Cape Malay

Cape Malay Pickled Fish

Down here in the Cape you always know Easter is just around the corner when a seasonal preoccupation takes hold of our beloved city; yes, I’m talking about our pickled fish obsession.

It comes out of nowhere. Overnight supermarkets load tables with tubs of this sweet & sour delight, whole yellowtail is suddenly on the Specials board of your local fishmonger and, most tellingly, internet and food blog searches for pickled Pickled Fishfish recipes sky rocket. All pickled portents that tell us one thing – Easter is upon us.

Before its association with Easter, pickled fish was simply a tasty way for the Cape Malay community to make the most of an abundance of fish during the summer months by preserving the fish – allowing them to keep the fish for an extended period of time. This classic Cape Malay dish is the perfect example of the heavy influence of Malaysian and Indonesian culture on Cape cuisine as the pickling liquid is more akin to a sweet and sour curry than any other methods of pickling fish.  Traditionally snoek and yellowtail were the favoured catch as their dense flesh withstands the pickling process especially well, but flaker fish such as cob and hake can also be used although I prefer using yellowtail.

Of course there is also the small matter of what you should serve your pickled fish with.

The most common way is to simply have it with buttered white bread, but for those of you with a sense of adventure you can always try it with another Easter treat – hot cross buns. I know this might sound like a crazy and unappealing combination, but there really is method in this Easter mash-up madness. Call it an Easter miracle, but for some reason it really does taste amazingly good!

Pickled fish and hot cross buns; yep, welcome to the true taste of the Cape.

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Cape Malay Chicken Curry

I’ve always thought of Cape Malay food as being the ultimate manifestation of ‘cuisine by circumstance’.

Finding themselves at the tip of Africa, and a world away from their native produce, the Malaysians and Indonesians of the time must have felt they were faced with a bleak culinary future. Devoid of South East Asian staples like coconuts and pandan leaves, the bountiful (but unfamiliar) fruits of the Cape must have been an ironic bitter pill to shallow.

Thankfully, the Cape’s prominence along the spice route meant there was an abundance of spices and combined with a mingling of cultures and a reliance on local produce, resulted in the creation of something quintessentially South African – Cape Malay cuisine. With dishes like koe’sisters, pickled fish and denningvleis, Cape Malay food is as unique as the culture it feeds.

Bobotie aside, arguably one of its most famous dishes has to be Cape Malay Chicken Curry. A dish that never seems to fade in its popularity, this simple curry is a perfect example of great Asian food made without staple Asian ingredients. In the absence of coconut milk or candlenuts, this curry is enriched with tomatoes, but is still royally flavoured with exotic spices. As with almost all Cape Malay dishes, chicken curry is always served with an array of sambals or condiments.

Simply delicious, no matter where you are in the world.

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Cape Malay Green Bean Bredie

As I have said in previous posts, bredies are an inescapable part of traditional South African cuisine and are, to many, the quintessential definition of South African huiskos (home cooking). And whilst tomato bredie may rule supreme in most kitchens, there are a number of different types of bredies that remain popluar, green bean bredie being chief among these.

Although less stew-like than it’s tomatoey cousin, the green bean version retains the key element that separates a bredie from a regular stew, that being that no liquid is added during the main cooking process. Instead of simmering in a liquid like a conventional stew, a bredie is self-saucing. Other than an initial splash of water when cooking the onions, absolutely no water is added to a bredie and its flavour is purely formed from the rendered juices from the lamb and the steam from the cooking vegetables, resulting in a dish that transcends its humble basic ingredients.

That said, I personally believe that green bean bredies can be a tad dry and can actually benefit from a bit of water after (and only after) the cooking process is complete. Controversial I know, but adding a dash of water when reheating the bredie will not only aid in warming the dish through, it will also ensure that the bredie’s wonderful flavours are given a chance to truly come to the fore.

Green Bean BredieAs with my version of tomato bredie, I have drawn inspiration from Cass Abrahams‘s recipe, albeit with some unorthodox cooking methods of my own. Cass Abrahams is widely regarded as the reigning queen of Cape Malay cooking and her recipes are often the launching point for many of my own.

When I initially attempted to make bredies my efforts were a tad watery and the meat would often come out a little tough. My first few efforts were so bad, they were given an unequivocal thumbs-down by my bredie-loving partner! Devastated, my early failures were enough to put me off making bredies for many years! When I eventually built up enough courage to attempt a bredie again, I decided that I needed to reinvent the cooking process to deal with my bredie-deficiencies.

I started by addressing my “watery” sauce. This was solved by first dredging the meat in seasoned flour before browning it thoroughly, resulting in a “fuller” finish to the sauce. To deal with my tough meat disasters, I decided to cook the bredie in the oven and not on the stove as it is typically done. Whilst I cook my tomato bredie in the oven for the entire cooking time, I only do so for the first half of the recipe when making green bean bredie, as I find the vegetables render superior flavour from being cooked on the stove-top. Either way, bredie traditionalists would be mortified by my preferred cooking method, but I find that cooking it in the oven helps creates an intensity in the gravy that you wouldn’t otherwise get when cooking it in the conventional way. I have been making all my bredies in this way for many years now and they have always been a success, the meat is invariably melt-in-your-mouth tender and the sauce is thick and bursting with flavour.

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Cape Malay Tomato Bredie

A tomato bredie is the ultimate manifestation of South African home cooking.

Ostensibly a stew, bredies form an integral part of South African huiskos (home cooking), and whilst there are a number of different types of bredies, tomato bredie seems to be the most cherished of them all. At a glance, a bredie looks like a very basic stew, but there is a key element that differentiates it from being a regular stew. Instead of simmering in a liquid like a conventional stew, a bredie is self-saucing. Absolutely no water is added to a bredie and the sauce is formed from the rendered juices and fat from the lamb, which when combined with the reduced tomato, results in an intensely flavoured gravy which transcends its humble basic ingredients.

Tomato Bredie There are quite a few tomato bredie recipes out there but I’ve always stuck with Cass Abrahams‘s recipe, albeit with some unorthodox additions of my own. Cass Abrahams is widely regarded as the incumbent mother of Cape Malay cooking and her recipes are often the starting point for many of my own.

When I initially attempted to make a tomato bredie I found the results were a bit watery and that the meat would sometimes be a little tough. I got around this by first dredging the meat in flour before browning it thoroughly and then by cooking the entire thing in the oven and not on the stove as it is usually done. Bredie traditionalists would be mortified by my preferred cooking method, but I find that cooking it in the oven helps the tomatoes break-down and creates an intensity in the gravy that you wouldn’t otherwise get when cooking it in the conventional way. I have been making my tomato bredie in this way for a number of years and they have always been a success, the meat is invariably melt-in-your-mouth tender and the sauce is thick and bursting with flavour.

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Cape Malay Bobotie

BobotieUnique to South Africa, bobotie is the platypus of international cuisine. Neither a pie nor a meatloaf, both sweet and savoury, bobotie is a hybrid dish that speaks to South Africa’s many cultures and tastes. Robustly spiced, spiked with sweet raisins and topped with a soothing savory custard, bobotie is deliciously complex whilst being reassuringly rustic.

Almost always served with yellow rice and blatjangs, bobotie is typically most people’s first introduction to traditional South African food. For this reason bobotie has become synonymous with South Africa and is instantly recognisable as being an African favourite.

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