HERITAGE DAY FISH BRAAI WITH CHEF JP
This braai day, Chef JP is opening his home to some special friends and family for a seafood celebration.
We are digressing from the Shisanyama or classic boerie roll braai day, and going back to our maritime roots – from the Atlantic at the tip of Africa to the warmer Indian Ocean.
For many South Africans, the ocean, beach and the salt air are as much a part of our heritage as the endless grassy plains or the fynbos in the hinterland. Bearing in mind that we have featured a lot about conservation and the value of our marine biodiversity over the past months, this is a celebration of that and a reminder to enjoy the culinary treasures that it offers us whilst still sourcing fish and seafood sustainably to make sure that this bounty never runs out.
Our Heritage Day braai starts along the East Coast and then makes a “Kaapse draai” and heads to the historical Cape of Good hope.
One thing is certain, though, we are including the host of cultures and influences that make up this nation and its culinary heritage – from Malay to Mauritian to Asian and more – and drinking many a toast to a country that is a true kaleidoscope.
So, here’s to a coast of many colours, always remembering the need for Ubuntu in this Rainbow Nation.
PLANTERS RUM PUNCH
Along the East Coast, we are fortunate to live in a warm, subtropical climate with luscious greenery, palm (or is that banana) leaves and the sound of waves. Being lucky enough to enjoy the warm ocean air with some fresh seafood on the braai is priceless. For those so-called binnelanders out there – it would definitely change your views on having a braai altogether.
Think leaning back and enjoying a cocktail complete with tropical fruit such as pineapple and a dash of coconut rum under the gentle September sun.
Welcome cocktails are so synonymous with introducing new friends and celebrating being together ahead of a really fun day which is what we did as we gathered for our fishy feast.
We are started with a humble Island Planters punch that has come to be known as the standard tipple of the sugar fields of neighbouring Mauritius. Along the East Coast and into Mpumalanga, we share a similar sugar culture to our neighbouring island.
In a blender, mix your pineapple slices and some fresh pineapple juice, add some dark rum and blitz. When you have a rich foamy pulp, add some grenadine for flavour and colour. Garnish with a pineapple wedge … and enjoy this wonderful concoction in an African crystal – aka classic tin mugs …
VINDAYE OF TUNA
Whilst we were savouring the fruit from the Gods, I was off dishing up another Mauritian influenced delicacy, Fish Vindaye. In layman’s terms, this is a cold fish curry served in a sea shell.
The interesting part of this dish is that it has so many cultural influences – from Sri Lanka to France, Mauritius and Malaysia – all of which, at some time, left footprints on our South African beaches.
The core ingredient is fresh yellow fin tuna, available in the warm waters off the coast of Mozambique. After your fish is treated and cleaned, cut the fillets into bite-sized blocks. These are then marinated for 24 hours in the fridge to soak up all the flavours and aromatics from the rest of the ingredients.
FROM YOUR SEASIDE PANTRY:
300 grams cubed tuna, lightly seared in coconut oil
1 large diced onion
100 ml rice wine vinegar
10 grams crushed garlic
2 Tablespoons Dijon mustard
10 grams crushed root ginger
2 teaspoons Malaysian yellow curry paste
10 grams turmeric
mustard seeds for seasoning
Sweat your onions and sear your tuna. Mix all the ingredients in a food processor. Place your fish curry mix in a covered cling wrapped glass bowl and refrigerate for 24 hours. Let the fish get to room temperature and serve up. This is a delicious way to start your Heritage Day.
CORN AND CRAB CAKES
I never let any of my guests feel left out. Because come can’t stand the (curry) heat, I served up an alternative starter in the form of corn and crab cakes with a coconut cream drizzle. In summary, this is a mixture of crab meat, yellow corn kernels, an egg, a dash of mayo and / or mustard and other seasoning to suit your taste. After mixing together in a bowl, shape into individual cakes and place in the fridge for a short while.
Heat a pan and fry on the stove top. Serve hot with a coconut cream drizzle.
MOVING ON TO THE MAINS
When it come to a fish braai, its takes a few skills to be the master braaier. You can’t just throw the meat on the fire, turn it a few times and slap it on a roll.
My late dad and my two uncles came up from a long heritage of seaside braai masters which made me so proud. After several years of not touching the tongs when we had family braais, all my practicing behind the scenes finally came through.
