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Bushbuck Bites: Hāpuka Collar with Wild Passionfruit Dressing

Bushbuck Bites: Hāpuka Collar with Wild Passionfruit Dressing


Fish collars are often discarded in favour of the boneless fillets. But the collars can be good eating, especially when the fish is sizeable and prepared nicely. You can think of them as the "spare ribs" of seafood cuisine. You have to put in a bit of work and get your fingers into it, but the payoff is always delicious and more than worth it. After hooking a good sized Hāpuka off the Kaikōura coast, Kaelah James aka Kaelah's Wild Kai Kitchen, smoked up the collars with a decadent herb butter and wild banana passionfruit dressing.

The Kaikōura Canyon

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It was a sunny calm day on the moana in Kaikōura and myself and youngest son, Kingston, packed up the electric rods onto the Stabi and headed out to some pinnacles I’d been eyeing up on the Navionics app. These pinnacles are located in the Kaikōura trench also known as the "Kaikōura Canyon". If you haven’t heard about this magical place its located around 800 metres off the Kaikōura Coast.  It stretches for over 60 kilometres and reaches depths of 1200+ metres. The canyon is part of the Kermadec Trench system which extends far out into the Pacific Ocean. As cold water moves along the base of the trench towards the coast it begins to rise, bringing with it nutrients from the deep which encourages a food chain. Deep water fish follow the cold water currents meaning a great time out in the depths.

Hāpuka Hooked

When we reached our targeted pinnacles, we baited up our grouper hooks with whole squid and dropped down to about 280m. After about 5 minutes or so the rod did a couple of nods and then we were on. The reel was screaming all the way up and Kingston was jumping up and down with excitement. I think I might’ve joined him a few times. It’s a long time to wait for a little fulla to see the big fish on the other end. Sure enough, our line reached the top and up floated out beautiful Hāpuka. First on the board for mum and son duo and what a special moment to share together. I live by the philosophy that we should always try to use as much of the animals we hunt and fish as possible. It's a simple way of honouring the life that's been taken. That means using wings, frames, and in this case, the collars of the fish we catch. They all make for good eating when you cook them up right. In this recipe, I also used wild passionfruit, or banana passionfruit, which is an invasive plant in New Zealand that can be found growing along coastal zones, roadsides and forest margins in late summer, early autumn. The fruit is delicious and tastes very similar to passionfruit. This Hāpuka collar recipe is really simple and tastes great. The meat was really tender and packed with flavour. I highly recommend giving it a go the next time you consider throwing those collars away.

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  • Hapuka Collar, scaled

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened

  • 3 Tbsp fresh herbs eg. dill, parsley


  • 1 Large lemon, halved

  • 2 Wild passionfruit, halved OR 1/4 cup passionfruit topping

  • 1 cup grapeseed oil

  • 1 tsp dijon mustard

  • 1 tsp hunny (leave out if using passionfruit topping)

  • Salt & peppper to taste

Hāpuka Collar Recipe

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  1. Dice fresh herbs and combine with softened butter. Spread the herbed butter all over the hapuka collar.

  2. Heat smoker or BBQ to medium heat. Place collar skin side down onto a well oiled grill.

  3. Place lemon halves flesh side down and passionfruit halves facing up on grill.

  4. Put the cover down and cook for 15mins or until the hāpuka skin is nice and crispy.

  5. Remove lemons and passionfruit from grill.

  6. Carefully turn the collar over and cook for a further 6-8 mins, then carefully remove and set aside onto a serving dish.

  7. In a blender, squeeze the juice of smoked lemons and passionfruit with rest of dressing ingredients and whizz until smooth.

  8. Pour dressing over the hāpuka collar, sprinkle with fresh herbs and serve immediately.

You should find the fish pulls away easily from the bone with a fork, but it's also fun to just tuck in and eat with your hands. Don't be afraid to make a mess.

Watch a video of the recipe on Kaelah's Instagram here

Kaelah James
Kaelah James

Kaelah James, aka Kaelah's Wild Kai Kitchen, is a New Zealand speafisher, huntress and incredible wild food cook. She's built up a following on Instagram by sharing her delicious recipes and she's now come on board as a Bushbuck ambassador and contributor to The Campfire blog. She will be sharing wild food and catch-and-cook recipes, as well as the stories behind hunting and gathering the kai. 

Follow Kaelah's adventures