Sunday 29 March 2015

Traditional Easter Fare

It is that time of year again. Easter. For some reason Easter is celebrated in South Africa almost like Thanksgiving in The United States; Lots of family gatherings and lots of food.

Perhaps it has much to do with being the end of the harvest season. Us city- and seaward oriented folks tend to get somewhat dislodged from Mother Earth and the seasons. But the religious festivals help to keep us in line with the seasons.

For one, I know this festival is very close to the first equinox of the year which falls on 21-22 March. That is when the sun crosses the equator on its way to the northern hemisphere for their summer. It is also the first star gate of the year for some religions.

But here it is Easter. Time for wonderful celebrations and always accompanied with good food and wine. The Cape is no exception and Mother Nature played along very nicely this year and provided lots of good fishing recently. This played magnificently into the tradition to have pickled fish and bread for a picnic lunch in the balmy autumn weather here in the Cape Town area.

I am not a fisherman, so I went to the local fish market by the jetty and bought a fish. Pickled fish appears to be like South African potjiekos, a very personal dish with jealously guarded recipes.

Luckily for us, not all recipes are so closely guarded and we have the famous Cass Abrahams, who published her recipe for pickled fish. This one is special also because it is one of the very traditional Cape Malay dishes, steeped in history.

For me, this was the perfect opportunity to test the Cape Malay style spiciness. The spice mix is simple, the preparation easy and the waiting time forever. I did not even bother doing an internet search, as I had a proper reference handy right on my bookshelf: Cass Abrahams cooks Cape Malay, by Cass Abrahams. The book is available from Amazon books. This recipe is adapted from this book.

This dish is normally made using cheap fish.  The book calls for snoek, which in other parts of the world is called queen mackerel.  However, any fish will do. Especially game fish as they have firmer flesh. The recipe may be made by frying the salted fish in butter or in a light batter. It does not make a difference. I opted for the plain frying in light oil as per the recipe. The dish also calls for vinegar, for which I used apple cider vinegar. This gave a very fruity taste to the dish and I had to add a little regular vinegar to get the acidity levels up. The sugar is added to your own taste, so take care. It is easy to have too much sugar. You can always add some later when the dish has cured for a day or two.

The solid ingredients need to be submerged in the pickle. If not, add a little vinegar and turn the whole lot around. This will get the bottom pieces to the top and allow the top ones some better soaking and curing. Be careful not to break the pieces of fish, else you end up with flaked fish in brine.

Very important: The skin needs to be taken off game fish. The brine or pickle will not penetrate the skin and thus leave your fish not cured and tasting bland. I tend to always skin the fish. You may do this by soaking the cuts in boiling water for a minute or so. The skin will then come off easily. The size of the cuts does not matter. However, I like to have all the cuts with at least one dimension under my control. This means I cut all the pieces to the same thickness, which, in my case, is about 20mm or ¾ inch. This will ensure a similar curing time for all the cuts. Over-curing does not matter, but under-curing does. And make sure the onions are properly cooked, otherwise you end up with very crunchy bits! The onions may be fried in butter before adding to the pickle, if one so prefers.

So here goes.


1 kg game fish. I used yellowtail
2 large onions, sliced into rings
5 thumbs garlic, mashed
250 ml vinegar
125 ml water
10 ml coriander powder
10 ml cumin powder (jeera)
15 ml masala
5 ml turmeric
2 bay leaves
4 pimentos
4 cloves
1 ml peppercorns
Sugar to taste. I used brown sugar


Salt the fish and fry until done. I did mine in batches. Keep these to the side and keep the frying oil. Add the fluids and the dry ingredients, except the sugar, to a saucepan and set to boil. Turn the heat down and simmer for a few minutes until the onions are translucent but still firm. Add sugar to taste.

Pour the hot sauce over the fish and ensure that every piece is properly coated with the pickle. Allow to cool and set into the refrigerator for three to four days. This will allow the flavours to develop and help the fish and onions to cure. Turn the lot every day to get the pickle soaking in properly.


This dish goes well with an artisan loaf of bread, real butter and an off-dry white wine.

Bon appetit!

Authored by Johan Zietsman

Last updated on 2015-03-29

Friday 20 March 2015

Bread And Butter Pudding? Not Again!

