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Who says fish that has to be paired with a certain varietal of wine? The first in a three-part series on playfully unorthodox allegiances, I couple Vriesenhof Vineyards‘ unwooded Chardonnay with a brace of barbecued maasbanker.

While it’s common knowledge that I’m a sucker for Sauvignon Blanc, cooler weather means that I’m craving something more robust to synchronize with seafood.
Enter Vriesenhof’s unwooded Chardonnay –  a smooth sipper that appeals as much to contrary Chardonnay drinkers as it does to those that tend to avoid heavier cultivars. Marketed by the estate as highlighting the playful side of Chardonnay, the wine offers an enjoyable drink, with notes of citrus, gooseberry, green pear and ripe peach offering the ideal bouquet to lighten the savoury oiliness of fresh horse mackerel.

Known in the local vernacular as maasbanker, horse mackerel are caught off our southern coast and often end up as bait. I’d heard of maasbanker before and had occasionally seen larger fish hung up to dry on Bokkom Laan in Velddrif but had never sampled them for myself. Fortuitously I stumbled upon fresh maasbanker in the Woodstock branch of Fish 4 Africa and immediately bought a few. Having initially resigned myself to the idea of frozen Portuguese sardines (delicious but gutting and scaling is an irksome task) getting to cook the fish from fresh was too good an opportunity to turn down.

Cue spending most of the day hovering over a smouldering pile of logs, attempting to coax them into burning hot enough to barbecue my brace of maasbanker. Needless to say I ended up hillbilly-scented but treated to a dinner of some of the most delicious oily pelagic fish I’ve ever had the pleasure of preparing. As maverick a fish as the wine that I’ve paired them with, maasbanker are deeply delicious, extremely oily fish that hold up well to the smoky heat of the barbecue. A striking salsa verde, redolent of citrus, caper and garlic is all that’s needed to create a laid-back lunch perfect for bright autumn days.

When it comes to scales, being a snob is doing a disservice to oneself – I can happily eschew salmon and tuna for mackerel, sardines and pilchard!

On that note, I do understand that maasbanker may be tricky to get hold of, so feel free to replace them in this recipe for any other oily fish you can find. The Art Deco-striped Atlantic mackerel is similar in texture and taste and often more readily available, as are frozen whole sardines. Look in the freezer section of your local supermarket or pop over to a reputable fishmonger and see what takes your fancy.

Grilled Maasbanker with Salsa Verde

Prep time: 15 mins / Cook time: 10 mins / Serves: 4 to 6

You will need:

  • 20g fresh rosemary, leaves removed from the woody stalks
  • 20g fresh flat leaf parsley
  • 10g capers
  • 2 – 3 green capsicum chillies
  • 125ml extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for bottling
  • The juice and zest of a lemon
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 15 – 20 fresh maasbanker or sardines, cleaned
  • Coarse ground sea salt and black pepper

Using a sharp knife or mezzaluna, finely chop the rosemary and parsley and add to a mixing bowl. Finely chop the capers, chillies and garlic and add to the herbs along with the lemon juice, zest and olive oil. Combine the salsa verde, adding more olive oil if necessary and season to taste. Arrange the cleaned maasbanker in a large dish and spoon a little of the salsa verde over, being sure to coat each fish. Oil a grid and grill the maasbanker over medium coals for about 3 – 4 minutes per side, using a small brush or sprig of rosemary to baste the cavity of each fish with salsa verde.

Once cooked, remove the head and spine of each maasbanker, opening them up like a book. Baste the fishes again with salsa verde and serve with a green salad, crusty bread and a bottle of chilled Vriesenhof unwooded Chardonnay.

Courtesy of Georgia East of East Afternoon