While not overly sentimental, I’m a firm believer in tradition. For me, sentiment is more about tangible things whereas tradition is something completely different. It’s historical in nature, telling the story of customs and practises, passed down from one generation to another. And there’s simply no better topic than food to elicit enthusiastic conversation of food stories that help support the pillars of modern day eating cultures. Just ask any food-lover about their most treasured recipe and you’ll find it’s those old family favourites, scrawled on powder-blue Croxley note pads, paled with age and food splattered. Flimsy links to a former time. Recipes – old or new, depict economies and social conditions, painting a visual story of what was eaten and why.
In our family home we grew up simply. Food in the 70’s and 80’s was more basic and always homemade. Take aways were an exception, not a norm and on these rare occasions we headed straight to the corner café for battered fish and double deep-fried chips. Drenched in brown vinegar and wrapped in paper, we savoured every mouthful. We also ate white bread, food that came out of a tin and drank milky coffee with white sugar. Our British neighbors introduced us to baked beans on toast, which at the time we thought odd, but utterly delicious! We couldn’t understand why we’d never had it at home? Many good things that came out of a tin, pickled fish being another.
Tradition dictates that pickled fish be eaten at Easter, so I’m upholding my part by making my first ever Traditional South African pickled fish. The recipe is loosely based on Magdaleen van Wyk’s, Cooking The South African Way, Kook en Geniet and tidbits of advice from another trusty source, my mum. As with most things food-wise, so I’ve meddled with the ingredients and quantities according to taste.
I find most pickled fish recipes overly sweet, so I’ve reduced the sugar considerably. And because I love deeply spiced foods, added garam masala, crushed fennel and coriander seeds. Some people tend to avoid pickled fish because of the obvious onion overload, so a quick blitz in the processor yields a smoother textured sauce. This step is optional but a nice change from the usual. I serve the fish with crusty baguettes to soak up the turmeric stained spicy sauce.
Traditional South African pickled fish
- 1 kg firm white fish (kingklip or hake), whole or cut into portions
- 30ml (2 tablespoons) olive oil
- 2 brown onions, finely diced
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- thumb-sized piece fresh ginger, grated
- 2.5ml (1/2 teaspoon) fennel seeds, crushed
- 5ml (1 teaspoon) whole coriander seeds, crushed
- 5ml (1 teaspoon) garam masala
- 10ml (2 teaspoons) ground turmeric
- 15ml (1 tablespoon) curry powder
- 5ml (1 teaspoon) salt
- 45ml (3 tablespoons) sugar
- 3 bay leaves
- 375ml (1 1/2 cups) white wine vinegar
- 300ml water
- Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan and sauté the onions for about 10 minutes until soft and translucent.
- Add the garlic and ginger and cook for a further 2 minutes.
- Now add all the aromatics (spices) and cook for a further 3 minutes.
- Add the salt, sugar, bay leaves, vinegar and water. Simmer for 20 minutes.
- Place the fish carefully in the pan and spoon the sauce over the fillet. Cover and Simmer for 20 minutes until cooked through.
- Lift the fish carefully from the pan with a fish slice and place in a non-metallic dish.
- Transfer the sauce to a processor and blitz until smooth. Pour the sauce over the fish and cover with cling film.
- Chill for 2-3 days.
- Serve the pickled fish at room temperature with red onion pickle if you wish and crusty baguettes alongside.