Snoek, a fierce fish found in the sea off Cape Town is the staple diet and source of income for many Malay fisherman on the peninsula. It is pronounced “snook”, as in “look”. It’s also found in Australia and New Zealand where it is known as barracouta (no relation to baracuda). It tastes great when fresh.
The general body colour of this elongate, somewhat compressed fish is predominantly silver. The body is covered with numerous minute scales arranged in series along the well-defined lateral line. Though generally found in coastal waters, it also occurs off-shore, where considerable catches are made by trawlers. There is considerable seasonal variation in the condition of snoek, and during late winter and in spring, the fish is normally in a poor state of health. This coincides with the breeding season and is associated with the low oil and protein content of its flesh. The nematode parasites which heavily infest the body do not, however, affect the quality of the fish.
Most snoek are caught by commercial fishermen using fish baited hand lines, but the species is equally popular with sport anglers though rarely with spearfishermen. The snoek is well respected by all who catch it, as it is extremely vicious, and, once hooked, it is rapidly retrieved and immediately killed to avoid severe lacerations.
No fish is more traditional to the Cape than this fierce, silvery predator of the sea. The flesh should be eaten or preserved soon after capture or it tends to soften. Fresh snoek is obtainable in season and frozen snoek is available in most supermarkets throughout the country.
Fresh snoek roes are considered a local delicacy. They should be gently simmered in boiling, salted water, before being dusted with flour and fried until crispy golden on the outside.
Snoek is still preserved by using the age-old methods of salting and wind-drying, as well as smoking over oak chips. Smoked snoek is delicious and makes interesting hors d’oeuvres, as well as souffles, quiches and roulades.
Although it is an oily fish, snoek should always be liberally basted when it is grilled, to prevent it becoming too dry. Use a mixture of melted butter and oil, and lemon juice, with a chopped clove of garlic added for extra flavour. When eating snoek, watch out for the many long, needle-like bones which run through the flesh. Snoek does not need to be scaled before cooking, as the scales are very small.
The flesh distribution of a snoek is such that ordinary filleting and skinning is impossible. Hence the term “vlek” which involves removing the head, cutting down the length of the back and opening the fish like a book. The backbone remains on the one side and the entrails are now easy to remove. Wash thoroughly under running water and dry. Video link below.
Category: South African Cuisine