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 Snoek

 

Slat My Dood…

 

By Hilary Prendini Toffoli

 

 

Snoek is a national treasure, a delicious game
fish unique to the Cape. Yet it hardly ever
appears on local restaurant menus. We talk
to some of the city’s top chefs.

 

 

 

“Slat my dood met ‘n pap snoek!” is an expression Capies sometimes use when they’re blown out of the water by something astounding. Of course it sounds far more authentic when your two front teeth are missing and the sibilants come lisping out through the passion gap.

 

Though it somehow misses the juice in translation - “Hit me dead with a flabby snoek!” -  the expression is proof of how deeply entrenched snoek is in Cape mythology. Fishermen have been trawling it in the tempestuous Cape waters ever since Van Riebeeck’s men first got their fingers bitten off by its fierce teeth in the 1600s.

 

At one time snoek was the staple diet of half the Peninsula. Some bright Hout Bay spark even managed to do a deal with Mauritius in the early 19th century, swopping dried snoek for sugar. And during food shortages after the war, Britain bought loads of snoek in tins. Not that this did anything for its image. The fish was so badly canned it put the Brits off snoek forever.

 

I suspect that bad British press is one of the reasons this tasty seafood hardly ever finds its way on to the menu of upmarket Cape Town restaurants, even though it’s the fish the average Capetonian always goes to look for when the wind finally drops and the thought of a nice fish braai in the backyard becomes irresistible.

 

The other reason of course is the bones. Though the compact, strongly flavoured flesh of this member of the oily mackerel family is delicious and unforgettable, you have to contend with an astounding number of long vicious-looking bones that are most effectively removed with the fingers. Which is fine at a braai, but not something you can expect clients to do when they’re eating in a five-star set-up, says Grant Cullingworth, executive chef of the Westin Grand Cape Town.

 

“In a restaurant it’s difficult to serve snoek as a portion fish because of those bones. You have to flake it or do it as a mousse,” says Cullingworth. He thinks it handles best smoked, and the dish he likes to make is inevitably traditional: Snoek and Sweetcorn Frikadelle.

 

He serves his smoked snoek frikadelle with apricot ice cream and sweet chilli and apricot konfyt. It’s his elaborately titillating take on the classic West Coast combination of jam with fish, a combo that might boggle the mind but works magic on the tastebuds.

 

Another snoek fan and also a great snoek angler is Stephen Templeton, ex-Mount Nelson executive chef now running a gem of a restaurant at his Four Oaks guesthouse in Montagu. “I’ve caught snoek in Gordon’s Bay and it’s hell to deal with,” says this blond British boykie. “You work your butt off. There are spikes all over them and they’re devils. You bleed all over the place.”

 

Yet it’s evidently worth it. “Snoek roe
is delicious, a delicacy,” he says.
“The fishermen fry it and eat it with bread.”

 

He learnt the secrets of cooking snoek from Ralph Cupido at Spier in the days of the traditional South African buffet at Jonkershuis restaurant.

 

“That man could do the most amazing things with snoek. One of his best snoek dishes was with homemade apricot preserves. He soaked the fish in milk and flavoured it with onions and bay leaves.”

 

Though Templeton himself does a nice take on traditional smoor snoek, using Chinese cabbage and marogo (wild African Swiss chard) instead of the traditional flaked onions and potatoes, he likes dishes that are funky and fun. “I think a great idea would be a smoked snoek mousse that you freeze it, wrap in sea weed and serve with a wild oyster on a bed of seaweed. And because it needs a bit of sweetness, I’d add a little mango compote.”

 

Smoked snoek is also the choice of Bruce Robertson, formerly of The Showroom and now doing his gourmet picnics for Warwick wine estate. Robertson’s suggestion for a great snoek dish is a layered terrine, combining the smoked snoek with aubergine, since it’s a nice complimentary texture, and then wrapping in nori sheets and spinach leaves.

 

A chef renowned for his quirky approach to food, Robertson believes it’s high time South Africa restaurants were more adventurous. “Snoek is a lekker fish, very versatile. We should use more of it, and not just in smoked snoek pâté.”

 

Certainly he must be the first chef in the world to have tried giving customers bokkom – those tiny harders that are salted and dried on the line in the wind like washing, until they look like catfood and taste like fish biltong, distinctly smelly. I’d have thought you’d only find them tasty if you were shipwrecked off Yzerfontein with nothing to eat for a week, but Robertson says he can turn them into a delicious bokkom veloute that goes very well with abalone carpaccio.

