A twist on the Cape classic, I baste a delicious whole snoek with a sticky fig and balsamic glaze to be cooked over the coals.
This ferocious fish inhabits the waters of the West Coast, an apex predator that requires careful handling when landed. The teeth of the snoek contain anti-coagulants which means a bite from one needs to be taken very seriously. A slim bullet-shaped fish, the snoek is part of the barracuda family and makes up most of the local diet all long our coastline. Caught prolifically off St Helena Bay, I was fortunate enough to be hanging around as a boat laden with snoek came in. Easily a metre in length, this formidable form of protein has the same omega-3 fatty acids present in salmon, but is far more affordable and sustainable. Traditionally, the fillets are salted and air-dried to make a delicacy similar to the Portuguese bacalhau but fresh snoek also appears in many harbour-side canteens where it is dipped in batter and fried to a crisp golden brown. Because it is a fish that contains so many bones, snoek can’t be filleted but instead need to be vlekked – a process that involves removing the head, cutting along the backbone, opening the fish like a book and then slicing into three sections.
A gamey tasting fish that holds up equally well when smoked, dried, fried or grilled, snoek has a great fat content – just be sure to not dry it out as it gets mealy. For the glaze, use ripe green or purple figs when in season, and preserved figs when fresh ones can’t be found.
Snoek with Fig and Balsamic Glaze
Prep time: 10 mins /Cook time: 15 mins /Serves: 4 – 6
You will need:
1.5 kg whole snoek, filleted
50ml balsamic vinegar
6 – 10 ripe figs or 200ml fig preserve
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
Salt and pepper
If using ripe figs, remove the stalks and roughly chop with a large knife. Using a small saucepan, bring the balsamic vinegar and the chopped figs or fig preserve to the boil. Add in the garlic, season, and reduce heat and leave to simmer until thickened and sticky. Put the glaze in an immersion blender and blitz until smooth. Leave to cool slightly.
Pat the snoek dry using kitchen towel before brushing with the glaze. Brush the skin of the snoek with a little olive oil to prevent it sticking to the grid and butterfly the fish open, like a book. Grill the snoek fillets skin-side down, basting with the glaze during cooking. This should take about 15 minutes in total, with the final few minutes used to colour the flesh side of the fish. When ready, the flesh should flake easily under a fork. Serve the snoek with a green salad.