August 09, 2006

West Coast Kreef

OK, I lied. We didn’t head straight back to Cape Town. We stopped for kreef.
Cape Town is justly famous for its seafood, which is flown daily all over the world. However, the sad result of exportation is that locals rarely get to eat the best our seas have to offer. Restaurants offer local specialties, but have to pay export prices in order to get a share - a price that puts them out of the reach of pretty much everyone except overseas visitors. Strict quotas are in place to ensure that seafood is harvested in a responsible and sustainable manner, which only exacerbates the cost. You’re lucky to find a whole crayfish for less than R150 at a restaurant, and lucky to find perlemoen (abalone) at all.

OK, OK, so I’m trying to justify my illegal, environmentally irresponsible behaviour, but it takes a stronger moralist than I not to pick up a couple of gorgeous, fresh kreef (crayfish) at R30 each. Crayfish, a local variety of rock-lobster, are smaller than their American relatives, but with a similar taste. The prize is the juicy, sweet white tail meat, although patient eaters suck meat out of the spindly limbs, too. All along the main road out of Paternoster you’ll see groups of boys and men loitering, with suspiciously spiky, damp plastic bags dangling from one hand. The other hand waves subtly at the passing cars in the universal salute of black market kreef; palm upturned, outstretched fingers undulating beguilingly, in imitation of their still very much alive-and-kicking goods. Big Spoon negotiated aggressively, turning down a young boy who tried to sell us the largest kreef I had ever seen for R40 each. We just didn’t need them so large, and the meat is supposed to be sweetest in average- to small-sized kreef. We ended up with six for R190, which we stuck in the passenger footwell, where we insulated them with a towel and turned on the air conditioning foot vent full blast. The car still smelt briny and crustacean-y, but we didn’t mind. We had our prize, and dashed speedily home.

We sat them in fresh water to suffocate them, then stuck them in the fridge. The next day, we parboiled them for seven minutes, and then deveined and cut off the tails. This sounds a lot simpler than it was, because those buggers had clearly eaten well just before they were plucked from their watery home. Trust me, you don’t want to know what crayfish crap looks like, much less how much the average crayfish can contain. Several visiting vegetarians went green and promptly sat outside, while several determined kreef fans battled with the stubborn tails. Finally we slathered the (rinsed) tails with garlic butter, and put them on the braai (BBQ) for five or so minutes. We ate them, just smokily singed, with more garlic butter.

I’m not going to tell you how amazing they tasted, because I’d hate to encourage you to go and break the law. And because then there’d be less out there for me.

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