Cape Town - If hake is, well, rather pleasant really, shark would be the polar opposite, as far removed as the North Pole from the South. Being as ubiquitous as it is, hake, for all its charms, must be able to arrive at any party, in any stratum of society, and fit in. The shark would not be overly welcome in any company, understandably. If a shark is sneaky and condescending, a hake is obsequious and docile.
There are those who live dangerously and who would sooner take their chances with a shark than be bored to death by a roomful of polite hake. Perhaps even invite a shark along, unannounced of course, in the hope that it would decimate the more boring elements on the guest list.
But parties are never much fun if it isn’t a really mixed crowd, so let’s throw in a couple of yellowtail, a trio of red roman and a few red herrings, just to keep things interesting. I’d like to invite some kingklip around too, as well as a bevy of Cape salmon (or geelbek, as some of them prefer to be known), an uptight sea bass in best bib and tucker, and a duo of taciturn snoek in bush hat and takkies (a comb in their socks).
Roaming the crowd, you start to get a bead on personalities. While the hake are being suitably hakelike and the sole shark is largely ignored in a dim alcove, slyly biding his time while pretending to be engrossed by the strains of the Jacopever Jazz Trio in the corner, you notice that the yellowtail are becoming rather garrulous as the wine dulls their inhibitions, and the Norwegian salmon – still jetlagged after its longhaul fight from Oslo – is losing its air of Nordic coolth as the third vodka kicks in. It is eyeing the sole Cape salmon as if it were a second-class citizen, the way a toff regards a yob, but nevertheless with a degree of lascivious interest.
Over there, a quartet of inebriated haddock are telling bad jokes about kippers, and belittling them as they are wont to do, while at a low table a gaggle of giggly sardines play tiddlywinks with their tails. Only the whitebait go entirely unnoticed by the watchful shark, displaying their tendency to disappear quickly in a crowd, as they do on a plate.
Some of our fishy guests are timid, others are bold to the point of rashness. Yet others are gregarious, even vulgar. The sassiest of them all, though, is the dorado, sashaying this way and that, knowing it is the beauty it is. And what the dorado is, and many of the others know it, is perfectly green, despite its softly yellow flanks.
For the sassy dorado has to be the most desirable fish on the Sassi green list.
I confess, mea culpa, that I have not always paid as much attention to what is on and off the “green list” as perhaps I should, but I am not a campaigner. I do not have a mission other than to entertain readers and cook beautiful food, or try to. But I was inspired when attending a Sassi awards function at Harbour House at the Waterfront recently when a man from Pick n Pay made the somewhat startling promise that this enormous chain intended to stock only sustainable seafood in its stores within 18 months.
This is big, and if it had been announced at the fishy party described above, it would have made a few waves. This must surely be a tipping point for sustainable seafood in South Africa, an event that will take the eating of sustainable seafood and the preservation of that which needs protection right into the mainstream.
Because if a chain as big as Pick n Pay is doing the work for us, the whole nation will soon be eating sustainably, simply because that is what will be available in the mainstream. I have long wished they would make it easy for us to buy sustainably. I don’t want to have to Google fish types when I’m standing at the fish counter. I want to know the fish on display are sustainable, because the store has done the work for me and is only selling fish that are in fulsome supply and in a heathy state.
I do not want sullen snoek at my party, a shoal of dejected sardines or a bunch of pissed-off red herrings. I can do without a clutch of disconsolate sole bemoaning their fate. I want happy fish who know that, though we might eat them, at least we won’t decimate their species into oblivion. I want saucy squid with Jamaican accents that sing “darling it’s better down where it’s wetter, take it from me”, not suicidal prawns haunted by nightmares of looming extinction.
So let’s see this sustainability movement grow until all the major suppliers of seafood to ordinary household tables are selling us only what is bountiful and well protected in our seas, and none whatsoever of the threatened species, while their numbers grow as our seas are slowly restocked by the delights of past dinner tables. May we reach the point, one day, when we need not hesitate to braai a galjoen, pan-fry an elf (shad) and oven-bake a kob. Our seafood can be saved.
In the meantime, on the green list is one of the most delicious fish in our seas, the glorious dorado. If you don’t know it, give it a try. It reminds me of both kingklip and yellowtail, being a firm fish which holds its own in the oven or on the grill, and makes beautiful fillets.
I pan-fried some fillets this week, and served them with braised savoy cabbage, parsnip mash, shimeji and shiitake mushrooms, and a parsley cream sauce. It’s quite a posh dish, but to do it simply with lemon butter would be eminently sensible.
Parsnips (1 per person, plus an extra one)
Salt and pepper to taste
Shimeji and shiitake mushrooms
1 medium onion
1 cup dry white wine
50ml fish stock
Handful of parsley washed and dried
200ml reduced-fat cream
1 x 200g dorado fillet per person, skin on
Peel parsnips, cut into chunks and steam until soft. Mash and add butter and salt and pepper. Blend with a hand-held blender until smooth and creamy.
Make a fish stock using the fish leftovers I advised you to freeze several columns ago. You can put them straight from the freezer into a pot with chopped carrots, leeks and onion, cover with cold water and boil until reduced to about 50ml of stock. This can be made in under half an hour, so it’s no sweat, Daisy.
Sauté the mushrooms (slice the shiitake but leave the shimeji whole, cut from their roots) in a little olive oil until soft, season with salt and pepper and a tiny drizzle of lemon juice.
Braise sliced savoy cabbage in olive oil, stirring, until just soft, season and set aside.
Sauté sliced onion in olive oil until softened and translucent, add the stock and reduce, then add the white wine and reduce again, and finally the cream and chopped parsley, letting the mix simmer on a low heat until it has become a silken sauce, stirring and seasoning.
Dip the cleaned and dried dorado fillets in seasoned flour, shake off, and pan-fry in olive oil or butter, about 4 minutes a side. Tuck in while being thankful for the bounty of our seas, and the efforts of kind humans in protecting the denizens of the deep.