I am neither Kiwi nor Maori, and never lay a hangi in my life. But after attending the Earth Masterclass at Melbourne Food and Wine Festival last weekend, I was so inspired that now suddenly have the urge to find an opportunity to lay my first hangi. Hangi is a traditional New Zealand Māori method of cooking food buried in a pit oven using heated volcanic rocks still used for special occasions like birthday or a death in the family. If you are just as curious as I am, here I have illustrated a step-by-step diagram on how to lay a hangi.
Few tips I've learned from the masterclass about laying a hangi
1. Use rocks that can withstand high temperature like volcanic rocks. River rock will explode when it gets too hot.
2. Use hessian sacks like coffee bean sacks to cover the pit. Best to use sacks without too much prints on them so the colouring won't stain and contaminate the food.
3. Make sure to use dry branches and firewood, otherwise the fire will not have the intensity to heat the rocks to a high enough temperature.
4. Cover the food in muslin cloth (or calico), to stop food coming into contact with dirt. Traditionally the food is covered with leaves and bark. Banana leaves also can be used.
5. Always put food that takes longer to cook in the centre of the pit, then surround it with vegetables and make sure is snug fit and not too much gaps as you will lose the heat.
6. Season the food twice as much as you normally would. The hangi acts like a steam oven and most of the salt will be washed away during cooking. Usually the food taste bland and needs to be reseason if necessary when is out of the pit.
7. When set the pit alight, be extremely careful as the fire can be ferocious up to few metres high. It will take hours before the fire has completely burns out, so this is the time for you to start preparing the food.
8. When the fire has completely burns out, the rocks should be white hot and ready for laying. To avoid any hot spots in the pit and burn the food, you can always remove the remaining embers in the pit to retain an even temperature during cooking.
9. When is ready to dig the food out of the hangi, take your time and remove as much dirt on top as possible before peeling the hessian sacks off. Be very careful as the hessian sacks can be still very hot.
10. Prepare the feast and eat the food as soon as possible when is still hot.
I hope some of you will find this useful, now I just need an excuse to dig a hole in the ground and bury a whole pig in it.