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New Zealand Modern

Auckland chef Tony Astle takes local ingredients to the delicious cutting edge

Harvey Steiman
Posted: October 4, 2001

  Tempura and Seaweed-Fried Oysters on a Crab and Capsicum Salad  
  Tuna and Scallops With a Lime Butter Reduction
(pictured above)
  Venison Back Steaks With Eggplant Sauté and a Light Chocolate Sauce  
  Grilled Nectarines and Raspberries With Noble Riesling Bavarois  
  More of Harvey Steiman's Food and Wine Recipes  
  New Zealand Tasting Report  

New Zealand, a group of islands in the Pacific Ocean, has 9,000 miles of coastline, so it's no surprise that New Zealanders eat a lot of seafood. It also has mountains home to grazing sheep -- the joke is that sheep outnumber humans by about 20 to 1 -- which means that lamb plays a major role in their cuisine, too. Lately, venison farms have begun to make inroads on the lamb flocks.

For the most part, New Zealanders eat food that most Americans might find plain. But chef Tony Astle has been finding creative options with his countrymenís palette of ingredients for 28 years. He is one of the most inventive chefs in a country that is just now awakening to the possibilities of a real cuisine.

"We like to think it's New Zealand modern," offers Astle, whose 65-seat restaurant, Antoine's, is in a chic neighborhood in Auckland, the country's largest city. "The good thing about New Zealand is that we can get fantastic ingredients. I do like Asian ingredients and they find their way into my food. But I gravitate toward France, and we now have all the ingredients you could want for French cuisine."

Astle is especially fond of lamb, which New Zealand exports by the thousands of tons, and wild venison (more flavorful than the farmed variety), which is becoming increasingly available to chefs. The only item he can't get is foie gras, which New Zealand has banned, citing cruelty to the ducks and geese.

For this menu, Astle focused on ingredients that American cooks could find easily, and would at the same time give a feel for his culinary style. First comes an oyster dish; Astle believes New Zealand produces some of the best seafood on earth. Raw oysters are not particularly popular in New Zealand, so Astle must find interesting ways to cook them. This dish uses a tempura batter with thin strips of nori, the seaweed wrap familiar to sushi-eaters, frying the oysters just long enough to get the coating crisp, but not cooking them through. Astle serves them in ceramic Chinese spoons, with the oysters over a simple crab salad made from fresh-pulled crab mixed with red, yellow and green peppers, a little vinaigrette and citrus oil.

Tuna and Scallops With a Lime Butter Reduction combines a barely seared tuna steak with whole scallops and sea urchin roe. A pungent lime butter sauce adds a lively grace note to the dish, created for a special dinner that featured the wines of Kumeu River. "Whenever [Kumeu River winemaker Michael] Brajkovich had dinner here, he would order either tuna or scallops, and sometimes kina [the Maori word for sea urchin roe]. So I figured, oh well, I would just put it all together on the same plate." When urchin roe is unavailable, Astle suggests finishing the dish with salmon caviar instead.

The next course features rare venison slices over an eggplant sauté that Astle calls a "pickle" because it has vinegar in the mixture. "Ordinarily, the pickle has chilies in it, but that's too spiky for wine," he says. "I did this version without the chilies. Our venison is naturally very sweet, and the eggplants are sort of bland, which makes them a good partner." Chocolate adds a smoothness and velvetiness to the sauce, much like it does in a Mexican mole. "That bit of chocolaty taste lends itself to a wider range of wines," says the chef.

For dessert, the idea of topping baked white nectarines with raspberries came to Astle when both ingredients were within easy reach while he was driving around after shopping for them. (If nectarines are out of season, Astle suggests poaching small pears in white wine as a substitute. The wine connection works either way.)

These dishes all share a penchant for direct flavors, uncomplicated by fancy preparation techniques. New Zealand wines, with their lively structures and brisk flavors, tend to follow the same recipe. Not surprisingly, they make ideal matches.

Tempura and Seaweed-Fried Oysters on a Crab and Capsicum Salad

  • 18 freshly shucked plump Pacific oysters
  • All-purpose flour for dusting the oysters
  • Oil for deep frying
  • Tempura batter (recipe follows, or use a mix)
  • 2 sheets nori (Japanese seaweed wrap) cut into long thin strips
  • Crab Salad (recipe follows)
  • Lemon wedges for garnish

Dry the oysters with a paper towel, then dust with flour. Shake off the excess (best done in a sieve).

