Rewi Spraggon enlists six of the best chefs in Aotearoa and gets them to add their expertise, tastes and techniques to a traditional Māori hāngī under the gaze of thousands at one of the biggest food shows in Aotearoa, Taste of Auckland. Available On Demand.
HĀNGĪThe indigenous cooking method of Aotearoa, and the way our ancestors have cooked for generations. There is no better way to create a healthy meal and feed a crowd. Want to become a hāngī master but don’t know how? Gather your friends and whānau together, assemble your tools, menu and some spade power and get cracking using our steps below.
First things first – get a fire permit if you are going to light a fire in rural areas, especially during a restricted fire season. Apply at least 5 working days before you plan to lay down your hāngī to ensure you’re good to go. Make sure you have plenty of water on stand-by in case the fire gets unexpectedly out of hand.
Create a fire pit, which is dug into the ground to just over knee-deep. Select the best timber for this pit – the timber we recommend is ‘Mānuka’ or ‘Kānuka’
To build your fire, set up the corners first. Place the biggest trunks in each corner, slightly raised at the edges and placed in on an angle pointing into the middle. Put brushwood and paper in the bottom, along with lighter grades of timber. The aim is to create a stack that has thicker wood around the outside, thinner wood in the middle and then your rocks on top. You want to have your rocks stay on the top of the pile, get really hot from the burning wood, and then fall evenly to the bottom of the pit as the wood burns through. Keep a constant eye on your heating rocks and look for fire dead spots. Keep moving the hot logs on top of your stones to make sure that the rocks continue to heat evenly.
The burning process will take three, to three and a half hours and this method should heat the rocks up to 600 degrees Celsius.
What kind of rocks do I use?
Lucky for us in Aotearoa, the best kind of rock to use is Andesite, a volcanic rock which can be found throughout the country, particularly around volcanic sites in the North Island. You can also use basalt, which you can find through landscaping suppliers (and you can get it in Australia too).
In the meantime, while the rocks are heating, prepare the stainless steel baskets and line them with a robust leaf called ‘Puka’. This leaf will help keep in the moisture and retain the flavor of your food
Use puka leaves to line the wire baskets by entwining the stalks into the frame. Do this through the whole basket until it is completely lined with leaves, with no wire showing on the bottom. This will stop the meat from burning and sticking to the bottom of the basket. If you don’t have a Puka tree on standby, then cabbage leaves or banana leaves are also good to use.
Get your sacks ready
Traditionally Nīkau fronds were woven and placed over the kai, with puka used inside of the baskets - then dirt was shoveled over the top. Using leaves and fronds don’t taint the food, provide good flavor and holds the food together while stopping it from burning, but if you don’t have Nīkau mats – use clean sacks instead.
Soak your sacks in plenty of water so they’re good and wet. (Pro tip – hang up your sacks when you’ve finished with them, you must make sure they’re always clean and dry. No one wants a stinky old moldy taste in the hāngī!).
Then its kai prep time. Firstly prepare your vegetables and stuffing
Kūmara, potato, yam, pumpkin, squash, taro – any root and firm vegetable is good in a hāngī. Keep the skin on, it’s where the goodness is and it also helps hold the vegetables together. Cut large veg into big even pieces, give your veges a good wash (putting them in a bucket of water as you prep will do the trick) and then put them into wet muslin bags, tying up tight once you fill the bag. Stuffing can be prepped for hāngī, in bags in the same way – stuff into a muslin bag like you’re stuffing a chicken. If you’re including cabbage, trim the white root end off, and then cut out the white core, making a square shaped hole an inch or two deep. Fill that hole with butter.
Prep your meat, season it with a bit of salt and also kawakawa
Go for big cuts like rolled roasts and whole chickens. If you’re using chops, or chicken pieces rather than whole birds or big pieces, make sure they’re semi frozen as they will cook a lot quicker than the rest of your hāngī.
Put the meat down the bottom and the vegetables on top
When you arrange your hāngī, whether it’s all in the same basket, or separate baskets - the meat goes on the bottom of your hāngī, the veg goes on the top. If you’re going to include steamed pudding, this goes around the sides of the basket. If you’re cooking seafood, this goes on the very top, but be mindful of what is underneath it as the juices will drip on the other foods as they cook – so it’s not good to put chicken or pork underneath. However, mutton, beef and lamb are all good with those seafood flavouIrs.
By now your fire is ready to cook your meal – get your kai in the pit!
At this stage, your rocks should be about 600 – 700 degrees Celsius, so take care – it’s hot! Take out most of the ash, and the bigger pieces of wood that didn’t burn right down…. but do leave a little bit of ash in there to infuse the food with a smoky flavor. Move your rocks so that they’re lying evenly on the bottom of your pit (important for stability and even cooking) and then lower in your meat baskets first.
Next put your baskets of veg on top, along with stuffing, pudding and then seafood if you’re including it
Then cover the food with your wet sacking. Overlap the pit so that all edges are covered with plenty of room to put dirt around the sides first. Once secure around the edges, cover over the rest of the pit with dirt. The water from the cloths will run down onto the stones and create steam. This acts as a conventional oven that will steam the food, while adding flavour from the timber and from the earth. Stay on guard and watch for the steam trying to escape any holes for the next 20 mins. Cover the escaping steam with dirt if you see any arise.
The cooking process will take about three hours, depending on how much food is in the hāngī
Once your hāngī is done, slowly scrape the earth off the top. Dig off the soil in reverse from when you laid it down to avoid a cave in on your kai. Watch out, the steam is hot! Peel back the sacks, lift out your baskets and get into it!