While researching typical food from different cultures, I saw that Polynesia has a type of ceviche (raw fish) with coconut milk. I’m nuts for South American ceviche, so Polynesia rose to the top of my list so that I could try this mythical substance. Polynesia consists of thousands of tiny islands, including the countries of Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu and New Zealand, literally in the middle of nowhere (and the middle of the Pacific Ocean). Being pacific islands, a lot of their food is based around seafood, root vegetables, fruits and coconut. So. Much. Coconut. I really like coconut, but I have to say, after this week, I was looking forward to coconut and me agreeing to see other people.
This was slow-cooked large octopus with plantains, baked yams, and salads. Buying and cooking the massive octopus was pretty gnarly, but the meat ended up very tender and delicious after cooking for hours on low in a frying pan. I suspect it would be great to take this meat and then flash-bbq it with lemon to crisp up the outsides, but alas, I was hungry, so it was not to be. Apparently the only ways to cook octopus are either for a minute on extreme heat, or hours on low heat, and anything in between gets you a chewy, leathery texture. I haven’t been game to test this assertion for myself, but the two extremes seem to work for me. I look forward to trying my idea of slow cooking, then bbqing octopus; I think it would result in the best of both worlds! (Or maybe total disaster… isn’t cooking exciting?)
One of the things I like about Polynesian food is the simplicity of ingredients and methods. I think sometimes more is less with food, and a sparsity of ingredients can foster wonderful focus on quality and balance of ingredients. Lu moa is one of these dishes with few ingredients and simple techniques, namely chicken, onion, yams, ginger, kale leaves and, of course, coconut milk, cooked in an underground oven traditionally. I cheated and cooked mine in a the oven in covered ramekins, which I like to think achieved an acceptable facsimile, with far less digging.
Oka ita is the source of my Polynesian excitement; made with raw mahi mahi, lots of lime juice, cucumber, some chilli, capsicum, tomatoes and coconut milk. I served it with lettuce and baked sweet potato slices. The idea of eating fish this way is that the acid component (in this case lime, but could also be vinegar or lemon) “cooks” the fish without heat. The fish actually does go a white colour as if it’s being cooked, because its proteins denature in high acidity, just like in heat. You therefore need to buy very fresh, good quality fish, because the middle can still be a little raw (although not too much). This was delicious, but I think the Peruvians are still the undisputed champions of ceviche, so if you’re gearing up to try this sort of preparation for the first time, I would start there.
This one isn’t exceptionally traditional, but I was hankering for a salad this week after all of that confit duck, and most of these ingredients seem to be available in Polynesia, so I’m sure they’ve had the same idea at some point, right? I added lettuce, pineapple, bananas, carrot, kale, with a ginger and coconut dressing. I’m a big fan of fruit in salad, so it hit all the high notes for me.