The doors opened and a rush of fresh salty air flooded the bus. I was instantaneously in love. We arrived into Kaikoura after a very long 7hr drive from Rangatata. Kaikoura to me, is Wanaka’s big sister. Both as relaxed and gorgeous as the other but where Wanaka has the mountains meeting a giant lake, Kaikoura has the mountains flowing down to the ocean with an abundance of sea life. It is captivating. The drive into Kaikoura is alongside towering rock cliffs with the occasional tunnel carved through the rock face making you think thin as you pass through. It gives you the sense that you are going to some secret village and in a sense you are, when the first European Whaling station was founded in 1843 the only way to reach it was by boat before the main road was put in.
The ocean is Kaikoura’s playground, with the main draw being the local wildlife. I had whale watching booked for the following morning so my first afternoon there I thought I would try my hand at fishing. Unfortunately, Gerry, our fisherman, decided it was too rough to take us out so he set two of his fishermen out to collect us some live Crayfish. Kaikoura, translated from Mauri literally translates to eat crayfish and that is exactly what we did that night.
Crayfish brought in, we were told to meet the crew at Gerry’s house where we would start the evening with some local wine, Brie, crackers, fresh sashimi and crisps with a supposedly very New Zealand dip and most importantly learn how to cook Crayfish. None of us were complaining. Gerry welcomed us with open arms into his 60’s style home, ushering us through into his back garden where we chatted away, met the locals who had dropped by to jump in on the feast and waited for the two fishermen to suffocate the catch. Which is horrible but I think it is better than what is normally done with lobsters and just pop them into boiling water.
Crayfish are strangely beautiful creatures with hues of purple and red on their shells, as if speckled by paint and two large spears instead of the large pincers that their cousin the lobster has. We were told how they’re fished, and how to tell the difference between males and females so that if we were fishing them and caught a female carrying eggs we would know to throw it back. Then we were asked to choose a crayfish and bestow them with the name of a person who wasn’t our favourite person in the world and then with all the conviction of fevered church goer cry their name and put John Doe into the steam pot. It felt a bit like an odd therapy session sharing war stories and everyone else giving you their good riddance.
Onto cooking, there are several ways you can cook a crayfish. You can flay them and then BBQ them smothering them with garlic butter and herbs, boil them or do them how we did – steam them. Steamed, they take about 10-15 minutes and then they become very red. Once they were steamed we hung them tail side up to drain the excess water out and then began our lesson on preparation.
- Step 1: Take the crayfish and flip it onto its back
- Step 2: With a sharp knife cut somewhat on an angle from top to tail. You should be able to crack open the shell at this point and take the tail meat out quite easily. This will allow you to take out the lower intestine or as were told the “poo cord” which runs diagonally through the tail.
- Step 3: Clean out its innards. Although you can eat the gizzard if you wish, we were told it’s not very tasty.
- Step 4: Snap off the legs and tuck in.
Somehow, we managed to consume 18 crayfish, and a good bit of delicious local organic wine. By the end of the evening I am not sure whether I was drunk on wine or crayfish.
It was a fantastic evening and it only got better as we walked back to our hostel stopping for chips and a scrumptious salted caramel ice cream from Poppy’s Real Home Made Ice Cream. A cooking lesson, great food and the opportunity to spend the evening talking to some genuine salt of the earth New Zealanders
New Zealand Crisp Dip: To make the New Zealand dip, which also went really well with the crayfish, mix together one tub of reduced cream or sour cream, one packet of onion soup mix and fresh parsley or dill.