What’s cooking today: Braaied geelbek with dill-lemon butter
Geelbek, also known as Cape salmon, is one of the finest fishes in South African waters and is ideal for butterflying and cooking over the coals.
I picked up a lovely whole geelbek, not too big, at the harbour shop in Gqeberha recently, en route home from the airport. The next day, I turned the leftovers into fishcakes for breakfast, but this is what I had done with the whole fish the previous evening.
Cooking a whole fish, butterflied by the fishmonger, is one of the joys of a braaier’s life. And do ask your fishmonger to prepare it for you. It’s a matter of honour for the staff of these little fisheries. It’s a fine craft, they’re skilled, and they take pride in doing it for you, just as a good butcher likes to be asked to prepare a particular cut of meat the way it should be done.
I have a rather modest dill plant bravely fighting off the heat at the moment, so I made some dill butter (not difficult, just melted butter with dill in it) to baste the fish over the coals. And a little lemon juice.
A note on braaing fish: it needs to be cooked in a hinged grid so that you can turn it over. And there’s one mistake a braaier makes only once, and that is the first time s/he cooks a whole fish on the braai without first oiling the grid (on the insides, obviously).
Without oil, the fish sticks to the grid. You won’t make that mistake twice, I promise.
(Servings depend on the size of the fish)
1 whole geelbek/ Cape salmon, butterflied
⅓ cup butter
Juice and finely grated zest of half a lemon
A few sprigs of dill, finely chopped, and more for garnish
Salt and black pepper to taste
Oil for brushing the grid
This recipe presumes that you have arrived home with a whole fish that has been butterflied for you.
Prepare lots of hot coals. Clean the grid if necessary and brush cooking oil on the insides, top and bottom. Don’t have too light a hand with it, every bit of it needs to be as well-oiled as a sailor who’s been in the pub for five hours.
Melt butter in a small saucepan. When it is hot, drop some chopped dill in it, squeeze lemon juice in, add zest, and turn the heat to its lowest. Simmer very gently for two minutes, then turn off the heat.
Place the fish skin-side down on the bottom half of the hinged grid. Brush the top with half of the dill-lemon butter. Season with salt and black pepper.
First braai it skin-side down, for 10 minutes. Turn it and cook the other side for five more minutes.
Brush the remaining dill-lemon butter over it before serving.
Steamed rice is nice with it, or some lovely crunchy potato wedges. Garnish with dill. DM
Tony Jackman is Galliova Food Writer 2023, jointly with TGIFood columnist Anna Trapido.
Follow Tony Jackman on Instagram @tony_jackman_cooks.
This dish is photographed on a plate by Mervyn Gers Ceramics.