I used to think I knew the best way to make fish.
I come from a long line of fish lovers, from my grandmother’s gefilte fish to my mother’s fried fish to my own baked fish. I grew up eating sole, hake, yellow tail, herring, sardines, mackerel, hake, salmon, snoek and kingklip.
As a child, I stuck my fingers in the eyes of the big fish at the fish-shop and turned those cold, firm globes round and round. I saw the ladies at the fish-shop skin those big majestic fish in seconds. I saw where fish came from and how it got onto my plate.
I read recently that my children could be the last generation to eat fish. Scientists are predicting that if we continue to fish at the same rate, our global fish stocks will be largely gone by 2048.
(Please permit me a tiny rant. I’ll be gentle I swear)
I think the enemy is the fish-finger.
I think boxed fish, frozen fish, tinned fish and anything where the food industry designs a lovely label, prepares it for you and separates you from the source of what you are eating, is the problem.
I think we need to buy, prepare, cook, serve and eat our fish with the ceremony, gratitude, mindfulness (and maybe even love) that it deserves.
I was at the Ocean Basket in Cape Town and I asked them to show me how they make their fish.
As I do not have giant hotplates, staff and squeezy bottles at home, this is how I adapted what they showed me:
Fish Ocean-Basket style
Cod fillets (or kingklip or hake or sole)
Fish rub (or a mix of salt, Aromat, coriander and paprika)
Olive oil (not virgin)
Put a half a cup of olive oil in a plate with a lip
Put a half a cup of flour and a tablespoon of fish rub in a plate with a lip.
Heat up frying pan/s with a bit of sunflower oil.
Melt half a cup of butter and add juice from two lemons.
One at a time, dip fish into flour plate then into oil plate and then into hot frying pan.
Cook for about three minutes a side depending on the thickness of the fillet.
Take out fillet, plate it and pour over a trickle of the butter/lemon sauce.
Face the contradiction of keeping it all warm till ready to serve by putting each plate in a slightly warm oven.
Put a sprig of parsley on each plate and serve to a hungry table of family and friends.
Serve with celeriac root and potato mash, and a crunchy, colourful salad.
Full disclosure now; it was an expensive, messy business. It needed all hands on deck and the fire alarm went off in the middle of the proceedings. It was stressful and I swore I would never try this method again.
But then I sat down to eat.