Snoek: scrumptious, sustainable – and sold in Milton Keynes

by Jeanne on December 1, 2006

in Braai/Barbecue, Recipes - fish, Recipes - gluten-free, Recipes - South African, South African products

20060902_bigsabraaisnoekonbraaibIsn’t it funny what you miss from home?  When the first wave of South Africans came over to London after we were welcomed back into the Commonwealth, suitcases were stuffed full of Mrs Ball’s chutney, rooibos tea and illicit biltong.  Now all of these things are available at many mainstream supermarkets (which is either a sign of just how popular our cuisine is – or a sign of just how many of us there are over here!!).  So then I started carrying over Ina Paarman’s seasonings and Nando’s pepper sauce – which are now both available (albeit the former only in South African shops).  These days, I carry a somewhat more eclectic mix back with me – Nice ‘n Spicy spice packs, Peck’s Anchovette and Melrose biltong cheese spread – but the fact is that increasingly, I can get the foods I miss over here.

However, there have always been some things that are harder to find than others.  Boerewors was a problem until I discovered the outstanding example made by Web Butchers in Southfields.  Ostrich was a distant memory until I found the Gamston Wood ostrich stand at Borough Market.  Fresh game (kudu, springbok etc) is still something I haven’t seen.  And I do miss my snoek (rhymes with book, not fluke).  Snoek (or, more correctly, Thyrsites atun) is a big scary game fish in the perch family which frequents the temperate waters around South Africa.  It is also found in Australia and New Zealand where it is known as barracouta (no relation to baracuda).  It can grow up to 2m in length and weigh 6kg – which is rather a lot for a fish, as far as I’m concerned! I have seen them in the Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town and believe me, I’m not doing synchronised swimming with a school of these babies.  But I’d be more than happy to arrange a meeting once they’ve been scaledm gutted and cleaned ;-)

One of the reasons why you never see fresh snoek in England probably has to do with its little PR problem amongst the British public.  Allow me to elaborate.  During World War II when everything was scarce, food rationing was rife and cheap sources of protein were few and far between, somebody had the bright idea to catch cheap fish in South Africa, can it and ship it to England.  Suffice to say it did not go down too well over here.  The Web is full of war years recollections penned by people who remember this weird fish with the hugely amusing name arriving and being inedibly bad.  A large proportion of the tins that were imported remained firmly on shop shelves (despite optimistic suggestions from the Ministry of Defence – like Snoek Piquante which seems to have become a kind of shorthand for everything unpalatable about food rationing!).  I must say, I’m pretty sure nobody I know in South Africa eats the stuff tinned (shudder) and general consensus is now that bad canning methods was to blame for much of the snoek’s unintended piquancy…

But for those of us who grew up in South Africa, it’s a very different story.  Snoek is20060902_bigsabraaisnoekbonesb  one of the great culinary pleasures of the Western Cape (the province surrounding Cape Town).  The flesh is oily and presumably packed with all the health benefits that oily fish brings; the meat is firm and strongly flavoured, rather like mackerel on steroids.  And although there are lots of bones, they are truly gargatuan (2 inches long!) and can easily be seen and picked out. It can be sold fresh, smoked or salted; the fresh version is grilled, baked, fried, stewed or (my favourite) done on the braai; and the ready-to-eat smoked version can be served cold with a sweet relish, mashed into a pate, or flaked and heated up with tomatoes, onions and peppers in smoorsnoek, or (literally “smothered snoek” – Nick’s favourite).  A favourite gift to bring back form Cape Town is a side of smoked snoek, and you can even buy them packaged in nice sturdy cardboard boxes at Cape Town airport.

