Magnificent Matakana – and how to make a delicious Cashew Nut Chicken Curry

When I was living in the UK much was made of the ‘mini-break’. Somehow the idea of getting away, for however short a time and however short a distance from home, conjures great excitement.

Of course, we do a similar thing in New Zealand but call it ‘a weekend away’, which doesn’t have quite the same ring. Anyway, whatever you want to call this short getaway, my husband and I decided to test the merits of such a trip last weekend. We had a wedding to attend in Matakana and decided to drive up on the Friday after work and spend the weekend.

What an inspired decision!

Matakana is a small town in the North Island of New Zealand, seventy kilometres north of Auckland. It’s an easy drive of no more than forty-five minutes or so. Very civilised! (I say this also because I absolutely loathe and detest long car trips.)

We chose to stay at the Andros Bed & Breakfast. Peter and Grace are your hosts and have just the one room. But it’s delightful with a large walk-in wardrobe and a spacious en-suite. They also cook a lovely breakfast in the morning. Highly recommended!

On the Friday evening we headed out, ridiculously excited that this was the first outing of our ‘mini-break’. We decided to start in style with a glass of wine at The Vintry. This wonderful wine bar is on Matakana Road, just behind the cinemas. They specialise in local wines, but also have a nice selection of international wines. Personally I think sampling the local wines of a region/country makes eating and drinking out more interesting when you’re on holiday.

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This wine bar has such a great vibe – you can almost feel yourself relaxing as soon as you step over the threshold. There is also a well-appointed deck area that provides an al fresco option in the warmer weather (although they have heaters out there for when it gets cooler).

With the night off to a good start we moved on to the Matakana Pub. Our hosts had recommended the food and always happy to follow a recommendation we got ourselves a table and had a look at their tempting new menu. My husband ordered eye fillet steak and for myself the slow-cooked lamb shoulder, which was a special of the night. We were both impressed with our dishes. But the star of the meal – for both of us – was the plate of fat chips we ordered as a side. Some of the best chips I’ve ever tasted!

The next morning we were up bright and early for the weekly Saturday morning Matakana Farmers Market. It has become quite famous in this part of the country and I would highly recommend making the effort one weekend. But here is a very important tip – arrange to arrive early! Fortunately our bed and breakfast was central so we had only a short walk, but parking is a bit of a nightmare and the longer you leave it the more stressful it will be trying to find one. The market does get horrendously busy as the morning wears on, so try and get there shortly after it opens at eight.

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The market itself has a real country/village feel about it and there is such a variety of stalls – everything from free range eggs and fresh bread to oysters, olive oil, buffalo cheese, handmade sausages and a fabulous array of jars filled with all sorts of goodies. There is also beautifully fresh produce and, of course, great coffee to kick off your morning out.

The counter that I made a beeline for is Matakana Nut Butters. I always pick up a few jars when I visit the market (which isn’t nearly as often as I’d like) and they are superb. I’m inclined to think that peanut butter may well be one of my desert island picks. That is to say if I was stranded on a desert island I’d like it to be with a hundred jars of peanut butter. I wonder how long they would actually last? I’d be ready for a heroic rescue once they were gone!

On this particular day I picked up from the lovely Josie (her title on the card she gave me being Head Nut – how cool!) a jar each of the peanut, almond and cashew butters. And I decided that my butters were worthy of being a star ingredient for this week’s recipe. You’ll see below what I decided to do with the divine cashew butter.

The other thing that this region of the country is known for is wine production. The countryside around here is littered with vineyards and wineries. We were fortunate to be attending a wedding on the Saturday afternoon at the Ascension Wine Estate, which is definitely worth a visit. Have a look around the cellar, buy some wine, or have a meal at their Osteria restaurant. The Italian inspired menu is superb.

Another winery restaurant I would recommend where you can enjoy great food and wine is Plume. Such a lovely setting and they do a fabulous degustation menu.

One last place I’d like to mention before I get to the all-important recipe of the week is Morris & James. It is only a very short drive from the centre of Matakana and is a must-see for any visitor to the town. They make the most beautiful handmade pottery, which is on display in their impressive showroom. Everything is made at an on-site factory using local Matakana clay. It is well worth going in the morning in time for the daily pottery tour at 11.30. And I would suggest afterwards stopping at their café for a spot of lunch. The café is set in a beautiful courtyard and is a lovely place to while away an hour or so over great food and coffee.

My husband and I had such a fantastic weekend we arrived home on Sunday actually feeling like we’d had a break – as ‘mini’ as it may have been. Matakana should definitely go to the top of your list for places to visit.

