New Zealand Kiwi Hāngi (pronounced: “han-jee”) is a truly unique meal. Created by the Polynesians who first inhabited the island, and who came to be known as the “Kiwis”, Kiwi Hāngi is still today a national favorite and traditional meal, beloved by both the Polynesians and the British who later came to New Zealand. The Kiwi people have a love of foods prepared “out of doors” – over open fires, and in earth pit ovens. The Kiwi Hāngi is reminiscent of the “Hobo Dinner” that is popular among American rustic campers who are fond of Gourmet Open Fire Cooking.
Traditional Kiwi Hāngi Recipe-
- Meats: chicken, beef, pork, wild game, etc. (just about anything that you like works well – you can even use seafood), chopped into large bite-sized chunks
- Vegetables: potatoes, carrots, pumpkin, squash, onions, garlic, kumara (tropical sweet potatoes, also called boniato, or jimaca), cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, etc. Again, anything goes, really. Just wash and peel the veggies as you prefer, and chop the larger ones into large bite-sized chunks. Small potatoes can even be left whole.
- salt and pepper, to taste
- vegetable oil and/or butter
You will also need:
- Tin or aluminum foil, to wrap your foods in. Or, for a more traditional method, large cabbage leaves or (even better if you can get them) plantain leaves.
- Twine, soaked in water, to wrap up and seal tight the wrapping material around the food items.
- Lots of hardwood to burn; some tinder and soft wood to get the fire started.
- A good size pile of rocks: large rocks and small rocks. Note: for best results, and if you want to have a store of rocks to reuse for making New Zealand Kiwi Hāngi, get volcanic lava rocks. They will not crack and degenerate (and even sometimes explode!) with use over intense heat like commons rocks will.
- Wooden branches, soaked in water, to spread over the pit.
- Moist leaves, moss, any leafy vegetation matter, to form a layer over the wrapped foods being cooked.
- Some clean but dispensable cloth towels and/or sheets, soaked thoroughly with water.
- Build a large fire, with tinder to start, then a layer of soft woods, then layers of hardwood. Plan on keeping this fire going as hot as possible for 4 to 5 hours.
- Place the rocks in and around the fire, and let them get white hot.
- While the rocks are heating up in the fire, if you have not already, dig a pit into the ground that is large enough to hold all the rocks, with a few inches to spare as far as depth. Keep the soil piled right next to the pit, on hand to spread back over the cooking Hāngi.
- Spread out your food wrapping material, and spread some cooking oil and/or butter over it, whether using leaves or foil.
- Layer on the foods you are cooking. Place the meat chunks on first, and sprinkle on salt and pepper to taste. Next layer on the harder, more dense vegetables chunks, again apply seasoning, and then the softer veggies, with one last sprinkling of salt and pepper, to taste.
- Now fold up the wrapping over the layered foods, and wrap the bundle up tightly sealed with twine that has been soaked in water.
- When the rocks are white hot, quickly shovel them into the pit. Large rocks first, with the smaller rocks on top. Be very careful! Wear gloves and do not drop them or come into skin contact with them in any way!
- When the rocks are in the pit, slap them with the wet towels, several times, to get some steam started.
- Moving fast, spread the moist branches over the pit, to form a grid. Place them quite close together. Lay the wrapped up food bundle in the center of the branch grid, with the meat layer being on the bottom (meat will take longer to cook, so it needs to be closest to the heat source).
- Keep moving fast. Spread a thick layer of the moist vegetable matter (leaves, moss, etc.) over the food bundle and the branches. Lastly, cover the entire assembly with soil, about 3″ to 4″ thick.
- Now sit back and wait. Let the Hāngi cook for about 3 hours. The entrapped rocks will stay hot for a long time in the pit, and the moisture from the vegetation and wet branches will drip down onto the hot rocks, creating the steam that will slow cook your meal. And the earthy hint of soil will mix with the flavors of the foods, creating a meal that you will long remember and want to do over again, believe me!
- After about 3 hours, carefully scoop away the mound of soil, and the vegetable matter, exposing the Hāngi bundle. Wear gloves, because it will be very hot, pick it up and shake loose any soil or other matter clinging to it. Carefully unwrap the bundle, and spread the delicious contents out on a serving platter.
- Serve your New Zealand Kiwi Hāngi while still nice and hot. It is a complete meal, so no need for side dishes, but in true Kiwi style, you should enjoy it with some good, cold beer.
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