20060902_bigsabraaisnoeklabelb_1So how did snoek come to grace the table at our annual Big South African Braai in the dying days of summer this year?  Well, on a visit to friends in Milton Keynes, we dropped by the headquarters of Cruga.  The shop is unprepossessing, occupying a unit on an industrial estate, but once inside it’s like coming home.  Not only can you buy a full range of Cruga biltong there (both sliced and packaged or, as Nick prefers it, in whole slabs, to be sliced at home), but you can also stock up on all manner of South African goodies like ProNutro, peppermint crisps, NikNaks (no, the ones sold over here are NOT the same), Savannah cider and Choc-Kits.  And in a freezer we also spotted… frozen snoek!!  I could not believe my eyes.  And obviously there was no way I was not buying it!  We didn’t have a cooler box, but it was frozen solid and we wrapped it in copious amounts of damp newspaper, then even more dry newspaper and it got back to London as solid as a rock.  As you see from the first picture, it filled the entire Weber – it was at least 40cm long, and that was without head or tail!  Nick made his super secret apricot jam basting sauce (just kidding – recipes to follow below) and cooked the fish in a closed Weber.  As it turns out, our snoek was smoked but undyed, which you really could not tell until you tasted it.  But this is a good thing as the saltiness works beautifully with the apricot jam and I suspect we inducted at least one Aussie and one German into the Cult of Snoekology that day.  I’m not brave enough to try and convert a Brit yet!

What made me think of this snoek braai was a post that appeared on Beyond the Pass last week talking about a Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) study of the levels of fish stocks around the South African coast.  It makes for sobering reading.  The mainstays of most South African fish menus (kingklip, Cape sole, kabeljou, Cape salmon) are all overfished and declining – which should give everyone pause for thought in the same way as recent revelations in the UK that cod is being overfished and in decline.  But the good news, according to this handy Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SASSI) booklet explaining which fish are ethically OK to eat and which are not when dining in South Africa, is that snoek is still plentiful and OK to eat!  Hurray!  Ditto my beloved mussels, oysters, calamari, butterfish and good ol’ hake.  Snoek has always been an integral part of the diet and culture of the so-called “Cape coloureds”, referring to the predominantly Afrikaans-speaking modern-day descendants of slave labourers imported into South Africa by Dutch settlers as well as other groups of mixed ancestry originating in the present-day Western Cape.  In fact, they have a saying equivalent to the English “well, knock me over with a feather!”, which goes along the lines of “slaat my dood met ‘n pap snoek!” (literally “strike me dead with a limp snoek”).  But although most South Africans are happy to eat snoek at home on the braai, many restaurants still do not serve it, except as smoked snoek pate.  The reason is probably twofold.  Firstly, the bones are easiest to remove by hand, which is no problem at home but makes for an unedifying spectacle in a restaurant dressed in your best frock.  Also, snoek has never quite shaken off its image as a food of deprivation – people who can’t afford sole eat snoek, so there is some resistance to ordering it in a restaurant.  But if the FAO are correct, it’s time we all learned to give snoek a more prominent place on restaurant menus and gave the overfished species a break.  I, for one, would be thrilled to see more snoek on menus.

As promised, here are a couple of recipes for South Africans who have access to snoek, or Brits who are looking to revise their opinion of it ;-)

WHOLE SNOEK ON THE BRAAI

Dead easy, this.  The hardest part is to find a cleaned and butterflied snoek!  All you need it Bovril and smooth apricot jam.  Seriously.  Dissolved a tablespoon of Bovril with hot water in a Pyrex jug. Add about 2 tablespoons of smooth apricot jam and microwave it on medium heat for 2 minute bursts, stirring in-between, until the jam has dissolved and a smooth sauce had formed. And that’s it! You can add some fresh black pepper if you feel you haven’t done enough ;-)  Place the snoek skin side down on a lightly oiled braai grid over an indirect fire in your Weber kettle braai (or, indeed, over any braai fire.  Let’s not be prescriptive here!).  Baste liberally with the sauce and… leave it alone.  Have a drink.  Then check back and baste some more.  It should cook in about 15 – 20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish.  Do make sure it’s cooked through.

SMOORSNOEK / GESMOORDE SNOEK (which is what became of our leftovers!)

Ingredients (the amounts can be scaled up or down depending on how much snoek you have)
1kg cooked (or smoked) snoek, skinned, boned and flaked (or substitute smoked mackerel or cooked smoked haddock)
2 large potatoes, cubed
1 large onion, chopped
2 large tomatoes, peeled and chopped into eighths
1 small green pepper, seeded and chopped
1 green chilli, finely chopped (optional)
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp sunflower oil
salt and pepper to taste

Method
Boil or steam the potato cubes until just soft.  Drain and keep warm.  Heat the oil and butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan, fry the onions and green chilli until the onions start to brown.  Add the green pepper and the potato and continue to fry until the potatoe cubes start to brown slightly.  Keep stirring to make sure the mixture does not burn.  Add the tomato and allow to combine with the other ingredients into a soupy stew.  Add the flaked fish and allow to simmer gently until the flavours start to blend.  Add a little boiling water if the saucepan is too dry.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Serve hot over rice.

