Pickled fish is a delightful South African dish, often enjoyed during Easter and other special occasions. It's a wonderful balance of sweet, tangy, and spiced flavors. This is a traditional South African recipe with a modern twist. An easy recipe to make and a staple during the Easter holidays. The rich tangy sauce soaked up by the cooked fish and the vibrant color from the turmeric paste makes this dish a truly delicious treat for your friends and family.
What Is Pickled Fish?
Fresh fish coated in a flour and egg batter, fried in cooking oil and combined with aromatic spices. Typically shared over one of the most celebrated Christian holidays, in this case Easter holidays when it is celebrated and enjoyed by South African families across the country.
Why Is Pickled Fish A Religious Celebration?
For some families, pickled fish is only eaten at Easter and eaten specifically on Good Friday in the absence of (replacing) meat. Fish on Good Friday and lamb on Easter (Holy) Sunday. The Easter weekend for Christians who celebrate it, is a way of acknowledging the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
What Does Pickled Fish Taste Like?
The flavors are a sweet, vinegary taste that get better with time. In other words, the longer the fish stands in the pickled brine the better it tastes that's why the fish is left in the fridge to settle for 48 hours before serving
Ingredients For Pickled Fish
Here is a list of ingredients this pickled fish recipe, the full recipe card can be found below.
- Fish medallions: fish is the star of the dish. Although you can use any fish variety for this recipe, I love using the hake medallions. It is a part of the COD family and has a delicate flavor and tender texture. The fish absorbs the flavors very well and is a perfect choice for this recipe. The mild flavor of the fish allows the spices and sauce to shine.
- All-purpose flour: All-purpose flour serves as a coating for the fish. It makes the fish crispy and locks in its moisture and flavor.
- Eggs: Eggs ensure the flour is coated perfectly and sticks well to the fish.
- Salt and pepper: These two basic seasonings are used to enhance the natural flavors of the fish.
- Onions: The sliced onions add a sweet and savory flavor to the dish while also providing a textural element to the sauce. Moreover, onions are the main ingredient in this pickled fish recipe. You can either use red or white onions.
- Vegetable oil: The oil is used for frying the fish and cooking the onions and sauce.
- Garlic: Garlic adds a strong, deep savory flavor to the dish.
- Ginger: Ginger adds a bold and aromatic flavor to the dish while also providing health benefits such as boosting immunity and aiding digestion.
- Granulated sugar: Sugar adds a sweetness to the sauce balancing out the acidity and heat of the other ingredients.
- White wine vinegar: It adds a tangy and acidic flavor to the dish.
- Turmeric paste: Turmeric adds a bright yellow color to the dish and a slightly bitter and earthy flavor.
What Spices To Use For Pickled Fish
Here is a list of whole and ground spices used in this pickled fish recipe.
1st Batch of Whole Spices
- Peppercorns: Peppercorns add a spicy and slightly bitter flavor to dishes. In the pickled fish recipe, they contribute to the overall spiciness of the dish.
- Cardamom pods: These small, green pods contain tiny seeds with a warm and slightly sweet flavor. The pods add a complex and aromatic flavor to the dish.
- Fennel seeds: They have a sweet and licorice-like flavor. They are commonly used in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine and are included in the pickled fish recipe to add a unique and slightly sweet flavor.
- Fresh or dried chili: Chili peppers add heat and a spicy flavor to dishes. You can either use fresh or dried chili in this pickled fish recipe.
- Bay leaves: Bay leaves are commonly used in cooking to add a slightly bitter and aromatic flavor to dishes.
2nd Batch of Ground Spices
- Garam masala: Garam masala is a blend of ground spices that typically includes cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, cumin, and coriander. It adds a warm and slightly sweet flavor to the dish.
- Turmeric: Turmeric is a bright yellow spice that has a slightly bitter and earthy flavor and adds color to the dish.
- Cumin: Cumin adds a warm and slightly spicy flavor to the dish.
- Salt: Salt adds a savory and slightly salty flavor to the dish.
- Curry powder: Curry powder is a blend of spices that includes coriander, cumin, turmeric, and other spices. It adds a complex and slightly spicy flavor to the dish.
How To Make Pickled Fish
Here is how you can make pickled fish at home, find the full recipe card below.
Step 1: Pat the fish dry using a kitchen towel.
Step 2: add flour to a shallow dish and whisk eggs in another. Dip the fish pieces first in the egg wash and then in the flour so that it is evenly coated.
Step 3: Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat. Once the oil heats up, add the coated fish and fry for 4 minutes on each side or until golden brown. Take the fish out on a kitchen towel to eliminate excess oil. Set the fish aside.
Step 4: In a pan, heat oil over medium heat. Add garlic and cook for a few seconds until fragrant. Now add grated ginger and chopped chili. Continue to cook.
