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3 Recipes That'll Have You Cooking Like a New Zealander

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August  8, 2017

What grows together, goes together! Food52 has partnered with Villa Maria Wine to bring our readers New Zealand-inspired recipes from the kitchen of a top Kiwi chef, paired with some food-friendly, approachable wines from New Zealand's family-owned Villa Maria.

Most wine drinkers have heard the food-and-wine pairing adage, “it goes with where it grows”—in other words, the best vinous complements to regional cuisines are wines made in that same region. We know that a red-sauce pasta is a great weeknight default when you’re opening a bottle of Chianti, but most of us don’t have that same immediate this-wine-goes-with-this-traditional-recipe connection with international New World wines. I have a lamb pie recipe I make when I open a good Australian shiraz, but as much as I adore New Zealand sauvignon blanc, I have never made a Kiwi-inspired meal with the wine as its centerpiece. Given how well suited sauvignon and other New Zealand wines are for the table, I’m not sure why this is.

Sauvignon blanc, which is primarily grown in Marlborough, on the South Island, accounts for over 85 percent of the wine that New Zealand exports. The character of Kiwi sauvignon blanc—brisk acidity, and pungent citrus, passionfruit, and herbaceous flavors—is unmistakable, so much so that when you order it you do so by both grape variety and region. It’s a natural match for seafood and salads, and is an al fresco lunch’s best weapon.

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While Sauvignon blanc is arguably New Zealand's best known wine, a variety of other wine grapes are grown there as well, including pinot gris, chardonnay, merlot, and syrah. The country’s balanced, savory pinot noirs are fast becoming favorites among American wine enthusiasts, and for good reason—they're typically affordable and approachable (unlike some Burgundy), moderately sized (unlike some California pinots), and complement meats, mushrooms, and even some fish.

The character of Kiwi sauvignon blanc is unmistakable, so much so that when you order it you do so by both grape variety and region.

New Zealand’s cuisine is a blend of Pacific Rim, European and native Māori influences and, to most Americans, it’s still pretty foreign. We have few familiar Kiwi chefs to learn from on TV or in cookbooks, and just as few places to sample authentic fare. There are just three restaurants in New York City serving New Zealand cuisine, and purportedly only one on the whole West Coast. When the latter, Aroha, opened in the Los Angeles area three years ago, “[customers] didn’t know what to expect,” admits Kiwi chef Gwithyen Thomas. “They thought the menu just had lamb on it. No one has even heard of New Zealand cuisine.”

Though the restaurant serves lamb, New Zealand’s most famous protein export, the signature dish that has Aroha’s guests coming back is Thomas’s venison, which is crusted with a peppery, native herb called horopito. Elk, too, is on the menu, as are Kiwi seafood delicacies such as Cloudy Bay clams and green-lipped mussels. It’s a point of pride for the Aroha chef that all of these “local” ingredients are flown in fresh from New Zealand.

I’m a mediocre home cook, and I get anxious rereading those last few sentences. I don’t know whether I’m more worked up about cooking with Kiwi proteins (no elk has ever graced our range, that’s for sure), or trying to source them. As it turns out, New Zealand ingredients are pretty easy to find if you know where to look. Thomas says that many upscale grocers stock New Zealand lamb and seafood, and even New Zealand vanilla beans (he uses the latter in both sweet and savory dishes).

But however much it feels like buying the “right” local ingredients legitimizes a home cook’s first foray into a new cuisine, capturing the spirit of the cuisine is what will make the meal sing. For Kiwi chefs, simplicity and quality are paramount: Thomas, for example, serves Hawaiian shrimp at his restaurant. “It’s my way of showing [customers] that you can get [shrimp] fresh,” not frozen, he says—his customers’ experience of tasting food in its best possible state trumps origin. Importing as many New Zealand delicacies as Thomas does is less, it seems, about it having a “grown in New Zealand” stamp than it is the chef’s confidence that his own purveyors offer the best possible quality.

Chef Thomas generously provided Food52 with three Aroha recipes that he’s adapted for use by home cooks: a Californian-inspired bouillabaisse chock full of shellfish and fish (from New Zealand if you can find it), a lamb loin with smoky purple potatoes, and a fresh strawberry salad with an unexpected vinaigrette (Food52’s Test Kitchen Chef played with the strawberry salad, swapping in pistachios and ricotta for the candied walnuts and goat cheese). "Every kid in New Zealand goes to camp during a school holiday, and I have this memory of roasted meat on an open fire, which I think a lot of New Zealand natives share," Thomas said. Purple potatoes are also huge in New Zealand, Thomas adds—they're called Maori potatoes there, and he says they're ancient.

These recipes are not always simple (there’s some wood smoking and bivalve scrubbing involved), but they are also not fussy, and they will go beautifully with—you guessed it—New Zealand wines. And if you can’t find fresh green-lipped mussels or New Zealand snapper, says Thomas, substitute with high-quality local ingredients. What’s important, he says, is to “just have fun and enjoy yourself while you’re cooking.” It must be the Kiwi way.

Classic New Zealand cuisine is hard to pinpoint as there are so many cultures in the country, says Villa Maria Wine's Executive Chef Rob Baxter. These recipes, and what to drink with them, will give you an introduction to it. Family-owned Villa Maria Wine is New Zealand's most-awarded winery and a leader in environmental sustainability.

Their Private Bin wines—like their sauvignon blanc, pinot noir, and rosé—are examples of how food-friendly and approachable New Zealand wines can be. Use Villa Maria’s store locator to find your nearest retailer.

1 Comment

judy August 9, 2017
I certainly prefer NZ and Australian lamb over the very anemic version that is American lamb. Hybridizing took out all the unique flavor that is lamb. Can barely taste it. I mostly buy local and American, but for lamb it is ALWAYS NZ or Australian. I would even buy mutton if I could find it. Much more flavorful and interesting.