.
38.Evenly divide the chowder into four plates, keeping the potatoes nestled in the middle.
39.Arrange three clams around each mound of potato.
40.Place the fish on top, season and then pile the smoked oyster crumble on top of the fish.
41.Garnish with the fish skin and dill sprigs.

Recipes & food styling Darren Lovell / Photography Sam Stewart

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