Pickled Fish: Liquid gold sauce that brings families together

Chef and food stylist Chad January shares his recipe for pickled fish

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Food that brings us together almost always has a history or at least some type of back story or memory attached to it.

For the duration of March and for the majority of April, chocolate becomes such a hero all around with the approach of Easter and all its glory.

Galliova award-wining chef, Chad January. Photo: Estvan Vermeulen
Galliova award-wining chef and food stylist, Chad January. Photo: Estvan Vermeulen

Little ones beam with excitement for the annual Easter egg hunt. Of course, we accept a few “casualties” that may or may not have been stolen and eaten in the anticipation thereof!

However, in my household chocolate is not the Easter hero. It is indeed pickled fish that is the star, always. Even today there is just something that excites me about making my own pickled fish. And always (I cannot stress this enough) always, giving it enough time to pickle or as my Gran would say in Afrikaans (at least a week).

It is about choosing the correct fish: yellowtail, hake, or my favourite, kingklip. It is the aroma of coriander, cumin, and curry powder filling the entire house as you season your fish.

The crackling sound of battered fish being deep fried until crispy, golden, and delicious. The self-control you will need to stop yourself from eating the fish immediately! And of course, the piece de resistance, the sauce.

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RECIPES: Celebrate Easter memories with these dishes

Now, anyone worth their salt in the kitchen will tell you it is all about the sauce. It needs to be the perfect balance of tangy, yet sweet with a slight kick at the back of your throat from the aromatic spice blend.

It is ultimately what brings the entire dish together. Now, this entire process may take ALL day, the clothes you are wearing will need a serious soak and the smell of pickled fish might need about 2 to 3 business days before it eventually leaves. But it is absolutely worth it.

Once all those flavours have infused beautifully over a couple of days, it is a total burst of flavour in your mouth which traditionally should be accompanied by either hot cross buns, garlic naan or roti to mop up all that delicious sauce you have poured your heart into.

I do this every single year to hold onto traditions, keeping fond memories alive and to bring people together using food as a medium. Pickled fish to me is more than just a meal, it is a story waiting to be told. Here is my take on the beloved pickled fish dish.

ALSO READ: Recipe: Chef Zanele van Zyl’s pickled fish

Recipe: Pickled fish

Serves 4-6

1.5kg firm white fish (hake, kingklip and yellowtail works best), cut into chunks

Salt and milled pepper

1 Tbsp (15ml) fish masala

2 cups (500ml) cake flour

2 cups (500ml) milk

Vegetable oil for frying


1 bottle (750ml) white spirit vinegar

5 cups (1.25ml) water

Handful fresh or dried bay leaves

Handful curry leaves, optional

Few slices of fresh turmeric

2 Tbsp (30ml) fish masala

2 Tbsp (30ml) medium curry powder

2 Tbsp (30ml) black peppercorns

2 Tbsp (30ml) coriander seeds

2 cups (500ml) light brown sugar

1½ cups (375ml) apricot jam

3 Tbsp (45ml) cornflour

8-10 onions, sliced into rings


  1. Season fish generously with salt, pepper and fish masala.
  2. Whisk together flour and milk to create a thick batter and season well.
  3. Dip fish chunks into batter to coat evenly and deep fry in batches in hot oil until crispy and golden. Drain on paper towel and set aside.
  4. Place all the sauce ingredients into a large pot, excluding sugar, jam, cornflour and onions. Bring mixture to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes.
  5. Whisk in brown sugar and apricot jam and simmer for another 10 minutes.
  6. Ladle spoonfuls of the sauce into a separate bowl and whisk in cornflour until smooth.
  7. Pour mixture back into the pot and simmer for 8-10 minutes or until slightly thickened.
  8. Add onions, simmer for 5-8 minutes until soft and season generously. Remove from the heat
  9. Place fried fish into a large container and pour over slightly cooled sauce. Cover with a lid and refrigerate for at least 1 week before serving.
  10. Serve with warm, toasted and buttered hot cross buns or crusty bread to mop up all of that sauce.

ALSO READ: Easter cheer with SA farmers and their families

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