South African Recipes

South African Picked Fish Recipe: History, Tips & More

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Hey there, food lovers! Buckle up for an exciting culinary journey as we explore a South African staple packed with bold flavours – our classic Pickled Fish.

pickled fish on a plate

Pickled Fish

Cook Time 1 hour
Pickling time 1 day
Course Appetizer, Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine South African
Servings 4 people


  • 1 Frying pan
  • 1 Mixing Bowl
  • 1 Saucepan
  • 1 Glass jar (a plastic container with a lid will work too)


  • 500 g Firm white fish fillets
  • Salt and pepper to season
  • 1 cup Flour (for dusting)
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • 1 Onions, sliced into rings
  • 1 cup Malt vinegar (Apple cider vinegar or lemon juice will work just as well)
  • 1 cup Water
  • 2 tbsp Sugar
  • 1 tsp Turmeric
  • 1 tsp Ground coriander
  • 1 tsp Curry powder
  • 3 Bay leaves
  • 5 whole allspice


  • Let's hit the ground running by seasoning the fish fillets with salt and pepper. Dust each fillet in flour and shake off any excess.
  • Heat some vegetable oil in your frying pan over medium heat. Fry the fish until golden brown and cooked through. Set aside to cool.
  • In the same pan, fry the onion rings until soft and lightly browned. Pop them out and let them cool with the fish.
  • It's time for the pickling liquid! In your saucepan, combine the malt vinegar, water, sugar, turmeric, coriander, curry powder, bay leaves, and allspice. Stir it over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved.
  • Let the mixture simmer for about 20 minutes, giving it a stir now and then.
  • Now, in your glass jar or container, layer the fish and cooked onions. Pour the hot pickling liquid over the layers, making sure everything is covered.
  • Pop the lid on and let it cool down before you put it in the fridge.
  • Here comes the hard part, waiting! Leave your pickled fish in the fridge for at least 24 hours before eating, to allow the flavours to really mingle and do their thing.
Keyword pickled fish

pickled fish on a plate

Pickled Fish History

Originating from the Cape Malay community, Pickled Fish, or “Ingelegde Vis” in Afrikaans, has a rich and vibrant history. This traditional dish is typically enjoyed during Easter, but its roots go back much further. During the time of the Cape Colony, slaves would only get time off over the Easter period. To ensure they had a meal ready after church, they would prepare the pickled fish in advance. This tradition has continued over the centuries, and even now, many South African families prepare their pickled fish a few days before Easter to allow the flavours to fully develop. Remember, these details are a combination of historical records and local folklore.

Tips & Tricks

From my own experience, I can tell you that the choice of fish makes all the difference. Firm white fish works the best – think hake or even snoek if you can find it. Don’t skimp on the pickling time; it really does deepen the flavours. Also, the onions aren’t just a garnish – they add a crucial tangy crunch that contrasts beautifully with the tender fish. Finally, don’t be shy with the spices, they’re the soul of the dish!

Best Occasions to Serve Pickled Fish

Though synonymous with Easter celebrations in the Cape Malay community, Pickled Fish is a fantastic year-round dish. It’s a crowd-pleaser at barbecues and family gatherings, thanks to its bold, robust flavours. Or, keep a jar in your fridge for a quick, flavourful meal anytime.

Recipes & Sides That Go Well With Pickled Fish

Butter Roti: Soft, warm bread to soak up the tangy sauce.
Yellow Rice: A fragrant side that pairs well with the rich pickled fish.
Crisp Green Salad: Adds a fresh contrast to the pickled flavours.

Ingredient Alternatives for Pickled Fish

Apple Cider Vinegar: A milder alternative to malt vinegar.
White Fish Substitute: Tuna or salmon can add a unique twist.
Alternative Spices: Experiment with your favourite spices for a personalised touch.

Nutritional Facts

Per serving for four people:

Calories: Approximately 310
Carbs: Roughly 10g
Sugars: Around 7g
Fats: About 14g
Protein: Close to 35g
Fibre: Approximately 1g
While pickled fish is a flavour bomb, it’s also quite nutritious. It’s packed with protein, low in carbs, and contains healthy fats. However, keep in mind it can be quite high in sodium due to the pickling process.

Troubleshooting (Common Problems)

Fish falling apart: Make sure to use firm, fresh fish.
Lacking flavour: Ensure you pickle the fish for at least 24 hours.
Too sour: Adjust the vinegar or sugar to balance the flavours.

Pickled Fish Alternatives and Similar Recipes

Braaied Snoek: A South African grilled fish favourite.
Fish Curry: For those who prefer heat over tang.
Pickled Shrimp: A seafood twist on the classic.
With this guide, you’re all set to create a delightful Pickled Fish feast. Let’s get cooking, chinas!

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