Putting down a hangi - in southwest China

Trip Start Jan 30, 2007
Trip End Dec 31, 2011

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Flag of New Zealand  , North Island,
Tuesday, November 25, 2008

I'm a Kiwi living a long way from New Zealand.

I am in the process of building an outdoor pizza oven, and also hope to put down a hangi in my garden.

There's a couple of good resources for making an earth oven underground, including quite a neat interactive website where you go through and select the best wood and rocks.

This site is choice: http://www.tki.org.nz/r/wick_ed/hangi/hangi_english.php

The Hangi - Food cooked in the Umu (Earth oven)

This recipe was taken from a Maori site
at http://www.aotearoalive.com/culture/recipes/traditional/hangi.htm
which when I last checked was disabled, so I've copied it here.

Ingredients & Needs List

1) Rocks - Preferably not sandstone styled rock as this will explode in the fire. Use volcanic rock. Some people use irons as well however these can tend to burn the Hangi and don't hold heat as long as rocks do.
2) Steel Baskets - Steel bread crates can be used, even steel chicken wire can be used to wrap the food and placed on the rocks.
3) 6-7 Potato Sacks - Any type of cloth styled potato or sugar sacks (If you have access to Banana leaves, use them as well.
4) White Bed Sheets - Preferable mutton cloth but bed sheets will do.
5) Water Hose
6) 3 Shovels
7) 2 Steel Garden Rakes
8) 44 gal Drum - This is used to soak the sacks overnight
9) Tin Foil - Use this to hold food that may easily slip through the crates.
10) Oven Bags
11) Newspaper
12) Firewood - A variety of small to large slow burning wood. Enough to keep a fire going for at least 2 hours. Don't use treated wood!!!

Food List

Most common food in the Hangi are
- Pork
- Mutton
- Chicken
- Cabbage
- Kumara
- Pumpkin
- Bread Stuffing
-Steam Pudding

Cooking Directions

Food Preparation
Usually most of the preparation is done the night before so that everything is ready for the morning lighting of the Hangi. However if you don't have enough large pots to hold the peeled vegetables in (must be left soaking in water) then peel them and prepare them in the morning.
Placing the food in the correct order in the baskets is crucial as everything will be cooking at the same time. So place the large roast meat on the bottom of the baskets with chicken on top of that. Put the potato's and kumara on next and cabbage quarters to fill in any gaps. Finally place the stuffing in an oven bag or mutton cloth on top. Salt

Ground Preparation
Use your basket size as a measurement to size up the hole you need to dig. Make the hole a bit bigger than your basket size so you can tuck the sacks and mutton cloth down the side. The hole doesn't have to be very deep, probably just enough for the rocks and about a third the depth of you crate.
Some people differ in this next part as to preference but most Maori build the fire over the hole and others build the fire on the side of the hole.
We will explain the fire over the hole technique in this site. Now that you have dug your hole, you need to fill the hole with screwed-up newspaper as this will be used in the morning to ignite the fire. Next place the small kindling wood on top of the paper and build a typical fire placing bigger and bigger pieces criss-crossing by layer until all the wood is used. Then stack the rocks on top of the wood.

Other Preparation
Cut the sacks open down the two sides so that they open up to their full length and place in a full 44 gal drum of water to soak overnight. Place mutton cloth or sheets in the drum as well.

Place a protective cover over the fire-stack to keep the overnight dew off to ensure a dry start in the morning and then you are ready to roll.

The Next Day

The whole process from the fire to the completing of the cooking will take about 6 hours. So pace your day out so that the Hangi will be ready for when you need it so it stays hot.

Lighting the Fire

Take a rolled up piece of newspaper and light the screwed up newspaper underneath the fire-stack. Allow to burn until all the wood is embers in the hole. This should take about 112 - 2 hours. Use the shovels to reposition any rocks that fall out of the fire. The rocks should burn almost white hot.
Once the fire has burned down, use the shovels and rakes to scoop out any smoking embers so that there is only rocks left in the hole. Rake the burning embers away and dowse with the hose.
Any ashes left floating around can be dissipated by a quick spray of the hose on the rocks.

Putting Down the Hangi

Flatten out the rocks as much as possible and place the basket on the stones. Get the wet mutton cloths or sheets and lay them over the basket allowing the edges to go down the sides of the hole. Immediately before doing this though you need to give the stones and basket a quick spray with the hose to create some steam, then immediately place the cloths over-top. On top of these cloths, place a potato. This is used as a kind of indicator for later to tell you whether everything is cooked. Place the wet sacks on this , layering them as to cover the basket but dot allow them to go down the side of the basket so that they lay on the top of the ground. Place the dirt on top of this covering the entire area and sealing off any places where steam is escaping.

