Al Brown, tireless advocate for fresh regional food,
found many New Zealand regional specialties in his television
series Get Fresh. Now the book is out, with more stories,
information and recipes than in the series. Charmian Smith
talks to the Wellington chef.
Al Brown shows off fresh fish available at the Dunedin
Farmers Market. Photo supplied.
Al Brown came to Dunedin in March thinking of cold weather,
haggis, oatmeal and root vegetables, but found summer
berries, peaches and plums along with winter vegetables, such
as kale and cavolo nero at the market.
He was researching and filming for his book and television
series, Get Fresh, exploring New Zealand's provinces and
"The show opened up to me the regionality of the country and
how they are very specialised. I am always blown away by what
is grown in each region - whether it is in the Far North or
Central Otago or anywhere in between," he said.
He was surprised to find watermelon, rock melons and
Charentais melons growing in Canterbury, tropical fruit such
as bananas and pineapples in the Far North, and, in Dunedin,
the winter brassicas alongside late-summer fruit.
His first stop in each region was the local farmers market
and he has come to the conclusion that the Otago Farmers
Market in Dunedin is the best in the country.
"The community's behind it supporting the growers and it
thrives. I stood there and watched; the diversity of people
walking round that market was extraordinary, from students
with a little bit of money working out what they were going
to buy, to those whose visit was obviously ingrained in their
weekly routine, and the pleasure is immense. It was raining
the whole time we were there and it was full of umbrellas. I
guess that shows you the character of the people," he said.
He treated farmers markets like a window on the province then
he would search out other producers.
In Dunedin he visited Southern Clams; in Riverton he found
Robert and Robyn Guyton, who save and graft heirloom
varieties of apples in their "food forest" of heritage
plants; in Central he shot his own rabbits to make rabbit
rillettes, a type of paté.
"You can celebrate the obvious in the provinces - if you're
in Marlborough it's sauvignon blanc and mussels, but if you
look a bit deeper, they are growing products like pinenuts
and almonds and saffron and sustainably harvesting the Cloudy
Bay clams. You are constantly uncovering these little jewels
that to me are more exciting to show the rest of New Zealand
the diversity," he said.
Brown grew up in Wairarapa although he hasn't lived there for
Al Brown's Get Fresh book.
"It filled me with pride going back there. I've always
looked at the Wairarapa as a bit rough and ready, a sort of
rough diamond compared to Hawkes Bay and Manawatu, but to go
back and see how far it had come as a region with Martinborough
and the wine growing and people diversifying away from just
sheepmeat and cattle - I think that's part of it."
He thinks farmers markets and supporting and eating local
makes perfect sense.
"If we are adamant about flavour - and I think as a country
we are certainly embracing and celebrating great olive oil or
great sauvignon blanc or great pinot noir - the only way we
can get the true flavour and best tasting anything is to eat
close to the source and as fresh as possible. When you cook
something as simple as a cob of corn that's been picked that
day with lashings of butter and a pinch of salt, your eyes do
roll back in your head," he said.
"I think there's a certain amount of warmth and happiness in
a market and there's the smells and kids running round and
there's laughter and it's a place where you feel you are
supporting great producers and connecting with your
"You are catching up with friends and learning about the
"When you meet the people behind the product it somehow
tastes better and you spread the love and tell the story -
you met the woman who grew this rhubarb and for some reason
and probably it's true, the rhubarb tastes sweeter. There's a
story behind it all."
Littleneck clam and crab
Photo by Kieran Scott.
60 clams, about 2.5kg
1 cup white wine
¼ cup canola oil
1 cup finely chopped bacon
2 cups finely diced onion
1 cup finely diced celery
1 cup finely diced carrot
2 tablespoons finely minced garlic
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
½ teaspoon chilli flakes
liquor from the cooked clams
1½ litres fish or chicken stock
2 cups potato, cut into small dice
2 cups kumara, cut into small dice
1½ cups cream
juice of 1 lemon
1 cup crab meat
½ cup finely chopped fresh parsley
Al Brown & Co. Lemon and Fennel Olive Oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preparing the clams
Scrub the clams under cold water to get rid of any remaining
sand clinging to the shells.