 

One area where all the chefs are in agreement on is smoked snoek. It’s definitely on a more epicurean stretch of turf than any other kind of snoek - fried, braaied, grilled, baked, curried or pickled. In fact smoked snoek is arguably one of South Africa’s most valuable culinary assets, far outstripping biltong - which comes closer to leather than food - and bobotie, that spicy-custard-and-sawdust thing which is really only edible when some imaginative chef has fiddled with the traditional ingredients.

 

We could be getting a lot more global mileage out of our smoked snoek. It could be known around the world as a South African delicacy, as instantly recognisable as the rubbery escargots of France, which for flavour and texture it beats hands down. But we always downplay the local. If Parma’s much-praised slices of elderly raw pig were aged in Salt River, the chances are we wouldn’t think they were terribly special.

 

Distance does lend enchantment. Smoked snoek has been one of the Cape Town tastes I’ve missed most living abroad. I’m not the only one, as I discovered when an ex-pat friend in New York sent me a New Yorker article by American columnist Calvin Trillin.

 

Written with dry humour, it tells of how Trillin’s friend Jeffrey Jowell, who grew up in Cape Town and became a distinguished London law professor, has for the past 30 years experienced intense yearnings for the snoek of his home town, particularly smoked.

 

On holiday visits he always goes in search of snoek. He and Trillin go on what the columnist describes as “a sort of snoek tour” of Cape Town, trying it out in places as far-ranging as the food booths on the Parade outside the City Hall and Olympia Café in Kalk Bay. At the Olympia, one of the chefs tells Trillin that the reason the restaurant never features snoek as the linefish of the day is because “White people won’t eat snoek.”

 

They also visit Palace Fisheries, specialists in smoked snoek. It’s in Lower Main Road, Salt River, not the usual stamping ground of law professors and upmarket New York media types. But Palace Fisheries comes highly recommended, and it seems the visitors get not only a short course in curing snoek from the proprietor, Emanuel Dos Santos, but also a delicious hunk of smoked snoek they decide is considerably more delectable than the piece of fried snoek covered in “plaster-cast batter” they’ve just had at Snoekies in Hout Bay.

 

Naturally, as a smoked snoek addict, I waste
no time in heading for sleazy Salt River.

 

The fish-and-chips shop turns out to be hardly big enough to swing a sardine frankly, but Dos Santos, a stocky young Portuguese with a bristling moustache, has become more famous in New York than in Cape Town. Since the article appeared, people keep pitching up and asking for him by name. He tells them “You must have been reading the New Yorker. No-one around here knows me as Emanuel Dos Santos. They just know me as Manny.”

 

He has a bewildering variety of customers. One is as skinny and dried out as the piece of repellent-looking salt snoek he buys for a pittance. Made from snoek that’s gone pap, salt snoek is a poor relation of smoked snoek. Dos Santos says “He eats it just like that, to get rid of his hangover. It’s the salt.”

 

Palace Fisheries has been here well over half a century. The father of the Ferreira who currently owns it used to smoke his snoek on the small wood fire at the back that they still use. One lone black worker is there working with a load of about 60 gutted, opened-out fish that Dos Santos got from the “langanaar,” the middle man who bids for the fish when they come into harbour on small snoek boats, surrounded by squealing seagulls.

 

Dos Santos keeps his prize fish, chunky and big, in an old wooden cold room. The whole place is seriously antiquated but the wedge of smoked salmon he cuts for me is heaven – thick and firm with that distinctive smoked snoek flavour that your tastebuds never forget. And considerably cheaper than anywhere else.

 

“It must always be moist,” he says. “If it’s too dry it’s tasteless. The Muslim community like it quite pap, so they can spread it on bread, but when it’s pap it doesn’t last as long.

 

Of course you get a lot of pap snoek - snoek with worms – but it’s nothing, it’s never killed anyone.”

 

Except of course in the old saying “Slat my dood met ‘n pap snoek!”

 

“Hey,” he says, “I haven’t heard that saying in years.”

 

 

Lannice Snyman has always been acclaimed for
 her superb fish dishes. We have chosen two of her
excellent recipes, Braaied Fish with Apricot Glaze
and her Fish Frikkadels with Rougail, both from her
 stunning award winning Tortoises & Tumbleweeds,
Journey Through and African Kitchen. 