Step 5: Add the 1st batch of spices and mix for a few seconds. Add a splash of water to prevent the mixture from burning.
Step 6: Add the 2nd batch of spices. Mix and allow the spices to cook. Continue to add more water gradually.
Step 7: Once your spices are cooked and have released their aroma, add 1 cup of vinegar and sugar. Let the mixture simmer for 10 minutes.
Step 8: Meanwhile, fry the onions. Heat oil in a pan. Add onions and cook them on low to medium heat while stirring at intervals. Once they get a golden color, add the peppercorns and Garam Masala.
Step 9: Mix well and pour the curried sauce over the onions. Add the fish to the pan and let it cook on medium heat.
Step 10: Pour turmeric puree over the fish, gently scoop some of the sauce to cover the fish, and soak up the turmeric paste. Turn off the heat, and leave it to cool thoroughly.
Step 11: Cover and refrigerate once the property cools for 24 to 48 hours and serve with hot cross buns and butter. Enjoy!
Served with fresh hot cross buns. Need a recipe? The best Hot Cross Buns Recipe
Staple Ingredients For Pickled Fish
Ingredients Irrespective which of my pickled fish recipe you're following, you will still need the following ingredients. The sugar is a personal choice, we prefer a little not a lot, just to balance out the zing in the vinegar.
A South African Easter Traditiion
I first shared this Traditional South African Pickled Fish back in 2019 and you all loved it so in 2021 I decided to repeat the recipe with a special tweak to it.
My Family Pickled Fish History
Eating pickled fish on Good Friday is an acknowledgement for the death of Jesus Christ. As children we never really understood fully why we were not allowed to eat meat on Easter Friday and I don't believe it worried us at all! We were more interested in when we could eat the fish and hot cross buns 🙂 Normally it was after a 3 hour church service where we kept falling in and out of sleep. Nevertheless, it was always worth it for an Easter after church fish & buns picnic!
Pickled Fish Tips to Remember
Here are a few tips you should remember to get the best results:
Frozen Fish: If you use frozen fish, thaw it completely by placing it in the refrigerator overnight. If you do not thaw it properly, it can cause the hot oil to splatter, and the fish won’t be as succulent as it should be.
Stove top frying: Always fry the fish on medium heat to prevent the oil from burning.
How long to fry the fish: Don’t fry the fish for too long. Remember, it will still cook with the onions. You don’t want to overcook the fish.
Sugar: If you use sugar in this recipe, ensure you don't add too much. The purpose of adding sugar is just to balance out the acidity of the vinegar. You don't want to make the sauce sweet by adding more sugar. (unless you do).
Frying the onions: Don't over-fry the onions; they will lose their texture and crunch.
Taste: Continue to taste the sauce to adjust the flavors according to your liking.
Frequently Asked Questions Pickled Fish
Why should you store pickled fish for longer?
The secret to tasteful pickled fish lies in its storage. The idea is to allow the fish to soak up the flavors of the sauces and spices. And it can only occur when you store the fish in the refrigerator for at least 48 hours before serving. The flavor of the fish gets better with time. For this reason, this fish is a perfect dish to make ahead of time, especially when you are holding a holiday party.
What's the basis of pickled fish?
Although recipes may vary from area or city, the basis is fried fish and pickled onions in vinegar. The flavors are a sweet, vinegary taste that get better with time.
In other words, the longer the fish stands in the pickled brine the better it tastes that's why the fish is left in the fridge to settle for 48 hours before serving. In our house 24 hours is the most otherwise you have to hide it away because everyone is looking to eat it especially for breakfast. Pickled fish on hot cross buns and butter, say no more!
What fish to use for pickled fish?
Fish Hake medallions frozen were used in both the original Traditional South African Pickled Fish and this pickled fish recipe.
Answers To Your Questions For Pickled Fish
How long do I fry the onions?
When frying the onions make sure to not over fry them because they loose their texture and crunch and that's what we are not looking for in the recipe. With the fish marinating in the fridge for 48 hours, the onions will lose a little crunch but won't become soggy.
Does pickled fish have sugar? I don't see it in your recipe?
Many recipes call for sugar because it helps balance out the acidity of the vinegar in the recipe. However, it can also make it slightly sweet and although many families love it that way, we prefer to not add the sugar. My suggestion would be to taste as you go and add a teaspoon or two at different times of tasting, if necessary.
What did the turmeric add for you in this recipe? Im not sure whether to make the tradional no turmeric paste or with turmeric paste?
Let's start with the fact that you can add less turmeric paste if you decide to add it. You can also add it in stages and see if you want more. See more information below on the turmeric paste.
My Secret Ingredient was my ever so loved Turmeric Paste! I found a way to incorporate it and it took my pickled fish recipe from really good to oh my goodness good!
A Little Background On The Turmeric Paste
When To Add The Turmeric Paste
That's the great thing about the paste is that you can add it after the spices while they cook with the onions. Pouring some of it over the top in the last minute gives it a wonderful rich flavor and color.