SMOKED SNOEK PATE

Ingredients
250g smoked snoek, boned & flaked (you can substitute smoked angelfish)
250g cream cheese (I would use Philadelphia or similar)
1Tbs lemon juice
pinch of ground ginger
5 spring onions, finely chopped
125ml whipping cream
Optional – you can also add a splash of tabasco or a teaspoon of horseradish paste

Method
Combine all ingredients except cream in a food processor.  Whip cream separately and fold into the mixture.  Scoop into a mould or individual ramekins and refrigerate.  Serve with wholewheat toast.

And see this great idea for snoek with bacon, cilantro/coriander leaves and orange.

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{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

herschelian December 3, 2006 at 9:58 pm

Oh yes! I have had the “disgusting” snoek conversation with many of the WW2 generation, and try as I might have never been able to persuade them that it is really delicious. I do make Gesmoorde Snoek, but use smoked mackerel as a substitute – obviously not the same, but quite good.
You can buy Savannah Dry in big branches of Tesco – shelved with the ciders – but they don’t stock Savannah lite.
I used to be able to get Anchovette at Waitrose many years ago, then they stopped stocking it. I was told that there was some EU regulation that their production (in Saldahna Bay) contravened, and as the market for Anchovette in the UK and rest of Europe was so small, the company decided it wasn’t economic changing things to meet the regulation, so stopped exporting it. Shame! it is something I really, really love – specially on hot toast in winter time. I get everyone coming over to bring me jars and jars of it (and Prep shaving cream for my old man).

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Jeffrey Bary December 4, 2006 at 7:41 pm

Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait a minute there. You can just say “(kudu, springbok etc)” and leave it at that. We want to hear about each and every one of these. The complete list at least to start. Then a description of the taste and a few pictures and recipes as well.
If I’m lucky I can get frozen ostrich here in New York. Springbok? You must be kidding! Next time I go for a slice of pizza I’ll ask for the springbok with basil and garlic. I would have used another animal here as “springbok” is not inherently funny but I can’t even guess on the etc. I had to go to wikipedia to look up kudu.
I served a rabbit stew over the weekend and that was more than challenging for my guests.

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erin December 11, 2006 at 6:40 pm

I miss Snoek too and I only married a S. African, I didn’t grow up with it. One of my favorite food memories from when we lived in the Northern Cape for half a year was a Snoek braai in a mango juice marinade. I and the cook spent most of the afternoon peeling the crunchy skin off of the grill (to eat!) since no one else was interested in it. Silly people!
I’d even settle for some Snoek biltong about now…

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Natlan Maa May 17, 2007 at 9:41 am

I would also like to see Snoek on menus here in Cape Town. Two things about the post though:
1. Snoek doesn’t have scales.
2. Smoor snoek is traditionally made with salted, dried snoek (although many SA recipe books use smoked snoek). As with Baccalau, the dried fish is first soaked in water to get rid of most of the saltiness.

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Leslie Cheong February 26, 2008 at 5:12 pm

Hello Cooksister,
One supermarket chain plans to introduce the salted snoek to Singapore consumers in the next few days and as it is the first time this fish is available in Singapore, I wonder whether you have any tips on how to prepare the snoek before cooking, and whether you know of any Asian recipes for this fish. Will lightly grilling it and adding some sprinkling of curry powder add a zest to the dish? Would appreciate your early response before the fish goes public! Thanks.
Leslie Cheong (Mr)
Singapore

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anna April 7, 2008 at 11:29 pm

where can I find snoek? I live in Texas.

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Natasja June 6, 2008 at 3:01 pm

Please can anyone tell me where i can buy snoek in the East of England?

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George June 10, 2008 at 1:13 am

Anna
I will be glad to help you but before you have to tell me have did you learn
about salted snoek.

