Last minute Pickled Fish recipe

By Megan Baadjies Time of article published Apr 13, 2017

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If you haven't started making your pickled fish yet, you're running out of time.

You may find yourself in even bigger trouble in the kitchen and coughing up a lot more if you still have to buy your fish.

A few days before Easter you can expect to pay up to R200 for fresh fish.

Fish will be on the menu in many homes this Friday and those who are serious about the pickled fish tradition would more than likely have prepared their fish dish at the start of the week.

However, if you left it to the last minute, fear not because you can still prepare your feast the day before and get the same tasty results.

Contributors of the District Six Huis Kombuis Food and Memory Cookbook shared some of their childhood memories and traditions of growing up in District Six.

Isobel Smith says she makes her pickled fish the same way her mother used to make it.

Picture: Supplied

Isobel Smith, 83, was born in Nile Street and says she still uses the same pickled fish recipe her mother passed down to her.

“We always had pickled fish on Good Friday, that was the standing tradition in our family but we always had someone to make the hot cross buns,” she says.

“I learned how to make pickled fish from my mother, that time we always used stock fish (hake) because it was inexpensive.

“We would order fish by Monday already and make it before the time, but you can make your fish the day before and it will still be fine because it will still have an overnight draw,” she says.

Patience Watlington, 74, who now lives in Heathfield says her mother never stored their pickled fish in the fridge “and there was no need to”.

“I suppose it's modern to keep it in the fridge now, but growing up we didn't have a fridge and the fish would last for a very long time and it wouldn't go off,” says Watlington.

“My mom was a very simple cook so the fish would just be spiced and fried without batter.

“Once the fish was fried my mother would put it into a huge dish and make the onions, which she would boil then add her spices like curry and borrie (turmeric) and whichever spices she had in her home.

“The onion must still have a crunch to it and should not be overcooked, you can check your onions with the fork.

“We then layer the bowl with fish and add the onion and sauce until the bowl was filled or there was no more ingredients left.

“Then we would leave it to cool.

“We never ever put our pickled fish in the fridge, ours used to stand on a cupboard with a lid on and that is where it will stay.

“It will be there for long and nothing will happen to our fish,” says Watlington.

Watlington says it's important to add sugar to the sauce to counter the acidity of the vinegar.

“Sugar breaks the taste and some people like it very sweet. It should have that sweet and sour taste,” she adds.

Ruth Jeftha, 71, says making hot cross buns was a family effort when she was growing up.

“Every year we had to knead and make our own hot cross buns,” she says.

“It became an Easter ritual with my family, my mom made the fish while my sister made the onions but the rest of us would knead and make the hot cross buns. It was a family activity.”

Jeftha adds: “What I like about pickled fish is when it comes to Monday there won't be any fish left so I would take a slice of buttered bread and eat it with the onions.”

Marion Abrahams-Welsh, 83, says in her family the pickled fish would be eaten after the three-hour church service on Good Friday.

“It's not just on Good Friday that we celebrate with pickled fish,” she says.

“It is the whole week that's the celebration of holy week; in every family you have to acknowledge that it is about the death of Jesus.

“We only got it from our parents and great-grandparents and we do it exactly the way they did it.”

Abrahams-Welsh says her father would serve coffee and hot cross buns on the morning of Good Friday.

“In our home my father would bring each one a cup of black coffee and a bun - that was the fast that Jesus broke.

“The fish was such a tradition in the district because that fish cart would come day after day and everyone would go out.

“My grandmother used to buy the biggest yellow-tail because she loved it and we would use the huge basins and the fish was fresh off the boat. 

“My grandmother made the very best, we still use the recipe because it was so beautifully done and that's all we had on Friday and nothing else.”

Pickled Fish

By Isobel Smith


2kg yellowtail, cut into pieces

Sunflower oil

6 onions

5 cloves

6 garlic cloves

1 cup vinegar

1 tablespoon brown sugar

4 tablespoons Cartwright’s curry powder (medium)

2 teaspoons borrie (turmeric)

Salt to taste

6 bay leaves



Wash fish and pat dry.

Season fish and fry in sunflower oil until golden brown.

Place on paper towel to drain oil.

Cut onions into rings and fry in a little oil.

Add remaining ingredients (except bay leaves) into pot.

When mixture boils, remove it from stove and pour over fish.

Add bay leaves, cover dish and let it stand for a few days.

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