image liberated from William Owen's 'Hauraki Gulf - A fishing and cruising guide'
The latest iteration of the Best Fish guide app was released toward the end of last year and is a great roundup of which local species are terrible, bad, sortof-okay or good choices in terms of sustainability, management, and side effects like by-catch. It does a good job of simplifying a horrific tangle of information into one reference tool and also includes several interesting looking recipes. As usual I had a couple of options in mind when I hit the fish shop but since I was after one of the ‘better’ fish I was primarily looking for Kahawai. I was also on the lookout for squid and decided to double check its status and couldn’t find it. It took a few moments to realise that the alphabetical listing is very precise and squid can be found under A for Arrow Squid, as mussels can be found under G for Green Lipped Mussels. By this stage I was feeling rather conspicuous and in a move to be decisive I chose the first familiar fish in front of me and came home with Tarakihi, which falls somewhere between worst and 2nd worse choice depending on where it was caught. Oops, ah well… I’m keen as to try the following recipe with Kahawai, but in the meantime it has been great to test out the dish and add to my list of favourites.

tarakihi fillets

I like to diligently prepare every ingredient and have it all arranged mise en place on the counter before doing anything else and have come to realise that working from a book is the way to go. Having a recipe up on a laptop is okay provided you don’t have to key in a password with your fishy fingers to unlock the screen every 5 minutes …but working from a mobile phone is diabolical. Traversing the ingredient list required several scrolls and wasn’t clearly divided into sections corresponding to the method, so I got confused between the first and second calling for both parsley and a small onion. Crucially each small onion needs to be chopped differently.

I was looking for style guidelines to back up my theory and plucked out an often-referenced-but-less-than-often-cooked-from fave cookbook A Girl and Her Pig and searched for a recipe requiring two parts. I found ‘Lamb Meatballs With Yoghurt, Eggs, And Mint’ and like any good food nerd, sat there reading the recipe and thinking about it for 15 minutes.. …until I remembered that I was reading this for a reason and fell upon a centred alignment for ingredients. My primary taste-tester reckons left-align is better but concedes it is good to offer some relief and highlight the important parts of a recipe. In between reading that and publishing this I cooked the lamb meatballs and they were exceptional.

Anyway.. since the Best Fish app is freely available I presume it won’t ruffle any feathers to provide an annotated recipe in full below. The recipe is by Peta Mathias, who I have never heard of. Asking around I’m informed that I probably would have if I watched more TV. A cursory dive into the Internet tells me she’s a well travelled and colourful character, who has penned several titles that Im clearly not in the target demographic for. All I really know is this recipe is a winner.


Fish Ball Tagine

1kg Kahawai, Kingfish or Tarakihi fillets
(Ideally Kahawai, 6-700g should suffice for 3-4 servings)
Freshly ground black pepper
1t Sea salt
½t each ground ginger, paprika, cumin
1/4C Parsley, chopped
1/4C Fresh coriander, chopped
1 Small onion, finely diced
½C cooked rice or breadcrumbs
4T lemon juice

1 small onion, diced
2T Olive oil
1kg Ripe tomatoes, chopped
1 Capsicum, diced
½C Celery leaves, chopped
(do not try replacing the celery leaves with spinach. Bad move. Goes gross and grey)
2T Parsley, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1t Cumin
Sea salt (go easy – the dish was noticeably salty)
freshly ground black pepper
4 pinches Saffron, soaked in 1 cup boiling water for 30 mins

Black olives
Lemon wedges


Prepare the fish balls
Cube the fish then mince in a food processor. Place in a bowl and mix in the remaining fish ball ingredients. With wet hands form into little balls.

I made them 2-3cm wide. It took ages. You get in a rhythm, but nonetheless it takes time. Avoid finding yourself in a rush. Despite the leafy material and no binding ingredients, the mixture is really sticky and the balls stay together well even while being gently stirred in the sauce.

Create the sauce
In a large saucepan or tagine dish, saute onions in olive oil till golden then add all the other ingredients including the water the saffron has been soaking in. Simmer for 30 minutes until everything is soft.

Poach and serve
Gently poach the fish balls in the sauce for 10 minutes. Serve in shallow bowls with olives, lemon wedges and chunks of bread.

I cooked the fish balls in batches as I ran out of room. Use a big wide pot. At first the sauce seems thin but the fish balls lend a soupy flavour and consistency as they cook. I dropped the olives in the pot toward the end to warm and wrinkle them up a little.