Pickled Yellowtail

This pickled yellowtail recipe is inspired by an old recipe from Louis Leipoldt's book Cape Cookery who lived in the Western Cape hundreds of years ago and loved to explore and write down many tasty recipes from those days.

Yellowtail is a fish with firm dark meat which is used fried, for sushi as well as for pickling. Pickling fish has a great tradition in South Africa and the fish that are preserved in this way are especially popular at the times of Easter.

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. That's why  this yellowtail recipe is great if you don't intend to consume your preserved fish after just  4 to 5 days or maybe a week but rather want it to mature a little longer for the spice blend to improve to its best. 

You can purchase it here in many supermarkets, on fish markets or one of the countless fish and chips fast food restaurants. Apart from its taste I love the fact that it's fillets are virtually 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 21 days
Total time needed: at least 3 D 50 minutes
Grade of Difficulty: standard

Pickled Yellowtail

  • 750 gram / 1.65 lbs of yellowtail fillets, cut into bite sized pieces
  • 3 medium sized onions, sliced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, chopped fine
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 10 fresh curry leaves
  • 10 black peppercorns
  • 1 heaped tsp. tamarind paste
  • 100 ml / 3.38 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 tsp. cayenne chili powder
  • 2 tbs. brown sugar
  • 2 cups of red wine vinegar or a good vinegar of your choice
  • 2 tbsp. good quality soy sauce (optional)
  • 1 tsp. dry fish stock or fish sauce


  • In a large pan gently stir fry the yellowtail 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 yellowtail pieces on top and cover them again with the sauce. The fish should be covered from all sides. 
  • 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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