Dry-aged fish? No, it’s not bokkom or fish biltong. During the lockdown Kurt Hill from Cape Fish started playing with dry aging fish which is more art than science. Founded in 2012 by Hill and partner Kyle Nold, Cape Fish operated a commercial ski boat and sold yellowfin tuna knocking on restaurant doors. When they met the women who would become their wives, they had to decide which path they wanted to take: fishing or trading. “So for our sins, we decided to trade,” Hill said.
The Paarden Eiland-based company has grown from a bakkie in Hill’s mother’s garage to the smallest EU-certified installation in Southern Africa. Cape Fish is currently the only company exporting fresh tuna loins from South Africa to Europe. Countries include Germany, Norway, Sweden, Holland, Finland, Italy, some Spain and Czechoslovakia; the tuna scraps are sent to a retail chain in the United States. Here at home, chic supermarket brands are provided, as well as the best restaurants.
Most of the fish – hake, kingfish, tuna, yellowtail flounder – come from the waters of the Cape Peninsula: Hout Bay or up to the west coast, Dassen Island way, which is about 55 km from Cape Town and 10 km west of Yzerfontein.
“Boats are hired to fish for us. Tuna is very feast or famine; either there is not enough or there is an oversupply, and over the years we have adapted our business to become specialists in tuna to provide maximum return to our fishermen,” Hill said. . “We have two seasons every year, May to June, July then October to December. When the water warms up in January, February, they swim away.
With tunas reaching weights of up to 150 kg – each! – rolling them up takes skill, technique and a lot of hard work. “We have always tried not to aim for the biggest volume but rather the best quality. We work closely with our fishermen. When the fish arrives on the boats, it is treated as it should be in order to offer the best possible quality product.
The fish is gaffed in the head to avoid damaging the loin and bled under its pectoral fins. A pipe is pushed into the gills to drain the blood. “The crucial thing is the temperature,” Hill said. The fish are kept in a chilled salt water system on the boat.
All efforts to ensure the best quality of fish were not very good during lockdown when restaurant customers were non-existent. “We started our online business while we were trying to figure out what to do. That’s when we decided to hunt down the EU and get approval,” Hill said. in place to be operational in 2022.
“But also during lockdown I wanted to push the limits, play a little and experiment,” Hill said. For some time he had been following Josh Niland on Instagram – “the Aussie who pioneered dry-aged fish charcuterie”.
Amazon’s description of Niland’s status is apt: “Niland’s multi-award winning The whole fish cookbook is the best-selling cookbook that changed the way we think about fish. Jamie Oliver called Josh Niland one of the most impressive chefs of a generation and Yotam Ottolenghi voted the book one of his favorites – ever.
Hill bought his dry agers and started playing with tuna, yellowtail, swordfish and marlin. “Dry aging is essentially the control of temperature, humidity, UV, and air movement — all of which create static energy containing heat,” Hill explained.
“What it does is create a peak of flavor. The piece of fish will reach its peak and if it exceeds that, it will start to turn into a fish. Every piece of fish is different, making dry aging an art rather than a science. Each will age at a different rate due to its water content, fat content, thickness and weight.
The tomahawk tuna steaks are nice big cuts, Hill said. He recommends salt and pepper and a little butter. “You cook it like you would a steak, just less time and a bit more heat to get a nice crisp on it. I guarantee that if you close your eyes and rub your finger on it and lick your finger, you’ll think it’s a piece of beef tenderloin.
The yellowtail cutlets are cut like chops with a bone in, which is beautifully presented, Hill said. “Swordfish bacon – that’s very cool. The belly is usually hard and rubbery, so what we do is tend to it, smoke it, and hang it. After a few weeks, you slice it very thin and cook it in a pan like bacon. It contains enough natural oil that you don’t need to use butter. It smells like bacon and when you eat it, the bacon starts with a swordfish/ocean finish. It looks weird but it’s really cool.
To be clear, dry aged fish is not biltong or bokkom fish. You treat and cook it like any other piece of fish (don’t overcook it, one pan is enough for tuna). “Another cool thing,” Hill enthuses, “is that you take the moisture out of the fish, when you put it in the pan, it never spits out water. If you like crispy salmon skin, you won’t get it any crispier than a dry-aged fish.
Cape Fish encourages its anglers to use the Japanese method of ikejime, which maintains the quality of the fish, initially extending to tuna and now also yellowtail. A spike – imagine a car antenna – is inserted into the fish’s head and down its spine. This causes immediate brain death which prevents further muscle movement so the fish does not become agitated and injured. “It gives a much better shelf life and a much better product overall because the muscles stay firm and hold their shape,” Hill said.
Next, the scales of the yellowtail are cut off rather than scraped off. No pockets to retain water, and therefore no bacteria. “When you cook that amberjack and put the skin in the pan…man, it gets so crispy and golden,” Hill said.
Yellowtail flounder caught Cape Point ages for about seven days; from Dassen Island, they are bigger so they leave 11 days. The albacore remains suspended for about 12 to 14 days, and the belly of the so desirable bluefin tuna, which is fished in winter, turns into otoro (the fatty part of the tuna), matured for 21 to 30 days. Clients include Obi at Long Street, Cape Town and Kyoto Garden Sushi at Gardens. “Or I take it home and eat it myself,” Hill said. “Let me tell you, this is the Holy Grail for me. Nothing I’ve ever eaten compares to.
When you order your dry aged fish it comes packaged in absorbent liners, wrapped in waxed brown paper, which is labeled or written on with black marker – true fishmonger/butcher style. There will be no juice leaks and no mess in your refrigerator. But don’t freeze it. Bake it the same day or the next day for best results. My opinion ? I don’t cook fish at home for reasons best known to my subconscious, so there isn’t much basis for comparison, but the tuna and yellowtail amberjack I prepared were both deliciously full of flavor . Ten out of 10, would do it again.
You can buy the range from the small Cape Fish retail space in Paarden Eiland or order online. Delivery is offered in and around Cape Town and surrounding areas, i.e. not over the mountains. DM/TGIFood
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Follow Bianca Coleman on Instagram @biancaleecoleman
The writer supports The Donor Gift Foundationthe largest African-based non-governmental disaster response organization on the African continent.