 

BRAAIED FISH WITH APRICOT GLAZE

 

West Coasters have braaied their snoek this way for many, many years; the firm, tasty flesh goes well with the tangy, fruity glaze. Any fresh linefish may be used. For added flavour, scatter fresh herbs on the coals as the fish cooks. If you prefer, cut the fish into serving portions before braaiing.

 

1 whole fish, about 3 kg
coarse salt
milled black pepper
vegetable oil
125 ml smooth apricot jam
45 ml worcestershire sauce
lemon wedges, for squeezing
(Serves 8 - 10) 

 

Cut off the fish head and vlek open so that it hinges at the belly. Leave the skin on. Season lightly with coarse salt and set aside for 30 to 60 minutes to firm up and flavour the fish. Rinse off the salt and season the fish with a little pepper. Brush both the fish and a hinged grid with oil. Place the fish on the grid.

 

Mix together the jam and worcestershire sauce and liberally brush the flesh side of the fish. Close the grid and brown, flesh-side first, over hot coals. This will take about 5 to 10 minutes, depending on the heat of the coals. Turn the fish, baste again and cook skin side down for about 10 minutes more until cooked through. Serve with lemon wedges for squeezing. 

 

FISH FRIKKADELS WITH ROUGAIL

 

Frikkadels - a lovely old-fashioned word refers both to fishcakes and meatballs. Big fat ones are fab for dinner, while smaller ones are good with pre-prandial drinks. Fish Frikkadels may be flavoured in various ways; here we have an Indian spin. Any fish can be used, freshly cooked for the occasion, left-over from a baked braaied beastie - even tinned salmon, tuna or pilchards if all else fails. Rougail - a salady garnish of Tamil origin that has made its home in the Indian Ocean islands - rounds things off gloriously.

 

500 g smoked or cooked fish fillets 
300 g potatoes, peeled and diced
60 ml chopped coriander
2 eggs, lightly beaten
salt and milled black pepper
juice of 1 lemon or lime
250 ml toasted breadcrumbs
2 limes to serve
vegetable oil

 

Rougail:
3 - 4 spring onions, finely chopped
3 roma or plum tomatoes, chopped
60 ml chopped coriander
salt and milled black pepper
olive oil
lime juice

(Makes about 12; Serves 4 - 6)

 

Skin and flake the fish. Cook the potatoes in a saucepan of salted boiling water. Drain well and mash. Mix in the fish, coriander and egg, and flavour with salt and pepper and a good squeeze of lemon or lime juice. Shape into patties, flattening them between your palms. Coat with toasted crumbs.

 

Cut the limes in half, brush generously with oil and grill in a frying pan until lightly charred and smoky.

 

Rougail: Mix together the spring onions, tomatoes and coriander, and season with salt and pepper. Add a little olive oil and lime juice. Spoon into a bowl. Heat oil in a medium frying pan for shallow frying and fry the frikkadels until crisp and golden; 2 - 3 minutes on each side should do it. 

 

Serve hot or at room temperature - never chilled, as they lose all their flavour. Rougail and charred limes can be presented alongside or in separate bowls. 

 

 

Carmen Niehaus, well known food editor of You and
Huisgenoot, has recently introduced another edition of
LET’S COOK, in which cooks around South Africa sent
through their favourite recipes. Below she tells us how
Mari Olivier of Parow covers snoek with a layer
of vegetables and bakes it in the oven.
 

 


BAKED SNOEK WITH VEGETABLE TOPPING

 

Fish:
1 kg butterflied fresh snoek (backbone removed)
30 ml (2 tbsp) melted butter
salt and freshly ground black pepper

 

Sauce:
60 ml (¼ cup) olive oil
60 ml (¼ cup) lemon juice
60 ml (¼ cup) tomato purée

 

Topping:
1 medium-sized onion, thinly sliced
250 g button mushrooms, sliced
1 large tomato, sliced
½ red pepper, sliced into strips 
slat and freshly ground black pepper
pinch sugar
5 ml (1 tsp) chopped fresh rosemary
(Serves 4)

 

Switch on the oven grill and grease a baking sheet.

