Wild About Kai

By Cuisine5 Minutes
March 20, 2023By Cuisine

Fisher and hunter Kaelah James takes freshly caught fish straight onto the fire and cooks wild food into delicious dishes.

 

Look at Kaelah James’ Instagram page and you see a capable, strong woman confidently inhabiting the wild outdoors: spear fishing in the ocean, shouldering a rifle to hunt in the bush with her whānau, skinning and butchering the catch. And cooking, always cooking, on a boat-back barbecue, over a live fire on the beach or back home over a fire pit in the backyard. And boy, she’s having so much fun!

The self-described ocean and land huntress realised that while there were lots of people hunting and showing off their haul, there were not many people who showed you what they were cooking with their catch. So, says Kaelah, the page is “me showcasing different ways to cook wild food”. A hunting trip in the bush might result in venison and wild boar miso sausage rolls with gochujang dipping sauce and peanut satay slaw, a bubbling Sri Lankan goat curry with coconut sambal and roti or cold-smoked venison shanks slow-cooked in beer gravy, topped with smoked havarti and packed into a pastry crust for a pie to die for. And there lies the point. “When you put that much effort into hunting your own food, you may as well cook it up as best as possible,” says Kaelah. “Not only to reward your efforts, but to pay respect to the animal’s life and complete the hunter-gatherer cycle.”

A recent move to Kaikōura sees Kaelah donning a wetsuit more than camo these days. And that means mouthwatering recipes for charcoal-cooked moki with tarragon cream, pāua gnocchi, kōura in kina butter, charred blue cod and perch collars with dill mayo, coconut-crumbed butterfish and barbecued tandoori tāmure with garlic yoghurt.

For Kaelah and her husband Mikaere it’s very much a family affair with hunting and fishing a way to demonstrate and teach valuable skills to their two boys (Kymani aged 9 and Kingston aged 7), as well as lots of laughs, pride and a good feed. The boys were in the outdoors before they could walk, says Kaelah, and Kymani started hunting at the age of five. “It teaches them respect and compassion for animals, patience, responsibility and self reliance. They know we only take an animal’s life to feed ourselves and our whānau. They know where food comes from. And it builds bonds as a family because out there you have to have confidence in one another.” Just look at the beaming smile and pride on Kymani’s face as he shows off the first octopus he caught, to see that these boys are having the time of their lives. (If you’re a bit squeamish, skip the picture of Dad despatching the octopus with a bite between the eyes.)

There’s a serious side, too, says Kaelah, explaining that pest control is a part of why they hunt. The areas around Kaikōura are riddled with deer and goats, she says, and if hunters don’t play a part the Department of Conservation will have to go in with 1080, a method that kills other animals and birds, too. “We don’t hunt for sport. Mainly it’s about getting organic meat that I can use to feed a lot of people.”

But back to the ocean and Kaelah’s account of a recent solo fishing trip. “I let out a bit of a squeal when I hauled this blue cod up from the depths – much to the disgust of some men in boats nearby, wondering what this woman was doing fishing by herself with no male supervision.” Capable. Strong. Confident. @kaelahs_wild_kai_kitchen TRACY WHITMEY