Story of a Plate: Trout with Guava at Hartford House

On the menu: Wayfarer smoked trout with guava (part of a tasting menu which changes every night)

We were intrigued by the combination of fish and guava – how did that come about?

Chef Constantijn Hahndiek: Yes, it is an unusual dish, and the reason we went for the guava is because that trout is so unique; it’s got both a strong smokey flavour, and also quite a bit of saltiness from the smoking process.

We don’t smoke it in-house, because we can’t beat the quality of Wayfarer (which is extremely well known for their way of smoking; they are artisanal smokers, with an underground tunnel that actually feeds into their smoker, and their curing process is quite special as well). So with that trout – and especially the wine we served with it [the 2010 Jacques Bruére Blanc de Blanc] –  we were relying on all those other elements to make that guava work.

There was also a bit of dashi-style broth which had fruity undertones to it from being infused with the the seeds and the peelings from the guava, enhancing the “usual” dashi broth flavours of bonito flakes, seaweed, and kombu. The guava infusion added a lovely roundness to the broth which worked well to offset the saltiness of the fish.

Pairing oily fish like mackerel with tart fruits like rhubarb or gooseberries is quite a classic combination. But guava still seems like a curious choice – it’s not that tart, or even sweet. What drove that decision?

Tijn (as his friends call him): Part of the thinking behind that dish is actually that guava and pork work so well…. Smoked trout for me is almost like the bacon of fish, in terms of getting that skin nice and crispy, with beautiful saltiness and smoke. Guava works because it’s not too acidic, nor too sweet, but a lovely counterpoint to the slight fattiness of an oily fish. We served the guava underneath the fish, grilled and still warm, which also helps to temper those strong fruit flavours.

The white bit on top is puffed rice – basically blended sushi rice that we dehydrate and drop in oil like a poppadom and it puffs up almost like a rice cracker, and adds a nice bit of texture. So there’s a bit of an Asian influence to that dish, although we try to let the ingredients guide the style of a dish, rather than doing outright “fusion” cooking. And then some radish, pok choi, and finally some borage flowers, also known as oyster flowers because they’ve got a bit of natural salty-sweetness.

Given that you change your menu every night, diners can’t exactly make the journey for this particular dish?

Tijn: Unfortunately not. We use very small boutique farmers, which means a lot of whole animals as well, so one night you might get the lamb rump, the next night or two nights later the saddle, and a few night’s later the rack. The quality of ingredients is amazing, because we basically choose the best of everything, but the quantity isn’t available for us to do a consistent dish.

So it’s kind of like being on Top Chef every day, where you just have to make plates up based on what you’ve got, which is probably both really exciting and also sometimes a bit frustrating, because you never know exactly what’s going to happen?

Tijn: There were times, especially in the earlier days of us doing this, that we said we’re never going down that road again; it was wonderful on paper, but not great on the dish. But I think that after almost three years of doing a different menu every single day, we’ve now hit on a thought-process, a recipe or a formula for designing the menu, especially when you’re doing six or seven courses in a row. All we hope for is that by the end of the evening everything worked together and that everyone had a wonderful time!

Where to get (something like) it: Hartford House, Hlatikulu Road, Mooi River, KwaZulu-Natal. 033  263 2713

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