24 September is a public holiday in South Africa called Heritage Day. It’s a bit of a sneaky one that kind of slipped in in 1994 when the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) got it to be included. And yay for them, because it’s a one of my favorite SA public holidays (after Christmas). It’s spring time, it’s just starting to warm up and hopefully not raining any more in Cape Town. Often, it’s the first time we braai outside for the summer season (in South Africa we call barbecues “braais”). And so, its unofficial name has become “National Braai Day” and the great freedom fighter Archbishop Desmond Tutu is the patron of National Braai Day.
Mostly braais consist of boerewors (a special South African spicy but not burny sausage), chops (lamb, beef or pork), chicken pieces and marinaded steaks (lamb, beef or pork). Sorry for the vegetarians. However, another CLASSIC Cape Town braai is a snoek braai. Snoek is a fish that is caught off the coast of Cape Town and you can buy it directly from the fisherman who caught it or you can go to a fish market where you can also get very fresh fish. I am no braai master so I got my own beloved braai master to write out how he does his classic snoek braai.
HOW TO BRAAI A SNOEK:
a good snoek
freshly ground black pepper
2 nobs of butter
2 cloves of chopped garlic
about 80 ml apricot jam
Getting your snoek
First of all, your snoek is the most important ingredient. The rule of thumb for fish is “the fresher, the better”, then you have less chance of it being ‘pap’. ‘Pap’ refers to the snoek-especially the fillet area being too flaky. To make the job easier you ask the fish monger to clean the snoek for you. When they clean it, they gut the snoek (which opens the fish for you too) and cut off the head. The tail is usually left on. You are looking at paying anything in the range of R40 to R60 for a snoek and it depends on where you are buying it and from who. If the snoek does not ‘loop’ (Afrikaans term that is used for when there are a lot of snoek available) you can pay up to R80 for it.
Open the snoek out with the flesh side facing you and the skin on your working surface. Rub the inside of snoek with coarse sea salt, but not too much as snoek is a ‘salty’ fish already. Grind some black pepper over it followed with a little mild paprika that you can sprinkle or rub over it. That adds a little Cajun flavour to it. Now for the most important ingredient: the basting sauce. Now, there are many ways of going about it. You can add the basting sauce before or while you braai the snoek.
Throw two knobs of butter, two chopped cloves of garlic, the juice of one lemon and 4 heaped porridge spoons of apricot jam into a microwaveable mixing bowl. The apricot jam is the secret key and it’s what binds all the ingredients together in terms of taste. Obviously the butter sticks it all together. Put the mixing bowl into the microwave and microwave until the butter has melted. Caution: do not wait for the apricot jam to melt completely, because it will not happen and secondly you might not have a microwave oven left.
Bringing it together
Start the fire and wait for the coals to form. Then when the coals are ready spread them out evenly and give them time to rest and cool down. If there is one thing that snoek does not like, it is a lot of heat – it needs a mild heat. So clean the fold grill and lay the one side out with tin foil. Place the snoek skin down (tinfoil side down)on the grill and place on the fire.
After 5 minutes of cooking use a basting brush (or a spoon) to apply the basting sauce. You will apply the basting sauce about once every 5 minutes. You should not grill the fish in total for longer than 25 minutes. You only apply the basting sauce to the flesh side and not the skin side. You need to turn the fish every now and then so that it cooks on the flesh side. But only do this 2 or 3 times and only for short periods of time as you do not want to dry out the meat.
Due to the meat being so thin, the heat cooks through the skin. It’s ready when the meat is all a milky salmon colour.
Braaied tomato and onion toebroodtjies (toasted sandwiches) for starters
Grilled veggies and starch (rice or potatoes)
a Western Cape wine or South African beer
and for pudding: Koeksisters or Malva pudding (see my recipe for that here)
Side note: Be careful of the small fish bones when eating