On her first visit to Cape Town, to stay with family, Caro was introduced to smoked snoek (a fish she had never encountered before), and immediately fell in love. Since then she’s introduced it to me and I can completely understand why she loves it so much, especially smoked. We’re taking full advantage of the sun this week and BBQ ing our snoek with a lovely flavour-packed glaze.
The snoek, is a long, thin, species of snake mackerel found in the seas of the Southern Hemisphere. It was originally called the “zeesnoek” (Sea Snoek) by Dutch colonists who arrived in the Cape in 1652 because it reminded them of the freshwater pike (or snoek) they found at home in the Netherlands.The snoek is a silvery fish that is found off the coast of Namibia and the coast of the Western Cape and Northern Cape in southern Africa, from northern Angola to Port Elizabeth. However, most fish are found between the Cunene River and Cape Agulhas. It is also found in the mid southern Atlantic and off Western Australia, where it is call the barracouta (no relation to the barracuta), off Chile and Argentina, where it is called the sierra. is currently the only known member of its genus.
Bluish-black on top with a silver belly, the snoek is a medium-sized fish that grows to over a metre in length, reaching a maximum length of 2 m and weighing approximately 9 kg. In South Africa, adult fish prey mainly on sardine, anchovy and mantis shrimps. Snoek is caught in trawl nets with hake and is a common “by-catch” species of the South African deep-sea and inshore trawl fisheries, but it is also an important catch of the traditional line-fishery, particularly in the western and southwestern Cape.
Snoek is one of the Cape’s most popular exports. Snoek forms schools near the bottom or midwater, and prefers water between 13° and 18°C. Although it’s delicious to eat this fish fresh, snoek freezes well and can be baked, poached, fried or smoked, but the traditional way to serve it is grilled oon a barbecue with boiled sweet potatoes. In Cape Town snoek can be purchased at most working harbours, including, Kalk Bay harbour, Hout Bay harbour or Granger Bay harbour. Snoek can also be found at shops in Seapoint and by the Cape Town station. In season, fresh snoek is also available at many local supermarkets.
Fresh snoek is typically barbecued over an open grill or wrapped in aluminium foil with butter and herbs and served with boiled sweet potatoes and “tamatiesmoor” – a fried up hash of chopped tomatoes, onions, garlic and herbs. Another favourite is a kedgeree using smoked snoek. In the Cape Malay community snoek is a key ingredient in many dishes. Dishes include smoorsnoek, snoek breedie, fish bobotie, and snoek pâtés. In the subsistence fishing communities around the Cape’s West coast, snoek are cleaned, sliced, packed flat and heavily salted with coarse salt. After a few days in this state, the fish are hung up to air dry. The dried fish forms part of the community’s staple diet as well as useful trading commodity. Much in the same way as the Portuguese use dried cod to make bacalao, in these communities the dried fish is soaked in changes of fresh water until the fish is soft. This fish is then added to soups, stews and casseroles using indigenous and locally grown vegetables and often eaten with a variety of staples, like potatoes, yams or, rice.
- 1 snoek
- A glug of extra virgin olive oil
- Salt for packing the fish fillets plus flavouring
- A large pinch of freshly milled black pepper
- A large teaspoon of jam ( we used greengage)
- A large knob of butter
- The juice of 1 large lemon
- 3 minced garlic cloves
- A small finger of ginger, minced
- A splash of tamari
- A small glass of white wine
- Dash of Chilli Jam
Prepare the snoek by removing the head and tail, gutting, cleaning and filleting it. You can ask your fishmonger to do this if it doesn’t appeal to you. I am trying my best to learn these techniques and I have a great teacher in my fabulous fishmonger Dan, he has the patience of a saint, especially where my oyster shucking is concerned !
It’s now time to light the BBQ, so make sure the briquettes are spread evenly and white before you start to cook. This process usually takes around 25-30 minutes so plenty of time to prepare the snoek. Wash the fish under cold water then dry it thoroughly. We dry fish/meat in the same way by packing it in seasoned sea salt. The salt absorbs all the water and leaves the fish or even meat evenly dry. Next, the glaze. Add the garlic, ginger to a sauté pan with melted butter. Saute for a couple of minutes until softened before adding the fruit jam, lemon, wine, tamari and chilli jam. Reduce by half and set to one side. Gently brush the salt from the fish and smear the skin side with olive oil to avoid sticking. I usually place fish in a grid to avoid it sticking and breaking up.
Place the grid onto the grill skin side down and cook for 12-15 minutes depending on size. Carefully baste the fillets with the glaze ensuring there is even coverage and turn the fish occasionally to make sure it is cooked evenly. To test if the snoek is cooked simply insert a skewer and twist slightly. If the fish starts to flake then It’s ready to eat. Once ready, remove from the grid and put on a plate ready to serve up with the salads and vegetables of your choice.