A sizzling summer seafood braai: Your guide to cooking fish and shellfish on the coals
It’s no secret that South Africans love to braai, and with summer in the air, there’s no better time to light the fire and cook something over the coals. If you’re anywhere near the coast and have ambitions to braai some freshly caught seafood, read on because we’re bringing you a handy guide for doing just that.
A good rule of thumb to start with: the smaller the item you want to braai, the higher the heat. When we talk about high heat, we’re referring to a range of 230–250°C.
Make sure your braai grid is clean and be sure to remove all the scales from your fish. If you want to braai a filleted fish, the heartier species are the best bet. Think yellowtail, snoek, dorado, swordfish or tuna. They tend to hold up to heat and won’t flake apart when you try to lift them. Avoid flaky, delicate fish like hake that can very easily fall apart when handled. Leave your tongs for fish and rather grab yourself a metal spatula.
Keeping the fish whole is a good option because the skin will keep it intact. The temperature shouldn’t be too high. You should be able to hold your hand five centimetres above the grill for six seconds. If you can’t handle the heat for six to 10 seconds, it’s too hot. Deboned filleted fish will cook more quickly than a fish with bones. It takes about eight minutes to cook through an inch of fish. When you’re braaiing fish pieces that have been filleted, be sure to place them skin-side down on the grill first. It will help the fish hold together. And if your fish doesn’t have the skin on, brush the fish with oil to prevent it from sticking and wrap it in some tinfoil to prevent it from falling apart. And always remember to season!
Make sure that you have debearded all your mussels and steam them in a closed pot with water for about 10 minutes until all the shells have opened.
Season your mussels with anything you fancy – chilli butter, garlic, cheese – and then place shell-side down on the hot grill for a minute or two until nice and smoky.
Devein each prawn but don’t remove the prawn shells before you braai them as the shells act as a protective layer. They also add to the visual aesthetic. Marinate them in a mixture of lemon juice, garlic cloves and fresh ginger for a few hours before you cook them.
This won’t take long so be mindful and present. Place the prawns on the braai grid and turn over after a minute or so. They should take about three or four minutes total to cook through. If you overcook them, they’ll go rubbery. Tip: thread shelled prawns on skewers if they aren’t too big. This allows for easier handling and also ensures they cook evenly on each side.
Make sure that your oysters are shucked and pop them on some ice while they wait to be placed on the braai grid. Have a set of heat-protective gloves handy.
You want to cook shellfish quickly. So ensure that the coals are quite hot because when you place the oyster shells on the grid, the temperature will immediately heat up the liquid in the shells. For some flavour and richness, add a blob or two of garlic butter. You’ll know the oysters are ready when the edges of the flesh start to curl up around the sides. This will take no time at all – about five minutes if the temperature is nice and high. Allow to cool slightly before eating.
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