Curried Pickled Fish, Old Traditional South African Recipe

"There are so many old, old ways of cooking, which are on their way to oblivion, a pity. Like this one, some date back to times when there was no refrigeration, and ways had to be found to preserve foods. This is still a beloved dish. It can be found on the canned foods shelf of every supermarket, but the commercial product does not use the "right" kind of fish: it should be firm-fleshed and not mushy. This recipe can be halved or quartered. Very large ocean fish (beloved by sports fishermen and usually caught off boats) usually have coarse flesh which is not good for the usual plain treatment but they are ideal for pickled fish. Prep time is a guess, and depends on many factors, such as: are you going to fillet the fish?"
photo by a user photo by a user
Ready In:
1hr 30mins


  • 8 lbs fish, firm-fleshed, weighed after filleting and frying (see instructions)
  • 8 onions, very large, sliced thinly
  • oil (for frying, or use lard, which is nicer)
  • 4 tablespoons curry powder (use good quality)
  • 8 cups vinegar (do not use spirit vinegar!)
  • 12 cup sugar
  • 2 -3 hot peppers, fresh, sliced open (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon white peppercorns (or you can use black)
  • 4 -6 tablespoons apricot preserves (jam)


  • First fry the fish in a LARGE pan or skillet in the oil or lard, without seasoning. Remove fish to cool, but leave the pan on the stove.
  • Fry the onions, stirring, in the same pan, without browning them. Add more oil/butter/lard if necessary. Remove onions with a slotted spoon to a bowl to cool.
  • Add all the remaining ingredients. Decide how hot you'd like it: those hot peppers, or chillies, went into the mixture seeds and all! Leave them out if you like.
  • Mix well and boil furiously for 6 minutes.
  • Allow the mixture to cool.
  • Using a deep dish OR clean canning jars, put some of the liquid in the bottom.
  • Place a layer of fried fish on the sauce, and cover with more sauce and a layer of onions.
  • Repeat layers until used up, trying to finish with a layer of onions.
  • Cover and leave in fridge for 2 - 3 days before tasting. If in jars, close the jars tightly.
  • Believe me -- in days of old this fish was not refrigerated. It can be kept for a long, long time, and therefore travels well! It is DELICIOUS, eaten cold with bread and sweet, milky tea!
  • Some cooks added lemon or orange leaves to the final layering for a delicate extra flavour.

Questions & Replies

  1. Hi, you mentioned mixture seeds but not in the list of ingredients. Whats mixture seeds are required?


  1. This recipe is Most EXCELLENT!! Not too sweet, not too sour, not too spicy... everything is juuust right :) Thank you so very much for sharing!!
  2. My late Ma used to make this from fresh river bream. In the days when we were poor in Rhodesia. Pickled fish sandwiches for school. Awesome recipe
  3. Thank you so much, I've been scouting around for this for ages (ex Rhodesian)
  4. this is a recipe I can relate to ecxelent. cheap and long lasting


I'm a widow, retired, and I love cooking. I live on the coast in South Africa and I love seafood. You're welcome to my recipes (all kinds, definitely not just seafood!) Just remember that no recipe is ever cast in stone -- adjust to your taste! The photo was taken at a rustic seaside restaurant on our West Coast, approx 1 year ago (2016).
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