Cape Malay Pickled Fish

Cape Malay Pickled Fish

Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Cape Malay
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour
Servings: 6
Calories: 356kcal
Author: Razena Schroeder
Cape Malay Pickled Fish is pan-fried lightly spiced white fish steeped in a sweet and sour marinade of crunchy onions, vinegar, sugar and dry roasted whole and ground spices.
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Spiced fish

  • 500 grams firm fleshed white fish fillets, skin on cut into 6.5 cm squares, approximately 2 1/2 inch squares
  • 5 ml sea salt use more as needed
  • 80 ml fish masala or pickled fish masala, use more as needed
  • 80 ml sunflower or vegetable oil use more as needed

Blanched onion rings

  • 400 grams onion rings, 5mm slices approximately 2 large brown onions
  • 15 ml sea salt
  • 1500 ml water approximately 6 cups

Pickling marinade

  • 500 ml white grape vinegar approximately 2 cups
  • 250 ml water approximately 1 cups
  • 160 ml fine granulated sugar approximately 2/3 cup; adjust to personal taste
  • 5 ml sea salt adjust to personal taste
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 7.5 ml cumin seeds dry roasted
  • 7.5 ml coriander seeds dry roasted
  • 5 ml fennel seeds dry roasted
  • 6 peppercorns dry roasted
  • 6 cloves dry roasted
  • 6 all spice berries dry roasted
  • 2.5 ml turmeric powder
  • 7.5 ml fish masala

Optional for serving

  • Coriander microshoots
  • Fennel blossoms


Masala fish

  • Cut the fish into 6.5 cm (2.5 inch) squares and wipe dry with kitchen towel. You should have 12 pieces.
  • Place a sheet of foil or parchment on a baking tray and arrange the fish pieces skin side up then sprinkle over half the salt and fish masala spice.
  • Flip the fish pieces over and sprinkle the other side with the remaining salt and fish masala.
  • Cover the fish with cling wrap and refrigerate until ready to fry when the pickling mix goes onto the stove.
  • Heat a frying pan on medium-high and add enough oil to cover the base. Fry the fish on both sides until cooked through.
  • Put the fried fish on to a tray lined with foil.

Blanching the onions

  • Slice the onions into 5 mm wide rings and sprinkle over 15 ml sea salt.
  • Rub the salt into the onions and let sit until required.
  • Bring the 1500 ml water to the boil in a medium sized pot and blanch half of the onion rings for 10 seconds then remove to a colander. Repeat with the rest of the onion rings.
  • Discard the onion water and rinse the pot then put it back on the stove.

Pickling marinade

  • To the pot on the stove add the vinegar, water, sugar and spices and allow to simmer for 10 minutes to allow the flavors of the spices to permeate the pickling marinade
  • Remove from the heat and add the onion rings to the pickling marinade.

Layering the Cape Malay pickled fish

  • Lay half the fried fish into a glass casserole dish then cover with half the onion rings.
  • Repeat with the rest of the fish and cover with the remaining onion rings. Pour over all the juices and oil left on the foil.
  • Pour over the hot pickling marinade and allow to cool at room temperature then cover with a lid or plastic wrap and refrigerate.
  • Allow the marinade to infuse the pickled fish for at least 6 hours or overnight, before eating.
  • Decorate with fennel blossoms and coriander microshoots, if using.
  • Serve with buttered hot cross buns or crusty bread.


  • The salt removes the smell and much of the sharp taste of raw onions and you will immediately smell the strong odor of Sulphur.
  • Unless you are using flaky breaky fish like hake, do not flour the fish as it makes the pickling mix cloudy and gloopy.
  • If you do not want to blanch the onions then rinse off the salt under cold running water and cook in the hot pickling liquid for a minute before it is removed from the heat.
  • Adjust the ratio of water to vinegar according to personal taste and preference.


Serving: 85grams | Calories: 356kcal | Carbohydrates: 35g | Protein: 18g | Fat: 15g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 41mg | Sodium: 1681mg | Potassium: 411mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 29g | Vitamin A: 15IU | Vitamin C: 5.4mg | Calcium: 67mg | Iron: 2mg