Yes, again. One of the simplest puddings in the world. Not Banting style, for sure. But this is a dessert after all.

The idea for this dessert came up recently with small cold fronts reminding us that the summer is over and that it is time for some hearty winter fare again.

This one started, as usual, with an internet search. I was certainly not going the traditional way of using slices of bread, buttered and some apricot jam spread over, all squashed in a suitable dish, egg batter added and baked.

The internet search revealed a myriad of recipes. After surfing this mass of information for about five minutes I was salivating all over the keyboard! Never did I think that this humble dessert would attract so much attention. The ingredients vary from simple to intricate and exotic. Fillings vary from jam through dried fruit and frozen fruit to fresh fruit and nuts. There are some versions that resemble more of a main dish than a dessert, using some meaty filling.

Mine was going to be a dessert, simply made, but with some deviation from the very staid traditions.

Some versions use baking powder to get some fluffiness into the dish. I opted for going the traditional way to keep it simple and away from all kinds of chemicals. The bread itself is sufficiently refined. Speaking of the bread, most recipes call for stale bread. One blogger stated firmly that there is no such thing as stale bread, just another opportunity to creatively use bread with character. I agree with him. And did you know that you cannot make a decent hamburger using fresh bread? The crumb is simply too soft. You have to let the bread mature for at least a day before it will be firm enough to make a hamburger.

Mash the blueberries
So here I am in this creative mood, salivating already just from the thought of a deliciously warm and hearty dessert.

Use butter liberally
My design instincts told me that the pudding needs to be as light as possible. I was slightly snookered here, as I did not have three day old bread and had to buy a fresh loaf. I scoured the fruit shelves of my local vendors, but no obvious fruit came into view. In the end I opted for some blueberries. These may be found year round on supermarket shelves nowadays. I also had dried fruit in the form of fruit cake mix. My packet of cake mix is quite old and the fruit had crystallized. This would be useful as well. And then I topped the list of ingredients off with real vanilla from pods I bought in Madagascar while on my last ocean voyage.

The saucy part of the dish needs sufficient egg to bind the lot. Some recipes use about one egg for every two slices of bread. This seems a bit over the top and I settled for three eggs for the eight slices of bread I used. For the milk I used a mix of fresh cream and milk, mixing this into the stirred eggs and adding in the vanilla seeds from one pod.

The blueberries were mashed in a mortar and pestle. I use one from le Creuset as it has the right size for my needs. Save some of the blueberries for garnish.

This recipe is sufficient for about six servings. I used a small stoneware dish, also from le Creuset, for the baking. The dish comfortably holds eight slices of bread.  Bear in mind that the dish does rise a bit during baking, so use your common sense in the choice of dish for the baking.

Cut into small triangles
So here goes.


8 slices stale bread
3 large eggs
100 ml fresh cream for the sauce
200 ml fresh full cream milk
butter for the bread
150 g fresh blueberries. This is about a cupful
3 dessert spoons dried fruitcake mix
1 pod vanilla or one teaspoon vanilla essence

Build the pudding in layers. Add garnish.


Spread the butter liberally on each slice of bread. Arrange the slices in the dish, butter side down. Add a dash or two of blueberry mush on each layer  of bread, along with some of the dried fruit. The last layer of bread may be arranged in some artistic way to enhance the appearance of your dessert before serving.

Add the egg batter
Mix 100 ml of the fresh cream with the milk. Add in the seed from one vanilla pod or use a teaspoon of vanilla essence. Pour this lot over the bread. Do it slowly to allow the bread to soak up the fluid.

Now pop this into the oven at 175°C/350°F for twenty minutes. Then turn the oven up to 200°C/400°F for another ten minutes. This will bake the top of the dessert to a nice brown caramel state. I then switched off the oven, leaving the dish inside to sweat a little before I removed it to cool down. Remember. The dish may very well be soggy after the baking. You need to allow the boiling juices inside to finish boiling and for the steam to evaporate. The dish will then solidify and the consistency would be that of a juicy cake.

Serve this up with a dash of the remaining cream and enjoy. This one came out much better that I expected, with the blueberry juices nicely dispersed by the cooking.

And remember, above all, use real butter.

Bon appetit!

Authored by Johan Zietsman

Last updated on 2015-03-20