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Easter-Ready Chef's Pickled Fish Recipe + A Surprising Veggie Alternative

Two recipes by chefs Heinrich Koen from House of H and Andre Hill from Upper Bloem, as well as the history, spices and what to serve with pickled fish. 

Last Updated: 13 March 2019

We’re approaching Easter time in Cape Town (over the long weekend of 19–22 April), which means that homes across the region will be following the tradition of preparing aromatic, tasty and refreshing pickled fish for Easter.

And when we set out to discover some truly original Cape Town pickled fish (a.k.a. ingelegde vis or Kaapse kerrievis) recipes, we learned that, although it’s available on supermarket shelves, there’s nothing quite like the family Easter tradition of making pickled fish at home.

“I grew up with my mom always making pickled fish for Easter, so it is one of those childhood staples that makes one feel warm and fuzzy,” says chef Heinrich “H” Koen of House of H on Loop Street, who shares his insights and original recipe for pickled fish below.

And, for a modern twist, we also spoke to chef Andre Hill of Upper Bloem Restaurant in the Bo-Kaap. “For me, pickled fish is a dish that transcends cultures, as its rooted in Cape Malay food origins, yet is served at Easter, which is typically a Christian holiday.” So, in the spirit of transcending preconceived notions and ideas, chef Andre shows us how to make a delightful vegetarian alternative to traditional pickled fish.

But, first, where do our chefs think the tradition of pickled fish for Easter in Cape Town come from?

CHEF’S TAKE: A SHORT HISTORY OF PICKLED FISH
“Growing up in our house, it was a dish that always came mostly at Easter time and symbolised family time approaching,” says chef Andre. “I would imagine that it was a dish created out of a need to keep food for longer; a way to feed more without resources, as I’m sure its introduction to SA was during a very dark time. It still stands as a strong testament to those suffering in hard times, yet it’s wonderful to see that good can still shine through.”

For H and his wife Christina, who both grew up in religious Christian households, fish on Fridays and pickled fish for Easter were just facts of life. “It seems to be one of those traditions that has roots within both Cape Malay (Muslim) households and in traditional NG Kerk (Christian) households that have intermingled over hundreds of years.”

WHERE TO BUY SPICES FOR PICKLED FISH
For spices, both chefs recommend Atlas Trading Company in Wale Street in the Bo-Kaap, which has been in business since 1946. Andre says, “My grandmother and mother bought spices there and I ate their food. You don’t need more reason than that.” H says you can also check out Cape Spice Emporium on Imam Haron Road in Kenilworth; it’s a one-stop-shop spice gem for almost everything you need at competitive prices.

YELLOWTAIL AND OTHER FISH TO USE FOR PICKLED FISH
Hake is a soft white, flaky fish that’s ideal for absorbing the pickle, but both chefs recommend yellowtail. It’s a firm white fish with loads of flavour and chefs’ recommendations for buying locally are directly from fishermen off the boats at Kalk Bay or at the Fish4Africa store in Woodstock.

THE MAGIC’S IN THE MARINATING TIME
You can make the sauce and cook the fish on the same day, but the fish should marinate for a minimum of 24 hours. It can marinate for up to three days before eating, especially if the fridge is on quite a cold setting. You could make the onion pickle in advance because it lasts a good two weeks if refrigerated properly.

EXPERIMENTING WITH PICKLED FISH
Pickled fish recipes are handed down through generations and tend to differ from family to family. Some will say not to make it with snoek, others will say not to use with balsamic vinegar. It’s something you should experiment with.

WHAT DO YOU SERVE WITH PICKLED FISH?
Pickled fish is typically served cold, with a good loaf of freshly baked bread and butter.

Regarding serving over Easter time especially, chef H says, “Cold pickled fish with warm hot cross buns and a brick of butter. That's all, then you’re good to go.”

TRADITIONAL PICKLED FISH RECIPE BY CHEF HEINRICH KOEN 

Ingredients:
2kg fresh hake
Flour for dusting
Oil

Spice mix:
2Tbs paprika
2Tbs garam masala
1Tbs turmeric
1Tbs smoked paprika
2 fresh chilies, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 onions, chopped
b00ml White spirit vinegar
3Tbs Brown sugar
Cup of water

Method:
Lightly dust the hake pieces in flour and shallow fry in a pan until cooked.

Fry off onions, garlic and chili in a pan until caramelised.
Add dry spices and fry off for 5 minutes to cook the spices.
Add the brown sugar and stir until it's dissolved.
Deglaze the pan with vinegar and water.
Let this mixture simmer for 25 minutes on low heat.