Place the clams in a large saucepan, pour the wine over them
and cover with a lid. Put the saucepan over a high heat then
check on the clams after about 5 minutes. Remove the clams
one by one with a slotted spoon as soon as they begin to
open. Discard any that have not opened. Once cooled, extract
the clam meat from the shells and keep the precious cooking
Clam and crab chowder
Place a large saucepan over a medium heat, and once hot add
the oil followed by the bacon. Cook, stirring occasionally,
until the bacon is golden. Now add the onion, celery, carrot,
garlic, thyme and chilli flakes. Stir to combine, then turn
down the heat and sweat the vegetables for 20 minutes until
Heat a large clean saucepan to medium and add the butter
followed by the flour. Whisk to make a roux by cooking down
the flour for a few minutes until it goes a pale white
colour, then slowly pour in the chicken stock and reserved
cooking liquor from the clams, whisking continuously to form
a smooth silky chowder base. Pour over the sweated vegetables
and drop in the potato and kumara. Simmer for 15 minutes
until the potato and kumara are cooked. Pour in the cream and
lemon juice then let the chowder come back to a gentle boil.
Remove from the heat and lastly add the clams, crab meat and
the finely chopped parsley. Add a slug of lemon and fennel
oil. Check the seasoning: it will need only a little salt if
any, as the clam juice will have added natural saltiness to
the chowder, and a grind of fresh black pepper to finish.
Serve immediately with fresh crusty bread warm from the oven.
• This recipe is from the Dunedin section of Get
Honey and thyme panna cotta with poached
dried apricots and saffron
Photo by Kieran Scott.
Honey and thyme panna cotta
6 sprigs fresh thyme
2 tablespoons honey, Marsh's White Clover if possible
4 gelatine leaves
Poached dried apricots with saffron
2 cups medium to sweet riesling
100g palm sugar, roughly chopped (or light brown sugar)
16 dried apricot halves
6 honey and thyme panna cotta
Poached dried apricots
whipped cream to serve
Honey and thyme panna cotta
In a medium-sized saucepan, add the cream, milk, sugar, thyme
and honey. Place the saucepan on a moderate heat. Scald the
cream, being careful not to boil it, and remove from the heat
when the sugar and honey are dissolved.
Bloom the gelatine in cold water until soft, about 5 minutes.
Remove from the water and squeeze out the excess water.
Add the gelatine to the hot cream mixture, stirring until
dissolved. Strain into a large bowl then place the bowl in an
iced water bath, stirring the mixture until cool before
pouring into moulds. (The recipe will make more than the
required 6 portions.) Refrigerate until set for at least 6
hours or preferably overnight.
Poached dried apricots with saffron
Take a non-reactive saucepan and combine the wine and palm
sugar. Place the saucepan on a medium heat and stir
continuously until the sugar has dissolved.
Now add the apricot halves and the saffron. Cook the apricots
over a low heat for 30 minutes until they soften up but are
not falling apart.
Remove the rehydrated apricots from the liquid and set aside.
Place the wine and sugar mixture back on the heat and reduce
to a syrup consistency. Pour the syrup back over the apricots
and refrigerate until required.
Run a thin sharp knife around the edge of each panna cotta
and invert on to room-temperature or cold plates. Place a
couple of apricot halves next to each panna cotta and spoon
over some of the saffron and riesling syrup. Finish with
whipped cream and serve.
• This recipe is from the Central Otago section of Get
Meet the author
Al Brown will be launching Get Fresh (Random House) in the
South next week.
Monday, November 5: Wanaka, Edgewater, noon. A
fundraising event for St John.
Tickets from Wanaka Paper Plus.
The Shed, Northburn Station, near Cromwell, 6pm. Tickets
available from Cromwell and Alexandra Paper Plus,
Tuesday November 6: Oamaru, Old Weston Bowling
Clubrooms, Parkside, noon. Lunch with Al Brown and Fleur
Sullivan. Fundraising for Save the Children. Tickets from
Paper Plus Oamaru.
Port Chalmers Town Hall, 6.30pm. Tickets from Port Chalmers