Tuesday, March 26, 2013

It’s Easter, so let’s eat pickled fish!

'Kerrievis', or fresh fish pickled in a spicy, sweet, yellow marinade, is traditionally enjoyed around Easter time by many people living in the Cape and elsewhere in South Africa.

This time-honoured dish is a great favourite, but what many people don't know is that it is a very old recipe indeed, and one that has rightfully earned its place as one of our country's treasured heritage dishes.

The pickled fish you eat today – whether you make it at home, or buy it in a supermarket - is made from a recipe that has, in essence, not changed for at least two centuries. In fact, the dish is probably a lot older than that.

Like many of the best-known and loved 'Malay' dishes – breyani, bredie, bobotie, denningvleis, sosaties and koeksisters – pickled fish was introduced to the Cape from the East in the early days of the slave trade. (The painful saga of slavery at the Cape falls out of the scope of this article, but if you're interested, you'll find more information here.)

Because there was no way to preserve surplus fresh catches in the pre-refrigeration days, the fried fish was packed into barrels or jars and covered with a spicy, vinegary pickle that prevented it from spoiling and preserved it in large quantities for weeks (or even months) at a time.

No one is quite sure when the tradition of eating pickled fish at Easter time began at the Cape, but what is certain is that around this time of year you'll catch a waft of vinegar and fragrant spices floating from the kitchen windows of Cape Town as cooks get busy preparing this lovely delicacy for family and friends.

There are countless different variations of pickled fish – many a recipe is a closely guarded family secret, passed from mother to daughter – but what they all have in common is that they all contain vinegar, sugar, turmeric, salt, onions and pickling spices.

If you've never made pickled fish before, a good place to start is with Chef Wendy's easy recipe, which you will find here. It's not at all difficult to make, and you will find that it keeps very well in the fridge for at least a week. Here are some tips for making pickled fish:
• Chef Wendy's convenient recipe uses frozen hake fillets, but you can also use fresh fillets of firm-fleshed fish such as hake or yellowtail.
• Don't slice the onions too finely – the rings should be just thick enough to retain a slight 'crunch' after the marinade has been cooked.
• Make sure that the fried fish pieces are well-coated in the pickling liquid. Keep the fish in a covered plastic container (a two-litre ice cream box is ideal) in the fridge.
• Pickled fish needs to sit in its marinade for at least 12 hours, preferably longer, for an authentic taste and texture.
• If you'd like your pickled fish to have a bit of a 'kick', add some chopped fresh red chilli, or dried chilli flakes, to the marinade mixture. You can also add other extra spices and flavourings of your choice, such as garlic, ginger, star anise, a cinnamon stick, and on.
• Pickled fish can be served on its own, or with accompaniments such as boiled eggs, sliced brown bread, crisp lettuce, and so on.
 Pickled Fish
A favourite South African dish traditionally eaten at Easter time – prepare two days in advance and store in the fridge ready to enjoy over a long weekend!
Serves: 6 - 8| Preparation Time: 15 minutes | Cooking Time: 30 minutes
45 millilitre KNORR Brown Onion Soup mixed with a little water to form a smooth paste
16 Black peppercorns
5 millilitre Ground ginger
10 millilitre Salt
10 millilitre Turmeric
30 millilitre Curry powder
750 millilitre Brown sugar
500 millilitre water
4 Large onions sliced into rings
750 millilitre White or brown vinegar
1.5 kilogram Hake fillets, frozen
Flour for coating fish
Oil for frying
1.Coat the frozen fish in flour and pan-fry in heated oil until cooked.
2.Drain on paper towel and set aside.
3.In a large saucepan mix all the ingredients for the curry sauce except the KNORR Brown Onion Soup.
4.Boil uncovered for 5 minutes.
5.Add the cooked fish and the KNORR Brown Onion Soup.
6.Stir gently until the sauce thickens then allow to simmer for a further 5 minutes.
7.Cool and spoon into a non-metal container.
8.Store covered in the fridge.

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