Ika Mata

Rarotongan raw fish salad

When I moved to Auckland to attend Elam School of Fine Arts, my first flat share was in purpose-built, private student accommodation. A really nice builder-developer (he always got invited to the parties) would knock up some ultra-simple breeze-block chalets on a plot of land and then rent them out to students at affordable prices. There were four chalets in each of his developments, two built side by side facing their twin counterparts across a shared courtyard - with parking in a shingled area tucked out of sight somewhere round the back. It had the feel of a motel, though the chalets were two storeys high (typical New Zealand motels are single-storey affairs).

It was in the courtyard that I first tried marinated raw fish, at a joyous birthday celebration for one of my flatmates. He was turning 18, and all his Rarotongan relatives took over the courtyard for the evening. Everyone had made great platters of food, and Ika Mata featured heavily. I was a little wary of eating raw fish at first, but by the second mouthful, I was converted.

Typically canned coconut cream is used in this recipe. The problem with this is that over the past couple of years the quality of canned coconut milks and creams has plummeted, while the number of additives has soared. If you have a favourite brand you can trust, great. I don't, so I decided to try making my own with grated creamed coconut.

In theory, 1 part of creamed coconut to 4 parts of water (e.g., 40g grated creamed coconut to 160mls of water) should do the trick. It takes quite a while (a few hours) for the coconut to swell and thicken the water, and I wouldn't store it in the fridge - the fat floats to the top and sets as a solid lump. The result was okay, if a little gritty from the larger bits of coconut. It's not the same as tinned coconut cream, but I'll still make it again. Once it has thickened, it's probably best to store it in the fridge.

Unless you live by the sea and have access to really freshly caught fish, go for the frozen supermarket option. The fish have been harvested in huge quantities by large ships capable of catching, skinning, de-boning, and freezing them within hours. The quality is excellent, certainly much better than using "fresh" wet fish from supermarkets.

Only make as much fish as you will eat; this dish is not for storing.


Per person:

100g fillet of very fresh white fish (I'm using frozen haddock)

the juice of at least 1 large lemon

iceberg lettuce, shredded

2 - 3 types of vegetables, cut relatively small

sliced spring onion or thinly sliced red onion

coconut cream

If you're unfamiliar with creamed coconut, find out more about it here:



Traditionally the fish is cubed before marinating, but I think you get a better result by simply cutting it into thin slices.

If you're using frozen fillets, let them defrost in the fridge for 4 - 4 1/2 hours, then slice them while only partially thawed. It makes it much easier to slice.


Cover the slices with lemon juice in a non-metallic bowl and store in the fridge for an hour, turning once to redistribute the fish during this time.


Drain off the lemon juice and discard it.


Dress the marinated fish with coconut cream and some finely sliced spring onion or red onion and stir it to coat it. Some people like to add a squeeze of fresh lemon at this point; I honestly don't think it needs it.


Serve on a bed of sliced iceberg lettuce, accompanied by your chosen vegetables. Here I'm using small batons of cucumber and slices of tomato (both of which have been salted and drained to remove excess liquid), though some chopped red bell pepper or even a bit of grated carrot would also work to bring colour and texture to the dish.

Typically the vegetables are cut smaller than shown here, and they're tossed with the fish and onions in the coconut cream - but I honestly prefer them as a side.

Any questions? You can use the comments form at the bottom of the page.

Did you know?

You'll find recipes at the back of all the books in the Send for Octavius Guy series:

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