The cooking time for one basket is around 212 - 3hours but it doesn't hurt to leave it in for 312 4hours. It is quite difficult to overcook a Hangi as the longer it is in the ground the more the rocks cool (a bit different to an oven which stays constant in temperature).

Pulling out the Hangi

Uncover dirt from the sacks and peel back the sacks being careful not to spill any dirt into the basket. Check the potato to see if it is cooked.
Remove the cloth and use the sacks as protection to hold the hot basket. Take to the kitchen and serve.

Hangi - (Earth Oven)

The hangi or earth oven is the best known traditional form of cooking for Maori.
As the smell of cooked food permeates the air, it is time to think about the happy blending of the traditional style of Maori Cooking with the additions provided by today's society and surroundings.


1. SITE:
The selection of the site will depend on -
a) Access to water for soaking bags and cloths to create steam.
b) Tillage of soil for ease of digging the pit.
Arrange to dig your hole in a piece of land that can be utilised in another way when you have finished
making your hangi. Ashes make good compost.
For example a piece of land near the vegetable garden is always a good choice.
If the hole is to be dug in the lawn remove the top layer of grass and put it back afterwards.
c) Wind direction which could blow over the stack or endanger buildings. Keep a watchful eye on your fire
and make sure it is well away from buildings, trees or anything that which may catch a flying spark.
Make sure it is at least 3 metres away from the nearest object and nowhere near any overhead

All varieties of meat, poultry, vegetables and steamed puddings can be cooked in the hangi.
The preparation of the food is the same as preparing food to be cooked on an electric stove.
The food should be prepared and put in containers that should be placed within easy reach of the hangi.
Beef, lamb, pork, poultry, potatoes, kumara, pumpkin, can all be cooked in the hangi.
Green vegetables are better cooked in conventional ways.

3. Gear Check List : Stones
When heated the stones will supply the heat for cooking the food, so it is important to choose
stones that do not crumble in the heating or shatter too readily.
The best stones to use are those that have been tried by the local people.
Igneous (volcanic) are better than metamorphic or sedimentary (e.g. sandstone) rocks.
There are several types of rock suitable:
Auckland Blue - this is a type of hard, brittle, blue- metal rock and black rock.
Riverhead Rock - round loaf sized stones are best.
Volcanic Rock - this is the type of rock used during the depression to make stone walls.
It is good rock to use, heats quickly, doesn't throw out chips and is light to handle.
Choosing the rock takes some skill. Take a hammer with you and hit each rock, only those with a high
pitched ringing noise are suitable . Kawakawa Bay and Dargaville are both sites nearest to Auckland.
(some people today use fire bricks mixed with some of the stones mentioned above.)
The number of stones necessary will depend on the type of stone and size.
For up to a party of 25 persons, you will need sufficient to fill a hole approximately 0.5 metres deep.
Tapering from approximately 1 metre in diameter at the bottom (see below "making the hole").
The stones must be thoroughly dried out before use.

3. Gear Check List :Timber
A mixture of dry timber and slow burning logs is best for a hangi.
Hardwood timber is best for the fire because it gives out more heat.
A good choice is lighter timber underneath and hardwood on top.
You need about 45 pieces of wood about 1 metre long and 5 to 8 cm's wide.

4. Newspaper and Kindling :

5. Food Baskets:
Depending on what you serve and how many people you want to feed.
You will need about 3 food baskets or steamer type containers.
One for the meat, poultry and vegetables.
You can make the baskets from small mesh chicken netting by cutting a square and folding the corners up.
Remember to allow for good sides when you are working out the size of the baskets.
Good size baskets are one 25 - 30 cm's square and two smaller ones 15 - 20 cm's square.
(alternatively, steamer type containers can be used).
Local variations can range from elaborately welded perforated steel containers to bakers wire welded trays.

6. Preparation:
Hangi, takes a long time to prepare, so do everything possible, the day before.
Make the baskets.
Cut the wood.
Dig the hole. (cover if left overnight)
The size of the hole depends on the size of the food basket(s).
Place wood and stones by the hole, make sure they are covered if left over night.
Prepare the meat and vegetables.
If the food is to be prepared from a kitchen, have the meat, poultry and vegetables ready to be placed in the
For special type food wrap in muslin cloth. (stuffing, steam puddings)

7. Covering:
Two types of covering are needed - mutton cloth and sacking.
Mutton cloth is used to the cover the food and the sides of the baskets before they are put in the hole.
A much heavier covering is needed to keep the soil from getting into the food once the food has been put
on the heated rocks.
You will need four to five pieces of sacking for this. One to lay over the food, three down the sides of the basket and one for each end of the holes.

