(Originally published in the May 2019 issue of Ski-Boat magazine)
By Gary Thompson
GEELBEK must be one of the nicest and most versatile eating fish caught by recreational anglers and commercial fishermen all along our South African coastline. Smaller geelbek are great done on the coals and larger fish can be filleted, preferably with the skin off, and prepared in many ways without wasting an ounce of the fish other than the bones.
If you are going to catch geelbek yourself, make sure you pinch the gills and bleed the fish properly as soon as possible after landing the fish. Geelbek tend to have lots of the brownish meat along the spine and skin, and bleeding the fish immediately after it’s caught reduces the amount of darker flesh.
If you have the luxury of crushed ice on the boat, leave the fish lying in some crushed ice until you get back home. Do not use blocks of ice as this often bruises the flesh. Once you get back to shore gut and scale the fish as soon as possible at the rocks. Washing the fish in fresh sea water helps retain the flavour. It is then advisable to hang the fish in a shady spot (perhaps in a tree) with a slight breeze to dry it out nicely. Keep the fish in the fridge overnight to firm up the flesh; this makes filleting it much easier and there’s less wastage.
It’s a very versatile cooking fish, and here are a few of my favourite geelbek recipe ideas.
PLAIN SALT AND PEPPER FRY
The simplest and probably best way to eat fresh geelbek is just to fry a fillet, sprinkled with fish spice and a bit of salt and pepper, in shallow olive oil. Do not overcook the fish; far too many people make this mistake. Simply keep an eye on the side of the fillet and as soon as it turns white halfway up, turn the fillet over. Cook until the two white sides meet, remove, let it rest a bit and then enjoy.
CHIVES AND PARSLEY FISH BAKE
Using the top fillet, cut it into 3cm x 3cm blocks and follow this recipe:
3 cups milk
3 Tbs Maizena
1 Tbs butter
Salt and pepper
1⁄2 cup chives finely snipped
1⁄2 cup parsley finely chopped
Mix the butter and Maizena in a pot and bring the butter to melting point. Add the milk, salt and pepper and stir continuously until it comes to the boil, then add the chives and parsley and simmer for a few more minutes.
Sprinkle some salt and white pepper over the fish blocks and steam the fish until just cooked. Pack layers of fish in an oven dish. Pour white sauce over the fish, cover with grated cheese and sprinkle with paprika, melted butter and bread crumbs. Bake for 15 minutes at 180°C.
The bottom fillet can be cut into smallish 2cm x 2cm blocks for making curried fish. Start by preparing the curry sauce, then add the fish blocks to the simmering sauce for a few minutes until just cooked. Many people fry the fish and then add it to the curry sauce, but I find that the fish absorbs more of that delicious curry flavour if you don’t fry it first.
2 Tbs chutney
2 Tbs apricot jam
2 Tbs mild curry powder
2 Tbs sugar
2 Tbs Maizena
1 Tsp salt
1 Tsp turmeric
1⁄2 cup water
1⁄2 cup white vinegar
3 onions, sliced
Fry the onions in oil for a few minutes until they start to soften, then add curry powder and turmeric and cook for half a minute. Add chutney, jam, sugar, salt and Maizena with water and vinegar. Boil for two minutes and then add fish blocks and simmer until the fish is just done. Bottle and refrigerate for a week, then enjoy.
Clip the fins off the wings and put the wings and the belly in a salt and brown sugar brine. The brine consists of enough water to just cover the fish in a dish with salt and brown sugar mixed in equal portions. Leave the wings and belly in the brine in the fridge for approximately a day. Remove from the fridge and place the wings and belly on a clean braai grid in the wind until they start to dry and a sticky layer forms on the surface. Place them in a smoker and smoke until done. Once they’re smoked, remove the skin and flake off all the flesh from the wings and belly. Add the flesh to some mayonnaise, finely chopped onion, gherkin, black pepper and a dash or two of Tabasco. Mash finely together with a fork or a blender until it forms a smoothish pate. Enjoy on crackers or thinly sliced toast.
Always keep in mind that the recreational bag limit is two per person and the minimum size is 60cm. Enjoy!