As well as delicious pawpaw and pineapples, innovative food and flavour combinations were a highlight of a trip to the Cook Islands'.
We were on a surprise birthday trip to Aitutaki, the gem nominated by the founder of the Lonely Planet travel guide as "the world's most beautiful island". A bonus surprise for me was the innovative food and flavour combinations of the cuisine at the Pacific Resort Aitutaki.
A prime Cook Islands' attraction, Aitutaki is a 45-minute flight from Rarotonga. My husband and I have travelled extensively in the Pacific and always enjoy the fresh tropical delights of pawpaw, pineapples, bananas and coconuts plus the abundant local seafood. But it is not often we've discovered such artistic food presentation and delicate flavour choices as those created by the 28-year-old executive chef, Afifud Dean.
It began with our initial lunch at the beachside Black Rock Cafe. Burgers, sandwiches and salads were on the menu but it was the sashimi platter and the steamed dim sum basket that attracted our attention. Waiting for our meals, we watched the staff delivering elegant burgers to the next-door table and wondered if we'd made the best choice. However, we relished the lightness of Afifud's interpretation of our choice of staple Japanese dishes.
Dinner at the resort's Rapare Bay restaurant which overlooks the spectacular lagoon was equally as inventive: tempura chicken with grilled watermelon and pineapple; local wahoo with sauteed asparagus drizzled with lemon and lime; a vegetable tart of local spinach with mushrooms, caramelised shallots and fresh basil; or oriental duck rolls with fresh coriander sauce.
The piece de resistance of a special birthday degustation dinner was the dessert, Tears of Joy – a hollow teardrop of blue ice surrounding a cube of mango and Baileys pate, a slice of dried lime, a dollop of icecream and cubes of caramelised banana. It was the most remarkable dessert I've ever been served.
CHICKEN & SNAKE BEAN STIR-FRY
Based on a lunch dish from the Pacific Resort's beachside Black Rock Cafe.
Sauce: 4 Tbsp oyster sauce
2 Tbsp fish sauce
1 Tbsp brown sugar
200g chicken fillet or skinned and boned chicken breast
4 tsp sesame oil
freshly ground salt and black pepper to taste
1 small egg, lightly beaten
6 Tbsp cornflour
oil for deep frying
Stir-fry: 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, halved, cut into wedges
6-8 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 Tbsp thinly sliced ginger
100g snake beans or round beans cut into 5cm lengths
1/2 cup coriander leaves and stalks, chopped
1 spring onion, finely sliced
1 Tbsp butter
Garnish: 1 tsp sesame seeds Combine the sauce ingredients in a small jug.
Cut the chicken into strips. Marinate in the combined sesame oil, salt, pepper, egg and cornflour for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat the oil for deep-frying. Fry the chicken for a few minutes until the coating is cooked and lightly golden. Drain on paper towels.
Heat a wok over high heat. Add the olive oil. Stir-fry the onion, garlic and ginger for 2 minutes, until the onion has softened. Add the chicken. Stir-fry for 1 minute then add the sauce mixture, snake beans, coriander, spring onion and butter. Heat through.
Serve garnished with sesame seed. Superb served with jasmine rice. Serves 2.
BAKED CHICKEN WITH PAWPAW
One of my favourite tropical dishes, this chicken is a winner with family and friends.
6 large chicken portions
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup flour
2-3 Tbsp canola oil
Sauce: 1 ripe, medium-sized pawpaw
1 cup orange juice
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 Tbsp each: arrowroot, soy sauce.
Preheat the oven to 180C.
Place the chicken in a large plastic bag. Season the flour well and add to the bag. Shake the chicken until well coated. Shake off the excess. Place in a large oiled baking pan.
Brush the top of the chicken with oil. Bake for about 45 minutes, until cooked and crisp and golden on the outside.
Meanwhile, prepare the sauce. Peel and seed the pawpaw. Cut into cubes.
Combine the juice, sugar, arrowroot and soy sauce in a saucepan. Bring to a simmer, stirring constantly. Cook until thick. Remove from the heat and add the pawpaw. Spoon the sauce over the chicken and serve. Serves 6.
COCONUT ICECREAM WITH ORANGE BANANAS
One cup of long thread coconut could be substituted for the fresh coconut. Toast in the oven, until golden.
Coconut icecream: 1/2large coconut
1 litre vanilla icecream
Bananas: 2 Tbsp butter
4 small ripe bananas, cut into chunks
2 Tbsp sugar
2-3 Tbsp orange-flavoured liqueur
1/4 cup fresh orange juicePreheat the oven to 170C. Place the coconut in the oven for about 20 minutes. Scoop out the flesh and thinly slice with a potato peeler. Spread the coconut on a baking tray and brown in the oven. Once nicely browned (but not burnt), chop very finely. Cool.
Soften the icecream slightly then mix with the coconut and return to the freezer.
To prepare the bananas, melt the butter in a small pan. Add the bananas and sugar. Saute until the sugar starts to caramelise. Pour in the liqueur, warm slightly, then flame. Add the orange juice and serve immediately. Serves 4-6.
CHILLI LIME SQUID
This is my take on a delicious tangy squid recipe from Rarotonga's Sue Curruthers' cookbook South Seas Cuisine. Sue is the owner of the award-winning Tamarind Restaurant at Tupapa, Rarotonga.
Sauce: 1 Tbsp each: soy sauce, fish sauce
2 tsp brown sugar
juice and finely grated rind 1 lime
1/2 cup water
2 tsp arrowroot
freshly ground black pepper to taste
Squid: 400g squid rings
2 Tbsp each: olive oil, grated root ginger
1 tsp each: crushed chilli, crushed garlic
1/2 cup chopped coriander leaves and stalks.
Combine the sauce ingredients.
Wash and pat dry the squid. Heat the oil in a wok. Stir-fry the squid, root ginger, chilli, garlic and coriander for 1 minute. Stir in the sauce mixture and cook for 2 minutes. Add coriander.
- © Fairfax NZ News