Kahawai Cuisine by Shirley Burt

Kahawai Cuisine by Shirley Burt

Mention kahawai and most fishermen I will talk about them as a popular sport or game fish. However, many do not take them home for the table. Often this is because of pre-conceived ideas about them, rather than a dislike of the kahawai flavour. Here are some good tips on Kahawai Cuisine.

Widely distributed in coastal waters to about North Otago, kahawai can be taken on most conventional gear. They are usually trolled with lures or caught in set nets in river estuaries. On light gear they put up a memorable fight diving and zig-zagging and, because they are relatively plentiful, they are often the first species of fish caught by a child or new fisherman. It is then very disappointing, after having fought and landed a fair-sized fish, to be told it is only rubbish and not fit to eat. The reasons given are its dark colour, oily flesh and its scavenging habits. As kahawai mostly eat fish, their eating habits are no different from more popular species.

Kahawai is an important commercial species. In Australia, it is known as Salmon, Sea Salmon and Australian Salmon. In New Zealand, it is canned as Pacific Salmon and used in other forms of processed fish.

For the amateur fisherman to make a kahawai edible, it should be bled immediately after it is caught, either by cutting off its tail or slitting the throat and gill. Although kahawai grow to 75cm or more, the smaller ones are more palatable, their flesh being less coarse. Even more than other fish, the fresher they are eaten the better they taste. Kahawai fillets seem to toughen more quickly than those from white fish.

The larger fish can be filleted from backbone to belly, taking off just two fillets which are skinned to save scaling them. The little ones can be just gutted and butterfly filleted.

Suggested methods of cooking kahawai include barbeque, by placing skin side down over the fire, grill sprinkled with cayenne and grated cheese, minced so steamed and flaked for patties, minced and marinated in dark sauce and then cooked in recipes which usually contain beef mince.

Kilwell sells Manuka, Pohutukawa, Apple, Tawa, Beech and Hickory sawdust online. You can get 500g sample bags to try each one. You only need a handful or so of sawdust to impart the smoked flavour to fish using the hot smoking method. Kilwell Fish Smokers and Sawdust.

Smoking Kahawai and other fish

Smoking is a popular method for preparing kahawai as well as other fish. The fish can be either hot or cold-smoked. Using the hot smoke method the fish shouldn’t need extra cooking.

There are fish smokers on the market but it is not difficult to make one up.

For a cold smoker, the fire is in a separate chamber and only the smoke is channelled through the racks of fish. To hot smoke, the fire is in the base of the same chamber, under the fish. The fuel can be any type of sawdust from untreated native wood. Different woods give different flavours. Manuka and native birch are popular.

Peter Hardie’s fish smoker.

Before being placed in the smoker, the fish should be scaled and rubbed with a mixture of salt and brown sugar. Leaving the rib cage bones in the fillets helps hold them in shape. The smoking time varies with the type of smoker. Some experimenting is necessary but it is unlikely to take up to two hours.

Happily, it is no longer usual to see kahawai left on the beach for the birds to peck at. Although they are never going to be the favourite catch, with careful preparation they can be made into a meal that will make the fisherman proud.

Peter Hardie of Nelson suggested this simple smoker made from cheap, readily obtainable materials. It uses an old roasting dish with a lid, a cake cooler rack and a handful of manuka saw-dust.

Rub brown sugar into the fish and place it skin-side down on the rack.

Spread the sawdust in the dish under the rack of fish. Heat the covered roasting dish on an element or barbecue until the sawdust smoulders. Cook for 8 minutes and then remove the dish from the heat. Leave it covered for a further 6 minutes. Open the smoker outside. The fish is ready to eat. Perfect Kahawai Cuisine!

See also, Smoking Fish – How to prepare and cook fish by the hot or cold smoking methods

This post was last modified on 15/03/2024 10:00 pm

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