Heat the oil for deep frying to 375 degrees F.

Gently stir the nori into the prepared batter. Drop the floured oysters 3 at a time into the batter to coat well and then deep fry them for 30 seconds to 1 minute, just enough to set the batter. Remove the oysters from the oil and drain them well.

To serve, place a little crab salad on 18 Chinese spoons (3 spoons per serving) and arrange them on a plate with lemon wedges for garnish. Refry oysters to a golden brown. Drain well and place on the crab-filled spoons. Serves 6.

Tempura Batter
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup ice water
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour

Mix the egg with the ice water in a bowl until very smooth. Gently mix in the flour to make a thin batter. Let it stand in the refrigerator for 30 minutes before using.

Crab Salad

  • 10 ounces freshly pulled crab meat
  • 1/2 each red, yellow and green bell pepper, finely chopped
  • 4 teaspoons lemon-infused oil
  • 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • Salt and white pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients together and chill.

Tuna and Scallops With a Lime Butter Reduction

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 fresh tuna steaks, 4 to 6 ounces each
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 24 fresh scallops
  • 1 cup fish stock or light chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • Juice of 3 small limes
  • 1 stick butter, cut into pats and kept chilled
  • 3 tablespoons lime-infused oil (optional) or plain olive oil
  • 12 sea urchin roe sacs (fresh) or 6 tablespoons salmon caviar

Note: Sea urchin roe is available from Japanese markets; it is served in sushi bars.

Using a large, heavy-bottomed pan, pour in 1 tablespoon olive oil and, over high heat, bring it to the smoking point. Season the tuna with a little salt and freshly ground white pepper. Sear the tuna for about 20 seconds on both sides. Keep the steaks warm in an oven set to very low heat.

Dry the scallops with a paper towel. Heat the remaining olive oil to the smoking point, and toss the scallops in the pan over moderate heat until they are just warmed through. Set aside in the oven at very low heat.

Wipe the pan clean and raise the heat under it to high. Pour in the stock, white wine and lime juice. Bring the mixture to a boil and reduce it by one-third. Whisk in the cold butter and lime-infused oil. Keep whisking until the liquid boils. The sauce will not become very thick, but will hold together. Taste for seasoning (salt and pepper) and set to one side.

To serve, place one tuna steak on each serving plate. Top each one with 4 scallops and 2 fresh urchin roe sacs (or 1 tablespoon salmon caviar). Reheat the sauce if needed, whisking continuously. Pour a little sauce on each plate. Serves 6.

Venison Back Steaks With Eggplant Sauté and a Light Chocolate Sauce

  • 6 venison back steaks, about 6 ounces each (completely trimmed)
  • Oil for searing
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 3/4 cups venison or beef stock
  • 3 teaspoons tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup red vermouth
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon dark chocolate
  • Eggplant Sauté (recipe follows)

Put a little oil in a heavy-bottomed sauté pan and bring it to the smoking point. Season the venison steaks with salt and pepper. Sear the venison steaks on both sides, then place in a 325 degrees F oven to rest while finishing the sauce.

Pour off the oil from the pan, then add the stock. Whisk in the tomato paste and reduce by half. Add the vermouth, the garlic and the dark chocolate. Keep whisking to melt the chocolate and reduce to a thin, coating consistency.

To serve, heat the eggplant sauté in a pan or in the microwave oven. Slice the venison steaks thinly. The meat should not be cooked more than medium rare. Place a mound of eggplant sauté on individual serving plates. Arrange the venison on top. Pour the sauce around the outside of the venison. Serves 6.

Eggplant Sauté
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 2 large eggplants, julienned
  • 2 cloves garlic, julienned
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 teaspoons fennel seeds
  • 3 green onions, sliced fine
  • 3 tablespoons tomato concassée (i.e., skinned, seeded and finely chopped)
  • 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup water

Make this at least a day in advance to let the flavors mellow. Heat the oil in a large sauté pan to its smoking point. Drop in the eggplant and sauté until it is cooked, tossing frequently. Add a little more oil if the eggplant is too dry and catches on the bottom of the sauté pan.

