Kiwis – this is the time to get on a plane and go down to a river on the Westcoast, make friends with someone up north who has a launch and reacquaint yourself with your Maori cuzzies. Westcoast rivers like the Waiau, in late September when the water is warm and the moon is full, mean whitebait. These heavenly mini-fish spend part of their life cycle in fresh water and part in the sea. Tiny fish hatch in late autumn and are carried along rivers out to sea where they live and grow over the winter. In the late winter and early spring whitebait migrate back up rivers and streams, finally settling and growing in bush covered streams and swamps. The taste is subtle and slightly sweet and lends itself to creamy sauces and egg-white fritters.
Out on the launch with your new found Jafa friends you will find scallops. Scallops are mollusks with two hinged shells (bivalves) which filter their food from the surrounding water. They differ from oysters, clams and mussels in that they lie on the bottom of the sea and can "swim" short distances by the rapid snapping of their shells. This ability develops an oversized muscle called the adductor. The adductor muscle, shaped similar to a marshmallow, is the primary edible portion of the scallop. Both the round, white muscle and the orange roe, sometimes called coral, are edible. The texture of fresh raw scallop meat should be firm and smell pleasant and mild. A healthy scallop whose shell is open should close tightly when tapped. Raw scallops are utterly delicious, much sweeter than when cooked. If you cook them it should be gently and briefly (small ones should only take a few seconds) to preserve their rich, delicate, nutty flavour.
And now to the best of all – kina. Kina or sea urchins come into season in August and continue to be good right through till January. The best way to eat them is to make friends with the tangatawhenua who will wrench them off rocks for you, break them open with a knife and hand you the orange-yellow roe to slurp up. When I first tasted kina I found them bitter and mineraly, but the trick is to get them fresh and plump straight from the sea, when they taste creamy, sweet, slightly briny and not unlike scallops. Kina is very rich so you can’t eat a lot – you don’t chew – it just melts in your mouth, leaving you longing for a glass of chilled chardonnay and a roll in the hay.