Allow to cool, then add the fish and sauce together in a bowl so the fish can be infused by the sauce.

Let it cool down and refrigerate for up to 2 days before serving so that the fish can be sufficiently pickled.

VEGETARIAN PICKLED FISH RECIPE (WITH AUBERGINE) BY CHEF ANDRE HILL
“We wanted to give Upper Bloem Restaurant diners who didn’t or couldn’t eat fish the chance to taste something similar, so we tried it with aubergine and it was served as one of our snacks,” says Andre. So what you have is pickled aubergine made in the style of fish and served in an onion.”

Curried Pickled Aubergine (makes +-40 bite-size snacks)
- Curried pickled aubergine
- Roasted onion petals
- Seasoned goats milk yoghurt
- Pomegranate kernels
- Coriander
- Mint

Caramelised onion petals
5 baby onions (peeled but kept whole – leave a bit of the bottom to hold the onion together)
Method
Bring salted blanching water to a simmer, add onions and blanch for 4 min, placing in ice water straight after to stop the cooking process.
Pat dry, cut lengthwise.
Heat a pan until quite hot, season onions with salt and a bit of castor sugar, and burn on the cut side.
Allow to cool and pull apart the petals. The tiniest ones can be cut up and mixed in with the curry.
Curry base (the curry base will give you more than you need)
2 onions, diced
3 cm piece of ginger, finely diced
4 garlic cloves, finely diced
1.2 stick lemongrass, bruised
2 lime leaves
1 tsp whole cumin
½ tsp cardamom
1 Tbsp coriander seeds, toasted and crushed
1 bay leaf
2 tsp turmeric
7 tsp mild curry powder
3 tsp garam masala
½ small tin whole peeled tomatoes
1.5L vegetable stock or water

To make the base, sweat off onions, ginger and garlic, add lemongrass, bay and lime leaf, sweat for another minute.
Add tomato, cook for 1 minute, then add the stock. (The intention is for the spices to cook out)

Curried aubergine
1kg aubergine peeled and cut in 1.2cm cubes
300g rice flour
Sunflower oil (enough to ‘deep fry’ depending on the size of your pot.)
Cut the off-cuts to similar sized pieces and fry so there’s no waste.

Coat in rice flour, deep fry in batches at 160 degrees, or medium heat until golden, drain and place on paper towel and reserve.

Make syrup
250ml white wine vinegar
250ml white balsamic vinegar
150g sugar

Then add 300g syrup, put back on the stove add 1 Tbps cornflour.
Let cool and mix equal aubergine to curry
Allow marinating for a day before using, then lightly fold in fresh coriander.

Whipped goats milk yoghurt
250g goats milk yoghurt (place yoghurt in cheesecloth and colander overnight over a bowl, this will catch the whey from the yoghurt leaving a more intensely flavoured yoghurt).
250g whipped cream (whipped to soft peaks)
1/2 clove garlic grated (on a micro plane)
10g mint
½ tsp white balsamic vinegar
Juice of half a lemon
1 tsp salt
Mix all the ingredients except the cream.
Fold in the cream last and place in a piping bag

To put together, place curry in onion petals, top with a few dots of yoghurt, pomegranate kernels and herbs.

Upper Bloem serves it on beach stone, with a smoked spice mix below which is burnt to give the extra effect of aroma when it reaches the table.

PRO TIP FROM CHEF ANDRE HILL
There is a really good way for restaurants to buy direct from small-scale fishermen through an app called Abalobi. The social justice app helps alleviate poverty in the small-scale fishing industry.

NOT IN THE MOOD TO MAKE IT?
If it's all too much for you, or you just can't find the time, then head to Camps Bay and have pickled fish as the starter of a three course Easter Sunday lunch at The 41.

41 Victoria Road | Camps Bay | info@the41.co.za | 021 437 0558

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Dinner with a difference: try a cultured menu at the Fermented food pairing.

Learn to make Cape Malay sago pudding and an egg-free alternative with this sago pudding recipe.

Find out more about Chef H of House of H and Andre Hill of Upper Bloem Restaurant.

Peruse our list of things to do on Heritage Day and the weekend of Easter.

We’ve collected some great spots to eat and buy fresh seafood at these fish shops.

Get your chef on with our recipes, find out more about Cape Malay cooking or take a cooking class.  

Discover our special selection of must-visit restaurants in Cape Town, family-friendly eateries and budget restaurants.

In search of more Easter-themed recipes? Look no further than our snoek braai and Hot Cross Buns recipes.

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