|Please admire the little double-walled amuse-bouche dish,|
from a bespoke set of dinnerware made for a famous Franschhoek
restaurant by my uncle, master potter David Walters.
You'll see fishing boats avalanching their silvery cargos of fresh snoek onto the quayside at little working harbours, you'll see it it vlekked (gutted and splayed) on drying frames, you'll see it sold in oaked-smoked fillets, you'll see smoorsnoek, and you'll see it sizzling over braai fires. You're most likely, though, if you're a casual visitor to the city, to encounter it in the form of a salty, smoky pâté.
Today I spent a happy hour in the kitchen with my darling friend Claire (here from Jo'burg for the weekend), concocting our visisticated version of this dish. Claire was driven in a taxi from the airport to her brother's fabulous flat in Kalk Bay, and was inspired by a discussion she had with the driver and his wife. Just outside Muizenberg, they passed racks of golden snoek drying in the sun, and the conversation turned to recipes for preparing the fish. The driver and his wife told Claire stories of being put to work as children by their grandmothers: their task was to pound fresh red chillies and deboned salted snoek together in a mortar; the resulting paste was spread on bread.
After a walk on the beach this morning, and a sinful bockwurst roll at Muriel's Munchies, we picked up a package of oak-smoked snoek at Hout Bay harbour, gathered chillies, coriander and lemons on the way home and set to work producing snoek pâté, only better - with pounded chillies.
Please do not be put off by the fact that this recipe contains a whole red chilli. When you first taste it, you may be alarmed and think your mouth has caught fire. But, given four hours in the fridge, this pâté mellows and the chilli fades, leaving just a tingle.
You can pound these ingredients together with a mortar and pestle in the old-fashioned way, or use a food processor fitted with a metal blade. The important thing here is not to over-process the pâté: it should not be whizzed to a silken paste, but retain some texture.
Chilli Snoek Pâté: a Taste of Hout Bay
250 g oak-smoked snoek [or any similar smoked white fish]
1 red chilli, halved and deseeded
a big pinch of coarse salt
half a clove of fresh peeled garlic
½ tsp (5 ml) finely grated lemon zest
2 Tbsp (30 ml) soft butter
3 Tbsp (45 ml) crème fraîche
milled black pepper
1 Tbsp (15 ml) finely chopped fresh coriander [cilantro]
Flake the fish into a small bowl and remove all bones. Put the chilli into a small mortar with the salt and garlic; pound to paste. If you don't have a mortar, finely chop the chilli and garlic and mash into a paste with the salt using the back of a spoon or a knife. Set aside.
Scrape the chilli and garlic paste into the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Add the flaked fish and all remaining ingredients. Pulse lightly to combine without pulverising the fish. Tip the mixture into a little bowl and refrigerate for three to four hours.
Serve with sliced wholewheat seed loaf or crackers.
Serves 6 as an appetiser or dip.