Traditional South African Pickled Fish

Traditional South African Pickled Fish

While there are many versions to pickled fish this is a spicy, slightly hot, delicious and traditional family recipe. Like most pickled fish recipes it must be refrigerated for 2 to 3 days before serving.

Picked fish is made to substitute eating meat ( by religious tradition) on Good Friday. This recipe is eaten with hot cross buns and it’s very normal to make large quantities of this recipe so that it can last the entire Easter holiday because this is one of those wonderful recipes where the longer it stands in the fridge the better it tastes.

My Traditional South African Pickled Fish Recipe

Always something special about recipes that have been handed down from one generation to another. Recipes that you grow up witnessing being made, eating and in turn making it for your own family.

Easter Friday also know as Good Friday hold memories for me of being bundled up in the car and off to church which of course are fond memories (except those long church service hours at such a young age) more importantly however, are the wonderful memories of pickled fish and hot cross buns!  Those are crystal clear obviously because I’ve always loved delicious food and also because we were kids so we were always hungry 🙂

traditional south African pickled fish

Growing up in the 70’s food and life was a lot more basic than it is now (in certain situations). It was Easter and you knew that you were going to be eating the same pickled fish that you had been eating every Easter for as long as you can remember. I cannot imagine my mother having ever said “I found this new way to make pickled fish” unimaginable!

It was what it was, how you knew it and that was the end. No recipe suggestions, no tweaks and no changes. There has got to be something special about such recipes that’s why they are called ‘traditional’.

traditional south African pickled fish

What You Will Need

Spices which is the essence of this recipe
2 large fairly flat bowls for the flour and egg
Large non stick pan
Kitchen tissue towel paper
Canola oil for frying
White wine vinegar
A pair of tongs

Don’t discard the liquid after adding the cooked spiced onions to the dish. Pour it in over the fish and if you want more liquid, top this liquid up with white wine vinegar and water, taste and pour over the fish.

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traditional south African pickled fish

Recipe Notes, Suggestions & Tips

  1. Use room temperature fish.
  2. If you prefer more liquid increase the quantity of the white wine vinegar & water by small amounts just before transferring the fish into the glass dish.
  3. When dipping the fish into the flour try using as little flour as possible because you want to lightly coat the fish in flour and not have parts of flour in your pan. The more flour you use the longer the cooking process takes and it also means that you have to keep changing oil so I would suggest keeping it light and cooking on medium in a non stick pan to avoid burning the oil.
  4. Use a non metalic container for storing the fish. A glass hollow bowl or pirax dish works best.

Traditional South African Pickled Fish

There are some recipes that cannot be altered into something of this food era. This traditional South African pickled fish recipe is absolutely one of them, at least for me. Much too much history to try and alter. 
Cuisine South African
Keyword pickled fish
Servings 6 people



  • 1 kilo fish
  • oil (for frying the fish)
  • all purpose flour
  • 4 eggs


  • 1 fresh chili
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tbsp peppercorns
  • 1 tsp roughly chopped cloves


  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp fish spice
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 2 tbsps masala curry powder
  • 1 tsp cumin spice
  • 1 tsp salt


  • 5 sliced onions
  • 3/4 cup canola oil
  • 1 cup white wine vinegar
  • 2 cups water
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • thumb size piece of ginger


  • Make sure the fish (if frozen) is completely defrosted and at room temperature before starting. 
  • Add all the dry roast ingredients into a skillet or pan and roast till bursting with flavor and slightly roasted. Set aside. 
  • Have 2 slightly large wide plates, 1 for the flour and 1 for the egg. Using a pair of tongs dip your fish one at a time into the beaten egg and then into the flour and fry on medium heat. Continue till all the fish is done. 
    Once fried set the fish on top of kitchen towel paper to drain the oil. 


  • Heat the oil in a fairly large pan and toss in all the onions and cook on medium heat till slightly translucent. 
  • Add crushed garlic and ginger. 
  • Add all the spices and salt and cook for about a minute before adding the dry roast ingredients, the vinegar and 1st cup of water. Drop the heat to medium low. 
  • Simmer for about 15 to minutes adding the 2nd cup of water slowly.
  • Once cooled down, pour over the fish, allow to continue cooling even further before covering in plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator for minimum 24 hours before serving with fresh coriander. 

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