I got a platinum certificate for my birthday. The words on the plaque said: ‘Official Paraffin Papiere” signed by them. At last, I haven officially was anointed as a braai master!
So, to celebrate Heritage Day, I’m asking my family and friend three of my favourite memories of how classic fish and seafood meets the coals:
Butterflied queen prawns
West Coast Snoek
GREEN VEG SALAD
I always serve fish with a colourful salad and crispy garlic bread.
This time round, I was going green – all puns intended. Because we are in spring and I am still eating my words” (See my blog from two weeks ago), for fish braai day, I decided to make a cold vegetable salad using:
wild green lettuce
I dressed with simple salad with a white wine vinaigrette, extra virgin olive oil, soy, honey, and a handful of sunflower seeds.
LEKKER KAAPSE SNOEK
Moving on from the warm Indian Ocean, we are taking a slight detour to the colder waters of the Atlantic Ocean – the proverbial “Kaapse Draai.”
Smoked west coast snoek is a tradition in itself. This smokey and flaky fish is just one of my ultimate fish favourites to braai. Today, we are going the classic way with garlic, apricot jam, and cooked on a banana leaf. The banana leaf has natural oils, so the fish skin doesn’t burn. It also acts as a natural aromatic as the fish simmers on the medium coals.
I placed the prepared fish in a tinfoil basket that had been pre-layered with a banana leaf. I rubbed some apricot jam on to the fish and soaked it in some garlic butter and fresh lemon. Before placing on the braai, I adder a few dollops of apricot jam and some lemon quarters as well as some fennel.
Simmer your fish for 15 minutes on a medium fire. As soon as the fish starts bubbling, cover it with tin foil and let it continue to slowly simmer until the flesh is white. Serve immediately – but warn your guests to look out for those spikey bones.
YUMMILICIOUS YELLOW TAIL
Yellow tail is another cold water fish with such structure and flavoursome meat.
Having access to fresh fish is becoming quite difficult. The oceans were not what they used to be with too many trawlers, nets and a hungry fisherman. Yellowtail used to be quite a common fish found in most good seafood restaurants. Nowadays it has become a delicacy due to price and demand.
Tracking down this wonderful catch of the day wasn’t easy and my penance was actually cleaning this fish. As I was telling my guests over the flames, I haven’t gutted and cleaned a fish for a while. So, I started my morning early at the time when the traditional fog horn would have sounded and prepared to gut and scale this beautiful fish.
Once that chore was complete, I wrapped the fish in a tin foil parcel, with lemon, coconut milk, a sweet and sour garlic rub and some spice. I left it to slowly cook until the meat was no longer translucent, but remained moist.
When we opened that tin foil parcel, the fragrance of the ocean, lingered.
PERFECT BRAAI PRAWNS
Grilling prawns on the braai takes a few skills, especially when it comes to temperature of your coals. Another must is remembering to regularly baste the prawns so that they do not dry out.
Make a basting sauce using butter, garlic, smoked paprika and fresh lemon juice.
Over a medium fire, place your butterflied clean, heads-on queens on the grill and let them cook, crust down for a total of eight 8 minutes. Baste them every two minutes. When your prawn goes red in colour and your meat is white, and not translucent, they are ready to devour. For a little braai side entertainment, I decided to flambé our prawns with some left over rum. This added a little touch of caramelised goodness.
THE END OF THE TAIL
Because times have changed and good fish is hard to come by, I decided to use as much of this wonderful fish and decided to grill the tail. I served it with coconut cream and some sweet and sour sauce and plenty of freshly squeezed lemon.
BANANA REPUBLIC ROOSTER KOEK
Of course, as with any good South African braai, we had begun to swap tales of all those quirky local issues such as load shedding, bad driving, queues at home affairs and potholes.
So, I whipped out another uniquely South African tradition – rooster koek. This time round, it was sweet rather than savoury and topped with grilled banana, some blueberries and drizzled with a healthy helping of honey.
Take it from me, once everyone began crunching at this unexpected delight, the moans and groans that make us so distinctly South African faded.
We ended our braai day win good spirits and glad to be able to gather around for another unforgettable braai. In this spirit, I raise a glass to my friends and family and, especially to my late Dad.
May the heritage of braai day live on forever.