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George June 10, 2008 at 1:22 am

Anna
I willing to help you but before I will like to know where haved you learn to eat salted snoek. call me 714 537 8916

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M.A.Moos July 9, 2008 at 11:00 am

Smoor snoek made the way explained above sounds absolutely disgusting.The only people that know how to make a proper smoor anything are the CAPE MALAYS

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Chris de Lange July 14, 2008 at 12:13 pm

To the person that says Cape Snoek does not have scales, maybe you should come around to our place after a good day’s snoek catching and help wash the boat. Snoek are covered in small scales that stick like crazy to your boat, clothes, skin and equipment. If not washed off – preferably while still at sea – and left to dry, these tiny little scales need to be scraped off. And just to add salt to wounds, I love fishing, caught my quota of 10 last Sunday and ‘donated’ them all to the skipper of the boat to put towards fuel costs.

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Elizabethl July 18, 2008 at 6:16 pm

It’s JUST as I suspected. I’m too gauche to be able to see how the smoorsnoek could be considered as “absolutely disgusting”. In fact, it sounds pretty amazing.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen this fish here. But I wonder if sardines (because they are so oily) would have a similar flavour.
I love the sound of apricot jam mixed with stock as a brushing sauce for barbecued fish. (I bet that would be good on chicken too!)

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Jonathan Minnaar August 23, 2008 at 3:19 am

I am opening a South African Restaurant here in Texas, and I have been trying to locate a company that can import snoek to America. Do you know of any such company? If so Please email me at jonminnaar@gmail.com.

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Oscar March 11, 2009 at 3:19 pm

hi where can we buy snoek

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margaret October 17, 2009 at 11:38 am

In north London, it’s now available at France Fresh Fish on Stroud Green Road.

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Mark October 21, 2009 at 7:14 pm

“Snoek has always been an integral part of the diet and culture of the so-called “Cape coloureds”, a predominantly Afrikaans-speaking mixed race group that resulted from intermarriage between Dutch settlers and their Malay slaves” This is not entirely correct and perpetuates the myth that the Cape Afrikaners with a darker complexion have no cultural or genetic root. In fact there is evidence, and much work was completed at Rhodes in this regard, showing that the mixed race Afrikaners have a far nobler heritage than simply the mixed offspring of settlers and slaves! They have a distinct ethnic root in the original Africans living in the Western Cape when the Dutch arrived and are descended largely from the Khoi and San people. An interesting and absorbing econ (involving numerous coloured folk in the responses) can be found at http://www.encounter.co.za/article/25.html as an example of how complex this is and how reducing it to simpler terms causes both confusion and insult. My partner is coloured and was disappointed that a potentially heart warming South African blog was tarnished by such a short sighted and insulting reference.

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keith wilson February 19, 2010 at 10:56 pm

mmmmmm ever tried curried snoek very tasty!

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Pierre June 18, 2010 at 10:17 am

I caught a snoek yesterday in the Hauraki Gulf here in Auckland, NZ. Popped it in my Bradley Smoker for about 2 hours with Alder Flavour sawdust. Just the way I remember it from the Western Cape. It is soooooo yummy. Sorry to torture you ex-pats so. Haha.

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Mel July 27, 2010 at 5:26 am

I always like to go on your blog and I must admit,being a ‘Cape Colored’,I was not surprised by your comment about our race.Thank you to Mark who put that post about where we really come from.I am a retired professor in Literature at UWC and I recall how we used to teach our children our culture and heritage,I am disappointed to find that there are still so many white folks that doesnt really know much about their fellow South Africans(the so called coloreds)and put phrases like that on blogs,where,a lot of foreigners goes on.Thank you anyways for your recipes.I do like your blog and often get some of my long lost recipes on here:)

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Nisa August 24, 2010 at 9:49 am

Hmm, very interesting all these comments about the beloved snoek. Here’s an Indian twist to cooking snoek – either curried or fried with Indian spices.
Fried Snoke: rinse and pat dry pieces of cut snoek, smear (liberally or otherwise depending on taste and ‘hot’ threshold) with chillie powder mixed with little bit of tumeric (borrie for South Africans)and fine cumin (jeera), garlic paste and salt to taste. Fry until crisp but not dried out. Sprinkle with chopped dhania (coriander) and lemon juice. Serve with basmati rice with whole cumin and plain yoghurt spiced with garlic, chopped green chillie and fine cumin.
Curried snoek: make a paste with chillie powder, tumeric, fine cumin, garlic paste, salt and plain yoghurt. Smear this liberally on snoek pieces and lay these in a baking dish. Drizzle with little bit of olive oil. Bake in oven for approx. 30-40 min. Garnish with chopped dhania. Serve with cumin rice and veggies of choice.

