ReadingRoom

Book of the Week: Controversial assessment of Wattie’s tinned food

Steve Braunias reviews the latest Wattie’s cookbook.

Important people are busy only in the sense they’re busy making money. The rest of us are kept much, much busier losing money – what comes in must go out even faster on the usual necessary running repairs and bric-a -brac of daily life, and the last thing we have time for is a well thought-out meal planner. We get in a box delivered by Nadia Lim. We throw something on the table from whatever’s in the pantry. We raid the supermarket shelves and fill the trolley with tins, sachets, packets, pastes, preservatives, emulsifiers, soys, sodiums, syrups, gelatins, acidulants, phosphates, plasmas, nuclear wastes, the whole kitbag of the industrial-military food complex – we’re starving, what’s for dinner?

The latest book from the Food in a Minute team who work for Wattie’s Heinz, The  New Everyday (sub-titled Smart cooking for busy people), has featured prominently on the best-seller chart these past three months. It’s fast and it’s efficient and it’s got good intentions. But it’s not the kind of cookbook you’re going to find in the tidy pantries of the fabled and leisured east (Kohi, St Hel, Rem); it’s the kind of cookbook you’re going to find in the messy kitchens of the flat-out and frazzled west (Tat North, Horrenderson, Massey’s Don Fuck Rd).   

The concept is pretty blatant. Its team of cooks stand around a tin or a sachet or a bottle or somesuch container filled with a Wattie’s product, and then think of ways to chuck it into some food. What goes okay with a 500g jar of Heinz Seriously Good Honey Mustard Simmer Sauce? A: a chicken and potato bake. What use could possibly be found for the dubious properties of a 210g pouch of Wattie’s WOK Creations Teriyaki Stir-Fry Sauce? A: teriyaki salmon.

It’s kind of demoralisng. At best, it’s absurd, and reminiscent of that classic Food in a Minute recipe made by its long-suffering chef Alyson Gofton, when she famously topped a perfectly good cottage pie with a packet of frozen potato pom-poms.

I made the Asian Slaw. The fresh ingredients were red and green cabbage, bean sprouts, celery, carrot, edamame beans, mint leaves and toasted sesame seeds. It looked really good in the bowl. But I did as I was told and went to the supermarket to buy a 50ml bottle of ETA Lite & Free Japanese Style Soy & Citrus Dressing, which contains Flavour Enhancer (621), Stabiliser (415), and Colour (150c). I tossed it through the salad with a bit of a heavy heart; wtf was I doing, corrupting fresh vegetables with a processed and maximised concoction slaved over by robots and scientists in a sealed laboratory someplace probably a thousand miles beneath the Earth? A simple vinaigrette – oil, red wine vinegar, lemon, salt and pepper, maybe a bit of mustard - would have done the job just as well without recourse to artificial solutions in parenthesis.

But I must say it tasted pretty good. I made quite a lot of it, and had it with a meal the following night as well, and added to it over the next few nights, too, and each time I tossed it through with the same trusty 50ml bottle of ETA Lite & Free Japanese Style Soy & Citrus Dressing. It was in the fridge. It was within reach. I was busy losing money and actually it was a pleasure to use something reliable and fast – it was food in a minute.

The following week I made Super Corn Fritters. Reader, I rebelled: instead of the 400g can of Wattie’s Whole Kernel Corn, I went into the garden, and stripped off a fresh cob of corn. I also grabbed a tomato, lemon, red chili pepper and mint leaves, and pulped it into a salsa with oil and salt. Result: delicious. I was working with Wattie’s, not for Wattie’s; the basic recipe was sound.

In fact you could simply ignore the Wattie's component in quite a few of the recipes. Do you really need a packet of Gregg’s Lemon Pepper Seasoning to enhance a recipe for smoked fish cakes? There’s a recipe for Mac Cheese; must you suffocate the damned thing with a 500g jar of Heinz Seriously Good Tasty Cheddar Macaroni Cheese Pasta Bake?

 No, but it gets it over with and here’s your dinner, stop complaining and eat it. The New Everyday is a cookbook for working New Zealanders. It’s not bougie; it’s not aspirational; it’s not the dinner party with a bunch of shitheads working in comms and HR.  It’s a peach and lemon flan with one of my most favourite items in the world, a 410g tin of Wattie’s Peaches Sliced in Clear Fruit Juice. It’s a breakfast bake with mushrooms, cheese, parsley, Wattie’s baked beans and something I love even more than tinned peaches, a 500g box of Wattie’s frozen Hash Browns.

Yes, it’s kind demoralising, even depressing. But it’s really useful. It’s in my kitchen at Tat North, and it’s there to stay.

The New Everyday by Wattie's Heinz (Hachette, $39.99).

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