Why Add Turmeric Paste To Pickled Fish?
We love pickled fish and have eaten it the same way since childhood so tweaks are good for a change at times. Here is what the turmeric added to the recipe;
- Helps create a thick sauce without adding flour or Maizena or any thickening agents.
- Adds flavor to the fish and also balances out the acidity.
What's The Difference Between This Pickled Fish and The Authentic Recipe?
Cooking the sauce separately - In this recipe we cook the sauce alone and the onions alone as opposed to the orginal pickled fish recipe where I use one pan, no turmeric paste, add all the spices
More Delicious Recipes
- Traditional South African Pickled Fish
- Salmon And Rice
- Fish Bake Recipe in Basil Pesto, Parmesan and Tomato
- Turmeric Paste
- Hot Cross Buns Recipe
- Pan Seared Salmon
- Spicy Pickled Fish
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Pickled Fish Recipe South Africa
FOR THE FRIED FISH
- 500 grams fish, fresh, thawed hake medallions or another fish
- ½ cup flour
- 4 eggs, whisked
- salt and pepper to taste
- ½ cup vegetable oil
FOR THE CURRY SAUCE
- 2 Tbsps cooking oil
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tablespoon ginger, grated
- 1 chili deseeded and chopped
- ½ cup water
- 1 cup white vinegar
1ST BATCH OF WHOLE SPICES
- 2 Tbsps peppercorns
- 3 cardamom pods, see notes on cardomom spice
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 3 bay leaves (pull the leaves away from the stems and discard the stems)
2ND BATCH OF GROUND SPICES
- 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon coriander
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon curry powder
FOR COOKING THE ONION PICKLE
- 1 cup cooking oil
- 2 kg onions, sliced, 6 to 8 medium sized onions.
- 1 teaspoon peppercorns
- 2 tsps garam masala
- ¼ cup turmeric paste
FOR THE FRIED FISH
- Season the fish with salt & pepper. Dredge the fish in flour, ensuring it's coated evenly. Dip each piece in the whisked eggs, allowing excess egg to drip off. Heat ½ cup of vegetable oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Fry the fish until golden brown on both sides, about 2-3 minutes per side. Remove the fish from the pan and place it on paper towels to drain excess oil.500 grams fish, fresh, thawed hake medallions or another fish, ½ cup flour, salt and pepper to taste, ½ cup vegetable oil, 4 eggs, whisked
- Prep the whole spices, instructional notes are below.3 cardamom pods, see notes on cardomom spice, 1 teaspoon fennel seeds, 3 bay leaves (pull the leaves away from the stems and discard the stems)
FOR THE CURRY SAUCE
- In a large saucepan, heat 2 to 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil over medium heat.Add the whole spices: Add the garlic, ginger & chili and cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the whole spices & half the water (¼ cup) to prevent the spices from burning. Add the 2nd batch of spices (ground): Combine all the spices, add the remaining water (¼ cup) cook for a couple of seconds and add the vinegar. The vinegar will create a curry sauce with the spices. Don’t let it evaporate. Remove and set aside.2 Tbsps cooking oil, 3 garlic cloves, minced, 1 tablespoon ginger, grated, 1 chili deseeded and chopped, ½ cup water, 1 teaspoon turmeric powder, 1 teaspoon cumin, 1 teaspoon coriander, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon curry powder, 1 cup white vinegar
COOK THE ONIONS
- Heat a cup of cooking oil on medium to high heat. Add the sliced onions and sauté for 2 minutes. Add the peppercorns, mix and add the garam masala.2 Tbsps peppercorns, 1 cup cooking oil, 2 kg onions, sliced, 6 to 8 medium sized onions., 2 tsps garam masala, 1 teaspoon peppercorns
- Return the curry sauce and pour it into the onions. Let it simmer for 5 minutes. Taste for salt and adjust and if it needs more liquid add ½ cup of vinegar and ½ cup of water. You should have enough liquid because the fish will absorb the liquid while setting.
- Return the fried fish and place it into the curried sauce and onions. Nestle the fish comfortably into the sauce. Add the turmeric paste, continue cooking for 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the stove and prepare to transfer the fish for storage once cooled down.¼ cup turmeric paste
LAYER THE FISH
- Transfer the pickled fish to a large enough pyrex dish (with a lid) once cooled. Start with a few spoons of sauce at the bottom, pack a few pieces of fish next to each other not piled over each other. Pour a couple spoons/ladels over of the sauce and another layer of fish. Repeat until all the fish and sauce is used.
- Store in a sealed container in the fridge for 3, 4 or 5 days. This allows the flavors to meld and the fish to absorb the pickling sauce
- After a few days serve with hot cross buns or bread. Any left overs can be stored in the fridge in a sealed container.
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