All at sea

Linda Wheeler holding on to her Chatham Island prize
Linda Wheeler holding on to her Chatham Island prize

The beauty of living in Taranaki is the abundance of seafood available on your doorstep.

You can say the same for many New Zealand locations and it's really only a matter of getting up off your backside to gather enough for a decent feed - provided fish or shellfish are your go.

Even better is when people more skilled at fishing than you share a few fillets or spot you a cray. Even better again is when they invite you around for tea and cook it themselves.

Introduction to seafood came early in life down on the coast at Rahotu and was made easy by a weekly delivery.

Stan was the man in his refrigerated grey truck and he'd pull up to your gate with copious quantities of fresh fish. You could just about set your watch by him on a Friday, not that time was critical back in those youthful days. There was a plentiful supply of paua and mussels off the end of Kahui and Manahi roads at low tide as well.

But that was another era. More recently, while baching for a fortnight, a friend took pity and called with an invitation to tea - whitebait fritter entree, crayfish soup as a main and bread and butter pudding for dessert. A man thought he'd died and gone to heaven.

The cat scarpered as I bounded from the couch and a chair tipped over in a hasty grab at the car keys.

These were new season whitebait and I knew what to expect but crayfish soup was foreign territory. Fresh crayfish, crayfish mornay and crayfish fried in garlic butter - yes. But crayfish soup - no.

John and Linda Wheeler both dive in any spare time they get away from their horse training operations. They prefer them fresh but had one in the freezer to use in the soup.

"Fresh is best but a frozen cray (cooked prior to freezing) does the job nicely," chief chef Linda said.

There was another guest for dinner at the Wheelers' that night, a craggy bloke named Vern Trillo with a handshake you'd expect from a man who's a horse dentist by trade. But even he went limp when the menu was reeled off. "Ooohh, ooohh," was the best he could offer.

"The secret to the soup is to slightly undercook the crayfish," chief chef Linda said. "It cooks a little more once you mix it with all the vegetables and other ingredients. It should be perfect if you follow the instructions."

You'll find those at the end of the article and I'll be dead keen to have a go next time a cray flaps my way because it was a stunning meal.

As for dessert . . .suffice to say the bread and butter pudding was on a par with the ones me mum used to make.


Serves 4-6.

Slightly undercooked large cray (2-3kg)

2-3 medium potatoes, diced

4 stalks of chopped celery

2 onions, finely chopped

75g butter

5 Tbsp flour

1 tsp pepper

2-3 Tbsp hot English mustard

2 1/2 cups milk

2 cups grated tasty cheese

2 cans chopped tomatoes

chopped parsley for garnish

2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce

French bread stick

Boil enough water (preferably sea salted) in a large pot to half cover the cray body. Once boiling place the cray in and cook (steam) for 10 minutes with the lid on. Time depends on size. Allow to cool before removing flesh from the body.

While the cray is cooking boil 3-4 cups of water and add diced potatoes, chopped onions, celery and half the salt.

In a separate pot melt butter, add flour, remaining salt, pepper, mustard, a dash of Worcestershire sauce and milk. Cook and stir until the mixture thickens.

Add grated cheese and stir until melted.

Add all this to the pot with the veges and water, stir until smooth.

Chop crayfish body into pieces and add to "soup". As an option you can scrap in the yellow mustard from the crayfish body for extra flavour.

Add canned tomatoes and mix.

Taste to see if more seasoning is needed.

Serve in soup bowls garnished with chopped parsley and French bread.

Taranaki Daily News