It’s not a stretch to say that many of us would like to be somewhere else right now. I felt this acutely as I flipped through Analiese Gregory’s new cookbook How Wild Things Are: Cooking, Fishing and Hunting at the Bottom of the World.
The book is an escapist snapshot of Tasmania, an island located 240 kilometers off the southern coast of Australia — a place so far away, Gregory tells me, that life there is almost normal. “I’m really in love with Tasmania so I wanted to show that to other people,” Gregory says. “I came here for six months and four years later, I’m still here.” But while the envy-inducing photos of Gregory fishing, foraging, and cooking outside were shot entirely in Tasmania, the recipes take inspiration from all over.
“I wrote down a list of the things I always cook at home and always cook for friends, and some were Cantonese things from my childhood, some of them were things from London.” Gregory says. Accordingly, the book is divided into three parts: “New Zealand,” where Gregory was born, “Travels,” and “Tasmania.” For each of these, there’s a narrative section that traces Gregory’s path to life “at the bottom of the world,” including stints at restaurants across three continents, and a separate recipe section for the recipes related to these life events.
Those recipes run the gamut from crowd-pleasing gougères and mulberry clafoutis to more ambitious fare. “I’ve cooked them all in my house in the worst oven I’ve ever owned,” Gregory explains. “ But obviously because I am a chef, some of the things I would cook at home for a dinner party might be more technical.” And given Gregory’s remote location, there are other dishes that may reside squarely in the realm of inspiration for American home cooks, like possum sausages or wallaby tartare with beetroot, radicchio, and pepperberry.
“When I was in America last, so many people were asking me questions about Tasmania and were really intrigued by us,” Gregory says. “So I was like, maybe it would be good for them to really see what it’s like and see what the produce is like because it seems so exotic and far away.” Tasmania might seem farther away than ever right now, and while cooking with How Wild Things Are won’t bring it any closer, it makes part of the fantasy of travel — experiencing the food of a place — real, if only for a moment.
The smoked trout recipe below comes from the New Zealand section of the book and feels very much of that place, but it would work just as well being cooked and served stateside (with just a couple modifications).
Brown Sugar-cured Hot Smoked Trout
Once a year growing up, my family would decamp to Lake Taupo for trout season. This involved some atrociously bad fly fishing, sitting in rocky thermal heated streams and eventually taking a charter on the lake to actually catch some fish. As a 14-year-old interested in cooking, I smoked out many hotel rooms and set off countless fire alarms trying to smoke fish for my family. This is the method I use now, at work and at home. Once you get a feel for cooking the fish, it becomes a truly enjoyable thing to make.
100 grams (3½ ounces) fine sea salt
100 grams (3½ ounces) brown sugar
500 gram (1 pound 2 ounces) whole rainbow or brown trout, gutted and scaled
Step 1: In a bowl, mix the salt and sugar thoroughly. Sprinkle some into a tray. Put the clean fish down on top, then open the cavity and evenly sprinkle the inside with the curing mix. Pat the rest on top, then cover and refrigerate the fish for 12 hours or overnight.
Step 2: Wash the cure off the fish, pat dry and leave on a tray in the fridge so the skin can dry, approximately 6 hours.
Step 3: Preheat a smoker to 60°C (140°F) and use your choice of wood chips. In New Zealand, we would often use manuka, a native variety of tea tree. Once the chips are smoking and the chamber is preheated, lay the fish on an oiled rack (this will be important for removing it after). I cook it to an internal temperature of 58°C (136°F) so it is still extremely moist and the protein is just set, but you can take it higher if that is your preference.
I have also done this many times in an oven. Just preheat to 58°C (136°F), get a small tray of wood chips smoking and slide it into the bottom of the oven while your fish is in there.
Recipe excerpted with permission from How Wild Things Are by Analiese Gregory, published by Hardie Grant Books February 2021, RRP $29.99 Hardcover.