Now back to my divine cashew butter. I make a delicious satay paste but wanted to try it with cashew instead. The curry below is simply incredible – tender chicken with a sauce that is full of flavour and heat, but mellowed with a touch of coconut cream. The cashew butter worked like a dream. And I can’t urge you enough to try making your own curry paste. The smell and the colours as you’re bringing it together, not to mention the end product, make it well worth the extra effort.

One quick note about the chillies used in the paste – to deseed or not to deseed? I haven’t specified as it is a personal preference depending on the level of heat you like. I went for middle ground and only deseeded one of the chillies.

The rice I’ve jazzed up by sautéing some onion first and then using chicken stock for the liquid instead of water. I’ve then stirred through some shaved toasted almonds at the end. It’s amazing how just a few small changes can lift plain rice into something really special. But plain basmati rice is absolutely fine with this curry also.

The courgette and carrot batons are ridiculously easy and a fabulous vegetable side for the curry – indeed with just about any meal I would have thought. The only fiddly bit is slicing the thin batons but even this doesn’t take long.

All put together this is such a deliciously satisfying meal. By the time my husband had finished I was half expecting him to lick his plate clean!

 

Cashew Nut Chicken Curry with Courgette & Carrot Batons

Serves 4

 

Curry

1 x onion, roughly chopped

3 x cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped

1 x 5-6cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped into pieces

2 x long red chillies, chopped roughly

4 x heaped tablespoons cashew nut butter

1 x tsp turmeric

1 x tbsp brown sugar

Juice of a lemon

1 x tbsp vegetable or peanut oil

Approx. 150 ml water

1 tsp freshly ground sea salt or ½ tsp of table salt

750g skinless, boneless chicken thighs

60-100 ml coconut cream

4 x tbsp fresh coriander, roughly chopped

50g cashew nuts, toasted

 

Rice

1 x tbsp vegetable oil

1 x onion, finely chopped

250g basmati rice, rinsed

500ml chicken stock

¼ tsp salt

50g shaved almonds, toasted

 

Courgette & Carrot Batons

2 x carrots

3 x courgettes

2 x tbsp olive oil

Salt & freshly ground black pepper

 

My first job is always to prepare the chicken. That way it can sit for a bit while you make the paste to get rid of the chill from the fridge. Chop the chicken thighs into decent sized pieces. I hate small cubes of chicken that float around in the sauce – you want nice meaty pieces. So I suggest chopping each thigh into no more than four pieces, depending on its size.

Heat a large wok-like pan or deep frying pan to a medium heat.

Now get on with the curry paste. Put the onion, garlic, ginger and chillies into a food processor and give them a whizz. I like to use the mini-processor that came with my stick blender.

Add the cashew butter, turmeric, brown sugar and lemon juice and whizz until all the ingredients are well combined. You might need to scrape down the side of the processor bowl to ensure everything gets incorporated. This is the point at which your kitchen will start to smell amazing!

Add the oil to your pan and then the paste. It will start sizzling immediately and will thicken quite thickly. Watch it carefully and stir continuously to ensure it doesn’t burn. You want to give it a good few minutes to fry off all those lovely ingredients.

Now add the water and the salt and start to make the sauce. I suggest adding the water slowly. You probably won’t need the whole 150ml and you don’t want the sauce to be too thin. Once it is looking like a sauce but is still quite thick add the chicken and stir through well. Now you can start adding the coconut cream and once again, just enough to make a sauce – have a look at the photo below to get an idea of consistency.

Keep the pan at a steady simmer and cook for approximately 15-20 minutes or until the chicken is cooked and you do need to check. Just rescue a piece and slice into it to make sure.

You can make the curry to this point if you like and leave it for a bit while you get on with everything else and then it just needs heating up at the last minute.

For the rice, heat a pan over a medium heat and add the oil. Fry the onion until it’s well cooked – I like it to be slightly golden and have just caught in places. Add the rice and stir through so that all the grains are slicked with the oil and onion. Now add the chicken stock and salt, bring to a simmer then cover, lower the heat and simmer gently until it’s cooked – this should take about 15 minutes or so.

While the rice is cooking you can get on with preparing the courgettes and carrots. Peel the carrots and wash the courgettes. Slice them into thin batons. Heat a large frying pan, add the olive oil and place the vegetable batons in a thin layer across the pan. Now just sauté them in the olive oil, tossing occasionally until they’re tender. Add a few grinds of salt and pepper, toss through and it’s ready to serve. Easy!

Now back to the rice. Once all the water has been absorbed and the rice is cooked, stir through with a fork to separate the grains and then stir through the flaked almonds.

When you are absolutely ready to eat heat the curry through, stir in the fresh coriander and serve on plates or in bowls with the vegetables on the side, sprinkling the cashews over the curry.

Now just eat. The flavours of this dish are so divine you’ll find yourself cooking it over and over!

Lastly – a big thank you to Matakana Nut Butters!

www.matakananutbutters.co.nz

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