Preparing wire baskets for the food
To help in placing and removing the food from the hāngi one usually uses wire baskets. We picked up some chicken wire and made our own baskets. They turned out quite okay. However, we found that the smaller ones were easier to lift (as one would expect), so we will probably go with the smaller size for the next round. To protest the food from the dirty stones we placed rhubarb leaves in the baskets.
Placing the food in the hāngi
The next step was to place the wire baskets with the food into the pit. First, however one has to make sure that the fire has stopped burning and that any ash is either put out or removed. Once that is ensured the wire baskets are placed on the rocks and the process of covering the hāngi starts.
Covering the hāngi
The next step is to cover the pit. The first layer on top of the food is a pair of wet bed sheets, to partly supply with steam and partly to keep dirt away from the food. On top of the sheets goes some wet burlap, which is used to support the dirt. Both the sheets and the burlap were submerged in water for a few minutes before in order to really make sure that they were wet enough. To avoid the burlap sliding away from the rim of the hāngi we pegged it down with some heavy stones on each of the sides.
Since the main idea is to capture the heat from the stones as well as the steam from the heated sheets one needs to cover the hāngi with dirt. The dirt will keep the heat trapped in the pit and allow the food to be cooked nicely.
Waiting for the food to cook
When that is done it is time to wait…
The tips that we have found suggested a cooking time of around three to five hours, so that was what we went with.
Unfortunately it did not turn out so well this first try. When we uncovered the hāngi we found that the food had basically turned into charcoal…
The stones in the pit were still really, really hot when we removed the sheets and burlap and they had even burnt a hole all the way through to the top. We figure that we should have waited a while after the fire had burnt out until we placed the food in the pit. Or at least had used water to cool down the overly hot spots.
Next time we will start earlier to allow for the stones to get an even and not too high temperature and to not rush into things. Also we will definitely use some water to cool down any ash that is left in the pit as well as to stabilise the heat captured in the stones.
The Hokkaido pumpkin and the white cabbage actually turned out quite nice though. A bit burnt on the outside, but once that was removed they tasted really nice. We placed them in the cooler part of the pit, so there is hope that next time will work better!
The day after the stones were still not completely cool, so we definitely let the fire burn for too long, or had too many stones in there, if the heat could remain in the pit for an additional 14 hours…
Hopefully we will have more luck next time. It was definitely a worthwhile try though and we learnt a lot!
Back to basics. Or not as basic as one would have liked to think…
Cecilia & Magnus