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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.

Dried, salted snoek can be eaten as is, or served in a stew called smoorvis, or if you’re lucky you may get to experience a “snoek braai” - a real South African treat.

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.

Cooking Snoek

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.

Fried Snoek Roes and Snoek Curry 

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.

Snoek is suitable for
  • baking

  • braai-ing

  • braising

  • currying

  • drying

  • frying

  • grilling

  • pickling

  • poaching

  • smoking

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.

These portions of heavily salted snoek play an important part in the lives of many fishermen and their families especially along the west coast of South Africa at places like Paternoster, Lamberts Bay and St Helena Bay. They can be stored almost indefinitely for times when food is scarce and money not plentiful. “Vlek” the snoek, rinse clean and cut into even-sized pieces. In a suitable container, alternate layers of snoek with a generous amount of coarse kitchen salt. Scatter a final layer of salt over the fish and cover.
How to use Mooitjies
Soak mooitjies in several changes of water for a day or so to remove excess salt. Cover with fresh water and bring to the boil. Simmer them until cooked, then use for Smoorvis, fish bobotie or fish frikkadels.
Gestampte Snoek (snoek paste)
This old Cape Malay recipe uses a very dry smoked snoek. Remove the bones and skin and pound the meat in a mortar with some chillies. Use as a spread on bread.
Snoek Sambal
Flake smoked or cooked snoek coarsely. Add 1 onion, thinly sliced, for every 250 ml snoek used. Add chillies to taste, 1–2 bay leaves or lemon leaves and 6 black peppercorns. Cover with brown vinegar and marinate in the refrigerator for 1–2 days. If mixture is too acid, add a little brown sugar or moskonfyt. Serve with slices of wholewheat bread and butter as a starter or as a light supper dish.
How to “vlek” a Snoek

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

Subcategory: Seafood

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