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Not Just Another Fish Braai

Nick Pike’s game is on with smoked spotted grunter on rye.

Under the heading grunters, JLB Smith in his classic The Sea Fishes of Southern Africa (first published 1949 by The Central News Agency – South Africa) describes grunter as ‘excellent game and table fish’ and further comments ‘the flesh is delicate and tasty’.

This quintessential South African fish has been a joy to me for as long as I have been able to hold a fishing rod. The size limit of 40cm and bag limit of five fish are more than generous. As the adage goes, ‘you would rather limit your kill than kill your limit’. Occasionally some of my spotty find their way to a pan but my special party trick is smoked spotted grunter on rye.

For some unknown reason I am simply unable to get my smoke, time and temperature right on a stainless steel smoke box on a gas cooker; but on a closed weber or kettle braai, my game is on.

Smoking very nicely, thank you!

  • I find the fillets of three or four spotty in the 45 to 55cm range fill a weber braai grid very nicely.
  • Skinned fillets always pick up a bit more smoke than unskinned.
  • Make a wood fire in preference to charcoal which gives little or no smoke flavour at all.
  • Use good old South African Acacia (thorn tree/doringhout) is the best.

A regular brick

During a recent holiday in Stillbaai it was proven to me that Rooi Pit and Karoo Acacia are just as good as Eastern Cape Acacia: just make the fire a regular size, as if you were going to braai some boerie and chops; and let the coals get to that stage too.

Then have your clean grid loaded with your skinned fillets. Spice to taste (I like to keep it simple, just salt, pepper and Aromat). The actual smoking is the special part of the adventure and not complicated at all. Use about a regular dinner plate full of dry thorn tree cuttings for the smoking process – I cut twigs about as thick as my pinkie finger and thinner into roughly 100mm lengths. Spread your coals out, dump your twigs on the fire, place your grid full of fish over the fire and close the lid. You need to work quickly because you want the lid closed and sealed before the twigs ignite. A little bit of flame is okay because the lid usually kills the flame. In this case, flame grilled is not the plan.

 Trick 1: vent

The trick is to keep your vents about 85% open. Closed vents kill the fire and cause a big carbon dioxide to build up – it makes your fish taste horrible. Remember, you only need about 15 to 20 minutes and then your fish will be done. No turning required. The timing depends on how hot your fire is and how thick your fillets are. When the fish is golden brown and it starts to crack open a little – it’s done. Open the lid, take it off the fire and allow for air cooling on the grid.

Trick 2: wait

Smoked fish, like curry, is always better a day or two after. The smoke has a chance to settle, soften and permeate. It can be just a touch bitter, straight after it comes off the fire. Flake your chilled fillets with a fork and mix in some of your favourite mayonnaise with a dash of Worcestershire sauce. Serve with a squeeze of lemon on rye with fresh ground black pepper and salt. For those not ‘allowed’ to eat bread, provita and cracker bread taste pretty good too.

Trick 3: kry vir jou

Acacia smoked spotty on rye is one of those things that makes being a South African special. ‘Uit die diepte van ons see’ and all that sort of stuff. They say a leopard does not change its spots. I can tell you, nor does a spotted grunter. This is a good thing. ‘Vinger-lek lekker. Kry vir jou’. Cheers.

Davide Cantelli

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