Add the garlic and salt and pepper. Cook for about another minute. Remove mixture from pan and spread it onto a flat shallow pan. Sprinkle with fennel seeds, green onions and tomato concassé. Let cool for about 5 minutes, then sprinkle with the vinegar and water. Mix carefully. Transfer to a container and keep refrigerated until required.

Grilled Nectarines (Or Pears) and Raspberries With Noble Riesling Bavarois

  • 6 sweet, ripe nectarines (halved and pitted) or 6 small pears
  • 1 pint fresh raspberries
  • Powdered sugar
  • Noble Riesling Bavarois (recipe follows)

Note: If using pears, peel and core them, halve them lengthwise and simmerthem in wine and sugar plus enough water to cover just until a knife slides into them easily, 10 to 25 minutes. Let them cool in the syrup. Do not precook nectarines.

Place the nectarines or pears on a baking pan, cut-side up. Dust them generously with powdered sugar and bake in 350 degree F oven until the fruit starts to soften (approximately 15 minutes).

Remove the pan from the oven and pile the raspberries into the cavity of the nectarines. Dust with more powdered sugar and place the fruit under a broiler until the raspberries warm and the sugar starts to caramelize.

To serve, place 2 pieces of warm nectarine on each serving plate. Turn the Noble Riesling Bavarois onto the plate. Decorate as you like, and serve. A little sweetened cream or plain crème Anglaise may be served with this. Serves 6.

Noble Riesling Bavarois
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream, whipped to soft peaks
  • 1/2 cup late-harvest Riesling
  • 2 tablespoons sugar

In a mixing bowl, beat the egg yolks and sugar until thick and creamy. Fill another large bowl with ice and set it aside.

In a small pan, mix the gelatin with the dessert wine to soften, then heat it gently until the gelatin dissolves. Whisk the wine-gelatin mixture into the egg yolks and sugar. Pour this mixture into a thick-based pot and stir over low heat to thicken, until it coats the back of a spoon.

Transfer the mixture to a stainless bowl and set it into the bowl of ice. Continue to mix with a whisk with the bowl in the ice until the mixture cools and starts to set.

Fold in the lightly whipped cream. Ladle the mixture into 6 small, oiled ramekins and place them in the refrigerator to chill thoroughly, about 3 hours.

Wine Suggestions

In this regular feature, editor at large Harvey Steiman creates fresh and original menus, then matches them with wines that Wine Spectator has recommended or with other wines that have aged well. Other wines may be suitable, but try those listed here if you can. Alternate choices are given in case the first choice is unavailable.

Tempura and Seaweed-Fried Oysters on a Crab and Capsicum Salad

First choice: Giesen Riesling Canterbury Reserve Selection 1998 (91, $19)

Alternate choices: Omaka Springs Riesling Marlborough 2000 (90, $12), Allan Scott Riesling Marlborough 1999 (89, $14)

Tuna and Scallops With a Lime Butter Reduction

First choice: Kumeu River Chardonnay Kumeu 1999 (92, $22)

Alternate choices: Villa Maria Chardonnay East Coast Private Bin 1999 (88, $12), Coopers Creek Chardonnay Hawkes Bay 1999 (88, $14)

Venison Back Steaks With Eggplant Sauté and a Light Chocolate Sauce

First choice: Babich Merlot Hawkes Bay Gimblett Road Vineyard 1999 (90, $18)

Alternate choices: Kim Crawford Merlot Hawkes Bay Te Awanga 1999 (86, $22), Te Awa Farm Merlot Hawkes Bay Longlands 1999 (85, $16)

Grilled Nectarines (or Pears) and Raspberries With Noble Riesling Bavarois

First choice: Jackson Riesling Marlborough Botrytis Single Vineyard 1999 (93, $25)

Alternate choices: Cairnbrae Riesling Marlborough Noble 2000 (87, $18), Giesen Noble School Road Late Harvest Canterbury 1999 (85, $17)

For the complete article, please see the Oct. 15, 2001, issue of Wine Spectator magazine, page 110. (
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