Cape Farm Style Pickled fish

Pickled fish is one of the most popular known ways to prepare fish in the Western Cape. If you are living at an oceans edge there will usually be plenty of fish and seafood at your disposal. Living here in 

Cape Town it feels in many ways still like a seafood lovers paradise. Fish although usually having become quite pricy is from time to time still available at affordable prices if you know where to find it. In many ways the cheapest and most relaxing way to get hold of some tasty fish is to take your fishing rod and catch a good sized, cob, yellow tail or Galjoen (The national fish) of South Africa yourself.  But as this is neither everybody's thing to do and many city dwellers just don't have access to to sea they must settle for a purchased fish of their choice.

One of the oldest pickled fish recipes from the Cape wine lands?

Pickling fish has a great tradition here in South Africa and was undoubtedly greatly influenced by people that arrived here from Asian as well as Portuguese origins.

The Recipe I am sharing with you here is inspired by the late "Lois Leipold's Book Cape Cookery" and is regarded as one of the oldest pickled fish recipes he could find and must have it's origins in sometime in the 19 hundreds or even before that.

Hake pieces in the spicy pickling marinadeHake pieces in the spicy pickling marinade

If you want to pickle a fish it is usually best to choose a kind with firm flesh as it can keep its shape and consistency longer in the pickling spices than softer fleshed varieties. However this hake recipe is great if you intend to consume your preserved fish after just  4 to 5 days or maybe a week. For this recipe I chose hake one of my favorite fish species. You can purchase it here nearly on every street corner in one of the countless fish and chips fast food restaurants. Apart from its taste I love the fact that it is nearly boneless which makes eating it an easier task than if one has to pull small irritating fish bones out of the fish and ones mouth every few seconds.

Preparation time: 20 minutes 
Cooking time: 30 minutes
Resting time: 3 to 7 days
Total time needed: at least 3 D 50 minutes
Grade of Difficulty: standard

Ingredients for pickled fish

Ingredients for pickled fishIngredients for pickled fish
  • 600 gram / 21 oz of hake fillet, cut into bite sized pieces
  • 3 medium sized onions, sliced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, chopped fine
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 dried curry leaves
  • 10 black peppercorns
  • 1 heaped tsp. tamarind paste
  • 140 ml / 4.7 oz of madras curry powder which is quite hot (optional: If you like your pickled fish less hot use a mild curry powder instead)
  • 1 red cayenne chili, sliced fine
  • 2 tbs. brown sugar
  • 2 cups of red wine vinegar or a good vinegar of your choice
  • 1 tsp. dry fish stock or fish sauce (optional)


  • In a large pan gently stir fry the hake pieces in olive oil for 5 minutes on both sides.
  • Take fish of the heat and let it cool down
  • Next heat some olive oil in the pan and braise onions, garlic, chili, peppercorns till onions start to brown
  •  Add sugar, curry and bay leaves and braise for a few more minutes
  • Add the vinegar, curry powder, tamarind and fish stock / fish sauce, bring to the boil, cover with lid and gently simmer the pickling sauce for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring it occasionally 
  • Switch stove of and let the pickling sauce cool down to room temperature
  • Once its cooled down use a ladle to scoop down a little of the pickling sauce into a suitable container with a lid. It should have a volume of 1 to 2 liters / 34 to 68 oz.
  • Cover the bottom of the container with pieces of fish and spoon more pickling sauce over them till they are covered with it
  • Place the next lot of hake pieces on top and cover them again with the sauce. The fish should be covered from all sides with the sauce. 
  • If you are short of pickling marinade, boil some more vinegar with curry powder for a few minutes, let it cool down and pore it over the fish.
  • Cover with a lid and store in the fridge for at least 3 days before you start eating it.

Note: Like many other food items pickled fish improves for quite a while as it ages. So if you can't wait to dig into your Cape farm style pickled fish after just a few days taste it by all means but leave some of it to mature a few more days and you will notice its improving taste as the ingredients blend more and more together.

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