Cooking in the Tuamotus, Part 2: Octopus salad and Fish carpaccio
Besides coconuts, the main item on the Paumotus diet is seafood. Fish, lobsters, octopus and crabs are all available inside and outside the lagoons, and every local we met is a practised fisherman (or woman). Each visit at Laiza’s kitchen in Hirifa, would bring a surprise: freshly caught lagoon fish turned into carpaccio or an octopus silly enough to swim in front of the house speared and thrown into a coconut curry sauce… This latter one had a twin suffering the same fate, and Laiza offered it to me with the advice to beat it well first, boil until tender THEN cut into pieces and add to the sauce. The expression on Terry’s face when I returned to the boat with my booty was priceless, so was Marc’s when I allocated him the task of tenderising the beast.
Unable to fish outside the reef, due to unkind weather, we decided we would try our luck with a simple hand line from the back of the boat. With great hesitation I handed terry and the kids cheese and salami bits (you have no idea how precious snacks they are on our boat!), and amazingly all sort of lagoon fish were caught: parrot fish, emperors, groupers, amberjacks…Thus became our ritual: the fish would be caught, cleaned and scaled in the evening, I would take a photo and would ask Laiza’s advice in the morning as to its eating suitability. Ciguatera poisoning is a major concern in the islands. It is caused by consumption of tropical fish that have fed on a special algae and affects human’s nervous system. Symptoms include nausea, numbness and other unpleasantness, and it can be fatal. Not all atolls are affected by ciguatera, and why one is plagued and not another 10 miles further, is a mystery. In doubt, it is best to ask the locals, who always know if an otherwise perfectly edible fish is safe to eat or no. Luckily for us, the southern end of Fakarava was free of the disease, so we happily consumed all our fish! Grilled, poached, tartare, and my absolute favourite, carpaccio!
Here are 2 of my favourite seafood dishes, perfect examples of “lagoon to table” cuisine.
This dish reminds me of the first time I tasted octopus marinated in olive oil, it was while cruising in Portugal 10 years ago. A little taste of the Med in the Pacific…
Serves 4-6 as a starter
1 kg octopus, cleaned
1 red (Spanish) onion, thinly sliced
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 red capsicum, chopped
1/3 cup (90 ml)extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup ( 60 ml) lemon juice
1 clove garlic, chopped
½ tsp dried oregano
¼ tsp salt
Freshly ground pepper
- Place octopus in a large saucepan and cover with water. Bring to the boil and simmer 30 minutes or until tender. Drain and cool.
- Transfer octopus in a large bowl with onion, celery, and red capsicum. Pour in oil, juice, garlic, oregano, salt and pepper and mix well. Marinate salad for at least 30 minutes in the fridge before serving.
Carpaccio of fish lagoon fish
Laiza in Hirifa, makes a deliciously simple fish carpaccio with fresh fillets of parrot fish thinly sliced and laced with olive oil, rock salt, wafer-thin slices of tomatoes and cucumber. This is my version with the daily catch of emperor, and a Med-inspired dressing. I could eat this all day, everyday!
Serves 4 as a starter
500g fresh fish fillet (parrot, emperor, grouper, …)
2 tsp capers, chopped finely
2 small gherkins, chopped finely
2 pickled onions (from the gherkins mix, is OK), chopped finely
1 tbsp parsley, chopped finely
1 clove garlic, crushed
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground pepper
- Place the fish fillets in the freezer for 30mn. It will firm them up and make it easier to slice. Slice the fillets with a very sharp knife, as thinly as possible. Arrange on a large platter.
- Combine capers, gherkins, picled onions, parlset, garlic and olive oil in a bowl. Mix well. Pour over the fish. Chill in the fridge 30mn before serving.