Fishy festivities

The festive season is a favourite time of the year:  we don’t go away, and usually, ahead of Christmas day, I cook myself to a standstill and then we eat the leftovers for the next week.  It’s all part of the strategy. For various reasons, it has become our custom to “do” Christmas dinner on the evening of the 25th; one is that I’m not a morning person. The thought of getting up with the chickens to stuff another type of bird, and have it cooked to perfection in time for lunch, is for those other feathered friends, the larks!  The other reason has evolved over the years and is apt in McGregor:  it’s just too hot during the day.

The thinking about the meal is as much about the table as it is about the food.  Last year there were eight or nine of us, so our table had to be extended to its maximum and dressed to the nine’s.

ChristmasTable2013-12-25This includes sourcing and doing the flowers – traditional red, white and green.

ChristmasFlowers2013-12-24The core of the menu, every year, is a turkey with two stuffings and roasted on the Weber.  This is traditional for both of us, and it is served warm with a range of accompaniments – this year is no different.  More of that to come.The hors d’oeuvres changes every year, depending on my mood and what we feel like.  Last year, it was a

The hors d’oeuvres changes every year, depending on my mood and what we feel like.  Last year, it was a plum and beetroot salad.


This year it will be pickled fish.  In the Western Cape of South Africa, pickled fish is traditionally associated with Easter.  I, however, have childhood memories of pickled fish at Christmas – Aunty Doris used to make it.  When we first moved to Grahamstown, Christmas was at the Iverson’s and this wonderful, generous family was my introduction to South African Christmas fare.  I loved pickled fish the first time I ate it all those years ago, so whenever I make it or eat it, I have wonderful associations of those happy times.

My pickled fish is a combination of two recipes – one from Simply Spice, a spice merchant in Cape Town and the other from Jenny Morris‘s e-newsletter, donkeys years ago, printed and stored in a ring file.


I follow Jenny Morris’s recipe for everything except the preparation of the fish.  I generally use either angel fish or snoek.  I have also used hake, but one has to be careful because it’s not a firm fish and can fall apart if it’s not battered and deep fried before it’s pickled.  Instead of the deep frying, I follow the advice I was given at Simply Spice, by its owner:  dust the fish pieces with fish masala (a spice mix) and flour and then bake in a lightly oiled pan.


The fish may need to be done in relays and I bake it at 180°C for about 10 minutes.  For the rest, it’s the other recipe, and it works well.  While you’re cooking the fish, set the cooked fish aside in a glass* dish and set about preparing the sauce.


Once the fish is cooked and the sauce is done, the hot sauce goes over the fish.  The dish is then covered and left for at least three days.  The longer it’s left to brew, the better it is.


What I’ve learned over the years of making pickled fish:

  • the fish you choose must be a firm fish
    (I also choose the less expensive fish options for two reasons:  the more expensive fish is often from less sustainable stocks and the pickling destroys delicate flavours)
  • don’t overcook the fish, it goes hard
  • pour the sauce over the baked fish when it (the sauce) is still hot
  • the flavours are best when pickled fish is served at room temperature

* Why am I so specific about glass?
The vinegar reacts with metal unless you use enamel and if you use plastic, the curry and turmeric stain the plastic – not just with the colour, but also taint it and you can’t get rid of the smell of curry.

4 thoughts on “Fishy festivities

  1. Reblogged this on Fiona's Favourites and commented:

    Easter is approaching and it is traditional to serve pickled fish. I have just made a batch – this time with snoek. Anwyay, I thought I’d share it again even though this harks back to Christmas!

    And if you make it today, the fish will be ready for Saturday, and if you do it tomorrow, it’ll be in time for Easter Sunday.


  2. All I can say is that I admire you and am sure your pickled fish will be delicious too, clever girl!!! Am a bit inundated with guests but all good Do hope you have the happiest of Easter weekends and much love to you both Jenny xxx


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