Fish braai … and The Revenant

Picture: Norman Mcfarlane

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, chenin blanc and sauvignon blanc were blended in the Loire Valley in France, to make a delightful wine that combines the flowery citrus and honey of chenin with the herbaceous green and rapier-like acidity of sauvignon.

It fell out of favour, and although it is still made in small quantities in Anjou and Saumur, it is far more popular as a blend in the New World, and most particularly in South Africa.

A Google search reveals over 20 such blends locally, one of which is The Revenant, under the False Bay Vineyards label, by Nadia Barnard at Waterkloof Wine Estate, high on the Schapenberg above False Bay, where the winds blow cool and oft harshly, making for hardy shy-bearing vines that must drink deep for their sustenance.

The back label speaks of Waterkloof owner Paul Botinout’s winemaking days in France back in 1984 when he made his first white blend of these varietals.

Those were the days before Waterkloof, the days when the wine was simply named Cuvée Jean Paul. It was the heyday of the Loire chenin/sauvignon blend, hence the name, signifying the one who has come back from the dead.

The Revenant arrived on our doorstep at about the same time we decided to visit the recently refurbished Strand Pavilion Precinct which boasts a newly constructed seawall and promenade, a fine informal trader market space, and a predictably niffy fish market where local fish sellers ply their trade, in search of a fish to braai.

If you buy wisely – look for clarity and firmness of eye and flesh, and an absence of overt fishiness – you can find a really nice yellowtail which satisfies both imperatives for a fish-braai: a firm rich-fleshed, oily fish that sits squarely on the SASSI Green List, which means you can buy it with a clear conscience.

The hustle for the deal is an experience in itself, with the touts competing loudly for the potential buyers attention, and as one moves back and forth along the line of fish sellers, the price moves as well.

Settling on a suitably sized fish – about 2.5kg in weight – for the paltry sum of R150, plus R10 for cleaning and beheading, we headed home and started the fire.

Ingredients, selection and preparation

2-2.5kg fish, filleted and skinned, pin bones removed: that you shouldn’t skin fish before braaing is a myth. It is the best way to ensure cooked through yet juicy and tender flesh.

olive oil: for marinading the fish

1 tbsp mixed herbs

salt and pepper

200g butter

juice of two lemons

Method

Make your fire first, then prepare the fish.

Paint the fish fillets liberally with olive oil on both sides.

Sprinkle with mixed herbs and place in a dish, covered with clingfilm and put in the refrigerator.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan and once it has cooled down, stir in the lemon juice.

As soon as the fire has burned down completely and is still hot, brush your braai-grid with olive oil and place the fish fillets in the centre. Lightly season both sides with salt and pepper.

Place the grid on the braai and baste liberally with lemon butter.

Braai on one side for about five to seven minutes, depending on thickness of the fillets, or until the upper side becomes opaque on the edges.

Baste liberally with lemon butter all the while.

Lift the braai-grid periodically to see how the fish is doing
on the underside to avoid charring.

Turn the grid, and baste liberally with lemon butter. Braai for another three to five minutes on the other side.

Using a sharp knife, remove a sliver of flesh from the thickest part of the fish fillet, and check that it is cooked through.

If not, braai for another minute or two then check again.

Carefully lift the grid from either side to release the fillets, and using a couple of egg lifters or something similar, lift each fillet off the grid and place on a warmed serving platter.

Serve with a crisp green salad and a potato dish of your choice, and preferably with a glass or two of The Revenant.

The winemaking reflects the gravitas of the blend. Wild-yeast fermented in old oak barrels and concrete eggs, the 80/20 sauvignon/chenin blend spent 10 months on the lees.

White stone fruit, Bartlett pear and satsuma on the nose, express handily on the palate, with bright clean acidity which is saved from being overtly green by the chenin’s fruit complex.

The wine is long and satisfying in the finish, and perfectly paired with the lemon flavours in the fish.

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 15-20 minutes

Yield: 4-6 servings