 

Fish: Put the snoek skin side down on the baking sheet. Pour the butter over and season to taste with salt and pepper. Grill for about 3 minutes on the top oven shelf. Remove, pour off the liquid and remove most of the large bones. Set the oven temperature to 180ºC.

 

Sauce: Mix the sauce ingredients and brush the snoek with the mixture.

 

Topping: Cover the fish with the topping ingredients and bake for 5 - 10 minutes or until the fish is just done and no longer glassy. Serve with freshly baked bread.

 

Tip: Scatter mozzarella cheese on top of the vegetable layer and bake until melted.

 

Asian Marinade for Snoek: Use this marinade when baking snoek in the oven or over a fire. Blend 60 ml (¼ cup) soy sauce, finely grated rind of 2 oranges and 2 lemons, 30 ml (2 tbsp) chutney, 30 ml (2 tbsp) oil, 5 ml (1 tsp) sesame oil, 2 crushed cloves garlic and 15 ml (1 tbsp) grated fresh ginger. Brush the fish with the mixture while baking.

 

 

SNOEK QUICHE

 

1 x recipe rich shortcrust pastry
125 ml grated Cheddar cheese
1 ml (pinch) cayenne pepper

 

Filling: 
500 ml (2 cups) flaked smoked snoek
2 hard-boiled eggs
125 ml (1/2 ml) sun-dried tomatoes in vinaigrette
15 ml (1 tbsp) chopped chives
150 ml grated Cheddar cheese
1 x recipe basic egg custard 
(Serves 6 - 8)

 

Preheat the oven to 200ºC. Mix the cheese and cayenne pepper with the dry ingredients for the shortcrust pastry before adding the liquid. Proceed as described and line a 30 cm quiche tin with the pastry. Bake blind.

 

Mix the filling ingredients and spoon the mixture into the baked crust. Pour over the egg custard and bake for 30 - 40 minutes or until set. 

 

Basic Egg Custard: 
This egg custard is enough to fill a 30 cm pie crust. Use any of the fillings with the custard.

 

250 ml (1 cup) full-cream milk
125 ml (½ cup) cream
3 extra-large eggs
1 ml (pinch) mustard powder
salt and freshly ground black pepper

 

Whisk together the milk, cream and eggs. Season to taste with mustard, salt and freshly ground black pepper and carefully pour over the filling a baked pie crust. 

 

Egg Custard Variations: 
Use milk instead of the cream and use 1 extra egg yolk. 
Add 20 ml (4 tsp) pesto to the custard for extra flavour. 
Add a pinch of cayenne pepper for extra bite. 
Add finely grated Parmesan cheese. 
For a lighter custard use yoghurt instead of cream.

 

 

EASY SNOEK PÂTÉ

 

1 kg flaked smoked snoek
1 small onion, chopped
250 ml mayonnaise
125 g cream cheese
15 ml lemon juice
15 ml chopped parsley
15 ml capers

 

Garnish:
10 lettuce leaves
20 black olives
2 lemons, cut into slices

 

Place ingredients in liquidiser or food processor and blend. Pile onto lettuce leaves and garnish with black olives and lemon slices. Serve with wholewheat bread. 

 

 

 

SEE TORTOISES & TUMBLEWEEDS on SHOWCOOK.COM  

Tortoises & Tumbleweeds 
Journey through an African Kitchen
By Lannice Snyman 

LANNICE SNYMAN PUBLISHERS
Tel: +27 (21) 790 3367 
courtenay@lannicesnyman.com 
www.lannicesnyman.com

 

 

 

 

 

You LET’S COOK 5
By Carmen Niehaus  
Published by Human & Rousseau
HUMAN & ROUSSEAU
An imprint of NB Publishers
Tel: +27 (21) 406 4215

www.nb.co.za

 

 

 

 

 
 

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  • Gaakiem
    4 March, 2011, 0:34

    I bought a snoek the other day and I found a worm in it,NO not melkare it was as thin as a hair strand and see throughish! what is that!? is freaked me out it was stil moving when I was busy cleaning the snoek.the snoek was aparently fresh n realed in the same moning that I bought the afternoon.

 
  • 15 May, 2012, 19:03

    You can visit Palace Fisheries Website @ http://www.seafoodpalace.co.za for directions to get to Salt River, still the Best Smoked Snoek, and the only Fisheries to have Wood Fried Stoves for the Best tasting Fish & Chips. You Can Taste The Difference.

 

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