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National Marine Week: Cooking with WWF SASSI and Birdlife SA!

October 27, 2011

The 10th to the 16th of October was National Marine Week in South Africa and besides the wealth of lectures and events on my academic calendar I was also asked to participate in a cooking demonstration for the Save Our Seabirds festival at the V&A waterfront with WWF SASSI and BirdLife South Africa.

I love to cook but when standing up in front of an audience you’ll usually find me talking about ocean optics or climate change rather than how best to poach a fillet of hake! Despite being somewhat out of my comfort zone, I teamed up with the wonderful Janine from WWF SASSI to cook two sustainable seafood recipes on stage! I used two of my favourite and simplest recipes – hoping to show the audience that you don’t have to be a professional chef (or have an obscene amount of money and time) to eat tasty, sustainable dishes.

Whilst I busied myself in an unfamiliar kitchen, Janine did a fantastic job of explaining the principles behind the SASSI sustainability guidelines, with particular focus on hake and angelfish – the two species I was using. These fish are some of the most commonly available and used fish in SA and represent a cheap, family friendly option for meals. A combination of population numbers, breeding rates and bycatch (other species caught) measures go in to the SASSI guidelines. Hake for example is on both the green and orange lists. Somewhat counter intuitively it seems, trawled hake is better than non-trawled! The reason behind this lies in the positive management measures agreed to by the hake trawl fisheries – which have helped significantly reduce sea bird bycatch and protect areas from fishing in the future.

My two recipes are below – some of you will recognise the fishcake recipe from an earlier blog post about World Oceans Day. I think this recipe should be a staple in anyones collection. It’s so versatile. Whether you want to impress with a delicious starter (top the fishcake with poached egg, sauce and serve with a rocket salad) or are just looking for a simple, family supper (serve with chips and vegetables) – this recipe is the perfect starting point. My feelings about this recipe where thoroughly vindicated by the flurry of young hands that went up from the school children in the audience, wanting to taste this dish. It was great to see them enjoying the food and hopefully they will take requests for angelfish fishcakes home to their parents.

My second dish – a thai inspired hake curry, is probably more suitable for adult taste buds, capturing the spicy and sour flavours so characteristic of thai cuisine. A great dish to cook with any white fish – angel fish also works well and is a cheaper option.


Smoked angelfish fishcakes with poached eggs and homemade tartare sauce

A flexible, simple and quick dish for all the family. These delicious fish cakes can be jazzed up for a special starter/brunch or simply served with chips and vegetables/salad for a family dinner. Also works well with fresh hake or angelfish – poach the fish and flake it to replace the smoked fish used here. Kids may prefer fresh, poached fish rather than the stronger flavoured, smoked angelfish. However smoked fish is a great ingredient to keep in the fridge on standby.

Serves 4


Fish: 300g smoked, 450g if fresh (poach in 300ml half milk, half water)
Potatoes: 500g/350g if using milder, fresh fish.
Zest of 1 lemon
1 tbsp chopped parsley
80g breadcrumbs
3-4 tbsp oil
1 large, free range egg
A little flour
Salt and pepper

4 tbsp mayonnaise
2 tsp capers –roughly chopped
1 tsp lemon and olive paste or squeeze of lemon juice


Roughly shred the fish. Boil the potatoes until soft, drain and mash (add a little butter/milk if you like a softer texture). Mix parsley, lemon zest, salt and pepper through mash. Roughly mix fish in to the seasoned mash. Form into fishcakes, about 2.5cm thick using floured hands. Dip fishcakes into beaten egg and then coat in breadcrumbs. Fry in medium hot oil for 5 minutes on each side. To make the tartare style sauce, simply mix the capers and lemon and olive paste or lemon juice in to the mayonnaise – season to taste. Top each fishcake with a softly poached egg and the homemade tartare style sauce.

Thai inspired fish curry

Thai food uses an array of fantastic, fresh flavours, distinct from any other cuisine. This curry takes advantage of the simple combination of flavours found in typical Thai coconut curries. You can add vegetables to this dish if you like – baby sweetcorn, mangetout, thinly sliced carrots added just before the fish, will make this a more substantial meal. Serve with basmati/jasmine rice.

Serves 4


2 large hake/angelfish fillets cut in half
2 cloves of garlic – finely chopped
1 tsp grated ginger/galangal if you prefer
400ml can of coconut milk
200ml water
1 tsp turmeric – ground will do or use 20g of fresh turmeric, grated, if you can find fresh
1 stick of lemon grass cut in to 2 cm chunks
1-2 red chillies – chopped, use less if you prefer a milder spice
3 tbsp fish sauce
Juice of half a lime

To serve:
125g rice per person
Spring onions – roughly sliced
Fresh coriander – roughly chopped.


Add a little coconut milk (2-3 tbsp) to a large pan and heat until it bubbles and forms an oil (a trick I was taught in Thailand!). Turn the heat down a little and lightly fry the chopped garlic, ginger and chillies. Add the coconut milk and stir the ground turmeric through/add the turmeric chunks and lemon grass. If you want to add vegetables, add them now and cook for an extra minute or so to soften before you start the fish. Add the fish to the pan and simmer until cooked – about 8 minutes, be careful not to over cook the fish, hake especially can fall apart easily. Once the fish is cooked, remove carefully and place in bowls. Add the fish sauce and lime juice to the coconut sauce and spoon this over the fish, carefully discarding any chunks of turmeric/lemon grass. Top with spring onions and coriander and serve with basmati/jasmine rice.


I used fish from two great local suppliers. My smoked angel fish as always cames from delicious fish (Earth Fair Market, Tokai) whilst the hake came from Julie – ocean jewels fish – who you can find at several markets and she also delivers – check out her blog and follow her on twitter (@oceanjewelsfish).

I’d like to the thank Janine, WWF SASSI and BirdLife SA for a great opportunity and thanks to all the people who attended especially Ben, Ffi, Emily and Matt Allison 🙂


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