I don’t think many people would say no to a three month break in the Cook islands…FOR FREE! The only problem was that I had to partake in Shipwrecked 2008, What!? I didn’t even apply! But I was “headhunted” to be the resident survival expert on the Third island. Fair enough, better than being on the other two, with all that screaming, arguing, overplayed emotion and bog standard week-by-week format. The third island offered some sort of adventure. Fun and games come and go, but real experience? Having your own desert island you can turn into what ever you want? Hell yes! I wasn’t footing the £2000/week rent! I was going to make this place amazing with the help of my like-minded islanders. But enough of that crap, lets talk fish.
The best thing about the South Pacific is the abundance of piscine quality, as long as they don’t have ciguatera its ok…
Of the two incredible fish tastings out of three months, the first had to be the most dangerous, the venomous stonefish.
“The Stonefish is the most venomous fish in the world. Its dorsal area is lined with 13 spines that release a venomous toxin from two sacs attached to each spine. Its venom causes severe pain with possible shock, paralysis, and tissue death depending on the depth of the penetration. This level can be fatal to humans if not given medical attention within a couple of hours.” Thank you Wikipedia, in short this is not the kind of fish you want to chow down on. But quite honestly, that craving for flesh of some sort when you are starving makes you do some interesting things. The stonefish was a bastard to deal with. Firstly we had to catch it. Me, J-bone and Mike were on an afternoon stroll with the spear and stumbled upon one of these spine-packed-full-of-poison buggers, right near where we had are daily bathing sessions, in conclusion it had to be dispatched.
After a few failed attempts at spearing its cartilage clad head, we opted for the tail section and were gloriously rewarded with a stonefish on a stick. The typical dose of Cook islands dispatch- a machete to the head, and it was all over. This was one aspect of Polynesian culture I really warmed to; there is no namby-pamby “ooh but you might hurt it…what about how the animal is feeling?” I don’t give a fuck (pardon my French) I’m starving! This regrettably, is a fundamental problem with our culture and even though I sometimes buy my meat from the supermarket, I am well aware of where it’s come from.
After cutting out the fishes spine, removing venomous spines by means of a stick and a meat cleaver, removing its extremely ugly head and skinning it we were left with what could only be described as far as look and texture went, a monkfish tail. Now, stonefish, if you are lucky enough to come across one without stepping on it, are in fact a bit of an underground Pacific delicacy, according to some of our local boatmen. I wholeheartedly agree, it was amazing, we did boil it for at least 20 minutes (just to be on the safe side) and used my luxury item of curry powder to turn it into a meal, a fish that meaty could have come off the arse of a cow!
Speaking of Cook Island delicacies, the most incredible fish dish I have ever had, and will ever have, hands down is Ika mata. Imagine going to a restaurant, being told you can have anything off the menu after three months of hunting your own food and living off rice (and losing one and a half stone in the process!) I don’t think I have had a more memorable dish.
Technically, this is a Cook island version of ceviche. But it is sooooooo much better! If you are having some people around this summer for a bit of munch, then (you wanky ‘foodies’ out there take note) serve your guests this.
.Slice the fish into small cubes about 2cm squared. (For the UK use any sort of whitefish, sea bass is best).
.Marinade with the juice of 3 Limes, (the juice must just cover the fish cubes) for about 3-4 hours.
.Once the lime juice has soaked into the fish, the fish will turn to a white color and has ‘cooked’ the fish. Ceviche!
.Add finely chopped shallots, carrots, red & green peppers and salt and pepper.
.Mix well and pour over about 3-4 tbsp of coconut cream.
.Serve on a nice crisp bed of salad leaves, preferably if you grow your own and so you should!
So, did I learn anything from going on Shipwrecked 2008? Of course, the best fish dish on the planet and that was after eating 3 months of coconuts as snack food. You would be an absolute fool to be reading this and not try it for yourself, hake, coalie and mackerel are all good, sustainable options and they are all very well priced. If your feeling a bit pimp then hit Sea bass, it’s the best. This is certainly a very unique dish, you wont have had anything quite like it before. I could eat it every day, I wish I had then maybe I wouldn’t have lost so much weight! (see below!)