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Richard Dietzel October 20, 2010 at 5:30 pm

I came to your site while googling for Snoek recipes I had read a book “Bombers and Mash’ The Domestic Front 1939-45″, (Virago 1980) which is about the Home Front experience of women in WWII. Not a perfect book but an eye opener about the impact of the war on women and families.
There were many recipe, advert, brochure and leaflet reproductions as well as recipes for all sorts of replacement foods, flourless, sugarless, eggless. The section on whale meat, snoek, “Rook Pie with Figgy Pudding” crow, thrushes, sparrow was intriguing! So I wanted a bit more information and you did a bang up job.
I’ll have to look for some mackerel a common fish here in Oregon, USA. (That’s Orygun not Oregone)

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Colin Bartlett November 17, 2010 at 3:18 pm

Here in Oxfordshire we have Faringdon stores or http://www.tasteofsouthafrica.com/

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Coenraad van Deventer December 13, 2010 at 6:31 am

Hi, I am a commercial snoek fisherman. This is how you can braai a snoek: Get a fresh one, vlecked and washed. Cover it with medium coarse salt for about 30 min. Now wash it again and remove the salt, hang it out to drip dry for a few minutes while you prepare the coals. Paint it lightly with oil and put it on the grid and fry it on the meat side on hot coals. Turn it around after 1 min and lift the grid to ensure it does not stick to it(do the same with the skin side).Put it back on the flesh side and fry it for about 5 min. This seals the flesh and the result is a very juicy and tasty snoek. Coat the flesh side with your favourite basting while you fry it on the skin side. Now turn back on the flesh side an let the basting browns a bit. Lift the grid and put a news paper on the skin. Turn it around and remove the newspaper with your braaied snoek on it. Enjoy…

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Hilda Davis February 17, 2012 at 7:14 am

Is there a plce in the USA where you can buy Snoek in any form to eat?

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vee February 20, 2012 at 10:38 pm

Hi I am vee originally from Mauritius but now settled in the uk…of course we were not far from Cape town at one time. just wanted to share another snoek receipe with all of you in Mauritius we call it ‘Rougaille’ it’s made of salted snoek fish and it’s our favourite and very popular dish. First of all soak the fish in cold water for an hour then wash several time to get ridbof the salt. Remove from water heat a pan add some oil fry the fish until really crispy…take fish out once it’s done then use the same oil add chop onion wait until start getting brown add ginger garlic paste add fresh tyme cook for 1 mins then add 1 tea spoon of paprika followed by fresh tomatoes and tin chopped tomatoes leave to cook and simmer until u have a thick sauce. Add fish and green chillies leave cook for 2 mins serve with rice.
Ingredient
500grms snoek fish
1 large onion chopped
2 large fresh vine tomatoes chopped
1/2 chopped tin tomatoes
1spoon paprika
1 spoon ginger garlic paste
3green chillies
2 table spoon vegetable oil
Sail to taste
Pls let me know if anyone tried this receipe.

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Rooibos Tea February 21, 2012 at 3:53 am

I remember packing many items when I went to London the first time. Nowadays there seems to be so many South African shops. Tetley do a Rooibos tea, I don’t think it’s as good as Glen Tea

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Lorrainel February 8, 2013 at 12:43 pm

Klink so lekker!!

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Jeanne February 12, 2013 at 11:02 am

Dit was nogal! Maar al ons Engelse vriende dink ons is so mal soos hase met die sous! ;)

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Duane July 27, 2013 at 10:33 am

Hello Everybody, any chance somebody know the ultimate recipe for SALTED DRY SNOEK
Possibly best method or a old Cape Famous method used long time ago possible please

Greatly appreciate

Thanks

Duane Els

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Ruth Saacks September 2, 2013 at 7:04 pm

You know what I miss—Smoked Angel Fish—such a delicate flavour and never as fatty as Snoek can sometimes be.

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Edward September 16, 2013 at 4:40 pm

Hi it great reading your blog as a fellow South African I was drooling over yourvreciepies the one thing I always loved was salted snoek can you forward me details of your contact in Milton Keynes so that I can try to get some snoek lekker lekker fire cracker bru

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