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October 20, 2010

Recipe: Cape Town-style smoked snoek chowder

snoek chowder

Cape Town-style smoked snoek chowder

Jane-Anne Hobbs is a freelance journalist, editor and author; a cook, food writer and recipe developer; and a mother of three. She lived in Johannesburg for the past 17 years but recently moved, with her family, to Hout Bay.

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Any chowder purist who wants to sniff at this recipe must feel free to sniff away. Look here, dear purist, this is an African chowder. I wish you could taste it, because it’s very good: thick, creamy, comforting and full of goodness. Everything, in fact, that I ask of a soup.

Oak-smoked snoek from my local Hout Bay harbour plays the starring role in this quick and easy dish. Properly smoked South African snoek isn’t an ingredient you’ll find on many supermarket shelves outside of the Western Cape, but you can substitute it with any similar firm-fleshed smoked white fish.

If you’re lucky enough to be living in South Africa, ask your fishmonger to order you a box of smoked snoek from Mariner’s Wharf in Hout Bay. This is a versatile ingredient that keeps well, and you can use any leftover fish in a snoek pâté, or in a quiche. Here’s a recipe for smoked snoek quiche from Carmen Niehaus, and it’s part of a very good article about snoek by veteran journalist Hilary Prendini Toffoli.

It’s important to choose the right potatoes for this soup: If they’re too waxy, they won’t thicken the soup, and if they’re too floury, they’ll break up before the soup is ready. You can add a little cream to this soup at the end, but it’s really not necessary: It’s creamy enough on its own.

Finally, here’s another recipe for smoked snoek and sweet potato chowder from my friend Marisa, at The Creative Pot, who made this on the same day I made my soup.

Cape Town-style smoked snoek chowder

300g oak-smoked snoek
3 medium leeks, white parts only
3 tablespoons butter
a small clove of garlic, crushed
3 tablespoons (45ml) flour
4 cups (1 litre) milk
2 cups (500ml) water (or fish stock)
3 tablespoons (45ml) white wine
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
salt and freshly milled black pepper
300g peeled, raw potato, cut into dice-sized cubes
a pinch of white pepper

To serve:

the juice of half a lemon
4 tablespoons (60ml) finely chopped fresh parsley

Pull the skin off the snoek and, using your fingertips, carefully remove all bones (look out for the little ones). Flake the fish and set aside. Make a vertical slice halfway through each leek, fan out the “leaves” and rinse well to remove any grit. Finely slice the leeks. Heat the butter in a large pan, add the leeks and cook over a moderate heat for three or four minutes, until softened (but do not allow to brown). Stir in the garlic and flour. Cook, stirring well, for three minutes.

Mix the milk, water and wine in a jug and pour this into the pan, stirring well to break up any lumps. Add the thyme sprigs and a third (100g) of the flaked snoek. Season well with salt and pepper and bring to a gentle boil, stirring constantly. Tip all the potato cubes into the soup, turn down the heat and simmer for 25 minutes, or until the potato cubes are cooked through but not falling apart. (Don’t worry if the soup looks a little thin to begin with: the potato will thicken it up). Add the remaining smoked snoek and heat through for a further five minutes. If the soup seems a little too thick, thin it down with more milk or water. Season with a pinch of white pepper, and more salt if necessary. Remove the thyme sprigs.

Just before serving, and after you’ve removed the soup from the heat, stir in the lemon juice and fresh parsley.

This recipe serves six.

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