Are you a fan of pickled fish? Here’s how to make it using Cape bream

Pickled Cape bream. Picture: Supplied

Pickled Cape bream. Picture: Supplied

Published Apr 13, 2022


Growing up in South Africa means being exposed to a few unique delights, pickled fish being just one of them.

You might have grown up with it or experienced it a few times – either way, pickled fish is a part of South African life.

Traditionally South Africans eat pickled fish during Easter with spicy hot cross buns, or if you happen to live on a wine farm, mosbolletjies.

The recipe originates from Cape Malay, all the way from the 1700s. Firm-fleshed yellowtail is favoured to make the best-pickled fish although hake is also common to use. The traditional way of serving is in a deep plate or small bowl to soak up the sauce with fresh hot cross buns.

Below, executive chef at Tryn restaurant at the Steenberg farm Kerry Kilpin shares her favourite pickled fish recipe that she uses at the restaurant that you can also try at home using Cape bream.

Kilpin says Cape bream is a versatile fish that can be responsibly sourced and has the meatiness to carry the spices.

Pickled Cape bream


1kg Cape bream, cut into portions

150g sugar

500ml white vinegar

5ml whole cumin

5ml coriander seeds, toasted and crushed

10ml fish spice

3 x bay leaves

5ml turmeric

5ml mild curry powder

3 x crushed garlic cloves

5ml grated ginger

3 x chopped onions

10ml cornflour

2 tbs sunflower oil for frying

Flour, for dusting

Salt and black pepper


In a pan over medium heat, add 1 tbs oil and gently sauté the onion until translucent. Add the ginger, garlic, and spices and fry gently for a few minutes, until fragrant.

Add the vinegar and sugar and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Simmer for 20 minutes, without reducing. Thicken with cornflour to a nice coating consistency. Season to taste.

Dust the fish with the seasoned flour and pat off any excess.

Heat 1 tbs of oil in a heavy-based frying pan and, when hot, fry the fish until golden.

Place a layer of fish in a deep sterile glass or non-metallic container and pour a little of the hot sauce over it, to cover.

Continue layering fish and sauce until all the fish is covered.

Cool, then chill until ready to serve.

Best made at least 24 hours in advance.