Pickled fish recipe

March 22, 2024
Pickled fish recipe

Proper pickled fish is the true taste of Cape tradition.

In this recipe there is a simple batter to coat the fish. This part can be omitted – you can simply bake the fish or coat it in seasoned flour and pan-fry it, but it’s nice to have the batter as it keeps the fish in one piece, particularly if you are not using a firm fish. Snoek is still the best fish to pickle. Salt the fish an hour before you start, and when ready to begin rinse it and pat dry before you bake or shallow-fry it. Pickled fish is best marinated in the fridge for at least two days, and even better on the third day if you can restrain yourself from eating it sooner. A great tradition in the Cape among people of all cultures, it is best enjoyed with fresh bread and butter. Add a green salad if you must, and if you like it spicy, add an extra chilli.

Pickled fish

Serves: 2
Cooking Time: 40 mins + extra for chilling


  • 30ml (2 tbsp) vegetable oil
  • 3 large onions, sliced
  • 15ml (1 tbsp) fresh ginger, grated
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 3 – 4 whole dried chillies
  • 8 whole black peppercorns
  • 3 cloves
  • 3 allspice berries
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 10ml (2 tsp) coriander seeds, crushed
  • 10m (2 tsp) yellow mustard seeds
  • 10ml (2 tsp) ground cumin
  • 10ml (2 tsp) ground turmeric
  • 15ml (1 tbsp) masala powder
  • 100g (½ cup) brown sugar
  • 250ml (1 cup) grape or cider vinegar
  • 125ml (½ cup) water
  • 5ml (1 tsp) corn flour, optional
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 500g firm sustainable fish, such as snoek or yellowtail
  • oil, for deep-frying
  • 100g seasoned cake flour
  • 3 – 4 large eggs, beaten



For the sauce, heat the oil and sauté the onions, ginger, garlic and chillies for about 2 minutes, making sure the garlic does not burn. The onions should still have a slight crunch.


Add all the spices and continue cooking for a few minutes. Stir in the sugar and allow to dissolve and lightly caramelise. You can add more sugar if you prefer a sweeter sauce.


Add the vinegar and water and simmer until the sauce thickens. Adjust the ratio of water to vinegar according to personal taste. If you prefer a slightly thicker sauce, dissolve the corn flour in a little water and add to the simmering sauce. Once the sauce is a pleasing consistency, remove from the heat. Season, set aside and keep warm.


Cut the fish into thick strips about the length of a finger.


Heat the oil in a large pot and lay paper towel out for draining. Place the seasoned flour in a shallow bowl and the beaten eggs in a separate bowl. Dip the first batch of fish into the flour, coating well and shaking off the excess.


Dip the fish into the egg.


Place the fish carefully into the hot oil in batches.


Deep-fry the fish until golden, then remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towel. Repeat for the remaining fish.


Place the fried fish in a container and pour over the warm sauce.


To drink: A light, fruity, aromatic white wine complements pickled and curried flavours...

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ALSO SEE: Classic fish and chips with lemon aïoli

Classic fish and chips with lemon aïoli

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