Cradock - It's easy to mess up fish braaied on open coals, but it is also easy to get it right. The key is simplicity, oil, a watchful eye and quick work.
The first time I braaied a whole fish, many years ago, I did not know the rules.
I forged ahead as if I was cooking chops or wors, not knowing that if you don’t oil your grid very well first, and preferably also your fish, you are going to end up with a mess of fish and skin stuck to the grid while you yank the rest off in ugly bits.
Not a pretty sight for your guests and as much as a third of the fish will have gone to waste.
But oil the grid first and both sides of the fish and cook it skin-side down at first before turning to cook the other side and you’re in for a braai-side treat.
A little simple seasoning of salt and pepper and some melted butter mixed with lemon juice or lime juice and perhaps a little garlic and/or chilli and you’re finding something excellent in its simplicity. You can throw some prawns on the coals alongside the main event to make it even more special. Just clean and devein them and braai them butterflied in their shells (heads removed), and they only take a few minutes.
Douse them in a similar mix of lemon butter before cooking. Or deshell them and skewer them for a bit of extra pizzazz.
Not every fish is suitable for the braai. I prefer yellowtail or snoek, both of which can be cooked in the way described here, but if you have a sizeable snoek (and they can be enormous), just be sure you have a grid, and an area of coals, that can handle it, and be sure to increase the quantities of butter and citrus so that you have enough to cover it all.
The measurements given here are only a guide and need to be adapted according to the size of the fish you are braaiing.
The braaiing time also needs to be adjusted. If you have a snoek that looks as if would frighten visitors if they saw it from a shark cage off Gansbaai, you may be biting off more than you and your braai mates can chew.
So the bigger that fish, the more braiing time it needs, but be very careful not to overcook it. Fish is almost invariably better cooked a little less than you might think and dry fish loses at least half of its character and appeal.
I take it off the heat when it is still a little uncooked in the middle. It will still cook for a while longer, and will always be more delicious and pleasing to the palate if it has a moist centre. There’s a great difference between moist and raw.
This particular recipe will rescue you to a degree, however, if you have overcooked it. Be sure to spoon over plenty of the dressing (which combines as a dressing for both the fish and the salad) to make the end result something to crow about.
Braaied Yellowtail with Asian salad
For the fish:
1 whole yellowtail to serve 4, or a smaller one to serve 2, filleted but skin on
Sunflower oil for the braai grid
3 to 5 Tbs butter, melted
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Juice of 1 or 2 limes
Salt and pepper to taste
Ask your fishmonger to fillet the yellowtail for you, but to keep the spine intact so that you have a headless, tailless fish to be braaied butterfly style. Firm up the fish in the fridge for 30 minutes before cooking. Oil a very clean hinged braai grid big enough to hold your fish. Oil and season the skin side of the fish and place skin-side down in the grid. Season the flesh side with salt and pepper. Melt the butter in a small pot and add the garlic and lime juice. Brush this over the flesh side of the fish (which should be facing upwards in your grid). Cook over medium coals for about 8 minutes, skin side down. Turn and cook for only three or four minutes more if the coals are hot (which they should be). Remove to a platter. Spoon over a little of the salad dressing.
For the salad:
2 or 3 cloves garlic, sliced into thin slivers
Juice and finely grated zest of 3 limes
3 Tbs avocado oil
A few drops Thai fish sauce
3 or 4 spring onions, finely sliced
8 to 10 roma tomatoes, halved or quartered lengthwise
2 or 3 red chillies, finely sliced, including seeds
3cm stick of lemongrass, chopped very finely
Baby salad leaves
8 to 10 basil leaves, torn into small pieces
Handful mint leaves, torn
Combine in a bowl the finely chopped garlic, lime juice and zest, avocado oil, fish sauce, stir and add the spring onion, tomatoes, chilli and lemongrass. Leave to macerate in the fridge. Don’t add other salad ingredients until you are ready to serve the fish as you want to spoon some of this over the fish before using the remainder for your salad. Once you have used some on the fish and just before serving, add the torn basil and mint, and toss in the baby salad leaves.
Leftover potato chips from last night’s supper? Keep them in the fridge overnight and then turn them into an accompaniment for a fish or chicken dinner by cutting them into three or four pieces each. Finely chop a small or medium onion and fry gently in olive oil to soften. Add the potato bits, toss for a few minutes on the heat, season with salt and pepper, and serve. That’s them in the picture and they taste great, with none of that nasty stale cooked potato character. The onion is the trick.