8. Other Gear:
Long handled shovel, rake, hose.

9. Outset:
When all the preparation is done place the basket(s) on the ground and mark out the ground around the
Leave at least 4 inches of clearance around the outside edges of the basket(s).
Soak the sacks and white cloth in a bucket of cold water.
Crumple sheets of newspaper one at a time and put them in the hole, save one double piece and roll it up like
a wick.
Put it in the hole near one edge (you will need this to light the paper after you have put in the the wood and rocks).
Put the kindling in, then start building a pyre by putting the bigger wood on.
After the wood reaches ground level, it must be placed in a special way.
The pyre should be built over the pit by placing alternate layers of wood at right angles to the layer below it.
Lay the pieces of wood side by side across the top of the hole, leaving a half inch gap between each
piece until the hole is covered.
On top of this layer put another row, laying it in the opposite direction. As the pyre is being erected, the
stones should be placed in three or four layers at regular intervals throughout it in a pyramid shape.
Build the fire very solidly.
It has to burn for at least an hour or so without being replenished and must have plenty of body.
Light the newspaper wick. Keep a constant eye on your fire.
The rocks will begin to change colour when they are hot. (the volcanic rock will go white)
Before long the wood will burn down and the heated rocks fall into the hole. As the pyre burns down,
replenish it after the first hour with more wood and return any displaced stones to it. (don't forget the fire should burn for two to three hours)
Now is the time to fill the food baskets.
Place the baskets on a bench, arrange the seasoned meat on the bottom carefully, place poultry on top of
meat, place a smaller basket on top of bottom basket and put potato and kumara (sweet potato) inside,
place pumpkin and specialty food on top and cover with cabbage or watercress. Sprinkle salt over the food and cover with the white cotton cloth. Put the food baskets near the hole. Now check that the wet sacking is near the hole.
After 11/2 to 21/2 hours the pit should be covered in ashes and stones as the fire has burnt through.
At this stage clean the pit.
If the pit is not cleaned properly, the ash will spread through the hangi when the water is applied to create
Some people like the smokey taste of meat cooked with the embers left in the hole.
Remove all the unburn't pieces of wood, raking the hot rocks to one side of the hangi hole with a
long handled shovel.
Make a flat bed out of the rocks and throw about two handfuls of cold water on the rocks.
The jet of steam will carry the ash away. The stones should be left laying on the embers.
Place the baskets of food onto the hot rocks. Throw several quarts of water over the food and stones to produce clouds of steam.
Make sure the the white cotton covering the food is wet.
Over the steam and food, place layers of wet mutton cloth or an old table cloth to keep the steam in.
It is essential to start from the base of the food pile and spread the cloth to ensure the soil does not come
into contact with the food. The cloth must cover all the food in the hangi. A layer of wet sacks are used to cover the cloth.
Again the sacks should be thoroughly soaked and again the covering should begin at the bottom of the
food pile, the sacks being put over, one piece each end and one in the centre, in that order.
Through out the covering process, water should be sprinkled to create steam.
The sacks must not have contained chemicals.
The soil is then spread over the sacks forming a dome shaped mound.
Begin, again from the bottom and build towards the top.
Watch for any steam escaping and cover the cracks with soil.
The hangi will need to be checked at regular intervals just incase steam escapes from the soil.
The success of the hangi depends upon the speed in which the steps can be carried out.
It should take about 15 - 20 minutes and then you can take a well deserved liquid refreshment.
This is a good time to make a green salad, gravy and prepare to boil green veges, e.g peas.
Leave the hangi for 2- 3 hours before digging it out to serve.
Peel the soil off the hangi from the top to the bottom and do like wise with the sacks and cloths.
All eyes peer hungrily at the food as the smell of cooked food rises in the evening air.
Is it cooked?.
It is.
It can rarely be overcooked.
Let the hangi begin.

10. Service::
Slice meat and portion chicken have the green vegetables hot and ready to serve.
Place onto plates and serve.

If steam emerges from the hangi after the first spitful of soil is removed, the hangi will be successful.
If no steam appears, cover it up and buy fish and chips.

Alternative Method

1. Oven Hangi:
Prepare this meal in a roasting dish which must have a fitting lid.
Heat the oven to a moderate heat, approx 220 degrees Celsius.

Into the dish sprinkle some parsley and a few pieces of diced celery.
Lay in a few pork bones and on these place 4 pork chops.
(chicken can be added or used in place of pork bones).
Place on top of bones, 4 potatoes, 4 trimmed kumara.
Lay cabbage over the bones.
Place enough cabbage for 4 and if possible some watercress.
Add 1 and a half cups of water.
No salt is needed.
Cover the dish with tin foil.
Place lid on top and bake for 3 and a half hours.
Serves four.

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