Pickled Fish (Paleo, Gluten Free, Sugar Free)


EASTER 2015 UPDATE  This is my second Easter into my lifestyle change, and Pickled Fish most certainly is featuring on my Easter menu!   While the price of Norwegian Salmon is at a premium, it is again the fish of choice this year.  Again, the amazing blend of the apricot-date paste and coconut-stock combination is the winner in the vinegar, sugar and fruit jam sauce combination.   I have thoroughly enjoyed this make, with the amazing aroma’s permeating my kitchen during the preparation, and most certainly am not missing the gluten and sugar filled variety, or tempted to even try it.  :)
Easter always holds very special memories for me!  Growing up in a family with my maternal grandmother steeped in Catholicism and its’ traditions, cooking over the festive seasons was and remains a culinary excursion we tackle with great enthusiasm, ensuring our meals are prepared with love and pride.  Easter is  no different and forms part of my proud and rich heritage of being part of a multi-cultural family.  In South Africa, I understand,  there is religious history to pickled fish, a traditional meal cooked before the Easter celebrations.  Good Friday is noted as being a day of Sabbath among Christians, a day where no work is done and this includes cooking.  The pickled fish preparation therefore takes place a few days before Good Friday, to ensure that the fish reaches pickled perfection for the good Friday or Easter Sunday meal, especially for those abstaining from meat during the Lent fast which culminates in celebrating Easter.  This is the explanation I gleaned from my 77 year old mother, who recalls this from her mother and has passed this on to me – adding to my treasure of knowledge passed on through the generations.  She went on to explain that there is also reference to fish in the scriptures about the resurrection of Jesus – but her knowledge of the Bible is limited and she could not provide me with the exact reference.  My mom makes a mean pickled fish!!!  I recall her preparation days before Easter, the home filled with the aroma’s of brown vinegar and onions slow cooked! I can smell it as I type this lol!  This past week  I put her mind into overdrive extracting the recipe from her.  We went into raptures about her Cape Town nursing training days, living in Rylands Estate and sharing her memories of the special family that she lived with during her 5 years in the great Cape.  She enthusiastically provided me with her savory recipe that we are accustomed to eating, as well as a Cape Malay version, filled with sweetness, where either sugar or apricot jam is used in creating the sauce that covers the fried fish.This recipe took definite thought and planning!  In making this sweet version, I decided to put my culinary skills to the test in creating a sugar free version, including an alternative to the apricot jam.  I deliberately ignored sugar as an ingredient as I was interested in creating a sugar-free recipe for folk following a sugar-free lifestyle as well as avoided the option of coating the fish in flour and using any artificial flavoring or ingredients.  I also decided not to use vinegar in this version and am pretty excited about the alternative and the result.  This said though, Apple Cider Vinegar or Grape vinegar without caramel, corn flour or guar gum may be used if you prefer.  Traditionally, brown spirit  (of which caramel is an ingredient) is used. My mom used only fresh, un-filleted Cape salmon in her pickled fish.  I decided to go with filleted, fresh Norwegian Salmon.  Hake, Kingklip, Cape Whiting or yellowtail may also be used in this recipe. 

1kg kingklip, Cape or Norwegian Salmon, Hake or Yellowtail fish (filleted, skin intact)
4 medium to large onions sliced or ringed
2 fresh red cayenne chillies finely chopped (optional)
1-2 tsp garlic paste
Juice of 2 fresh lemons
masala or spices of choice to marinate the fish ( I used chilli, coriander, cumin and turmeric powders)
8 black pepper corns
4 cloves
4 all spice berries
2-3 bay leaves
2 tsp turmeric powder
3-5 cloves of fresh garlic
2 pieces fresh ginger root finely chopped
125g desiccated coconut
4-6 tblsp apricot and date paste* or 2 tbslp date paste
375ml chicken or fish stock (preservative and sugar free)
4 tblsp extra-virgin olive oil (half to fry the fish and half for the sauce)
1-2 tsp turmeric
salt to taste

1-2 tablespoon arrowroot powder or tapioca flour, mixed in cold water, to thicken the sauce

*To make the Apricot and Date paste

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  • Soak the apricots and dates (I used 80g apricots and 40g dates) with enough water to cover for about 8 hours, preferably overnight.

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  • Remove the fruit from the water and set the water aside.
  • Puree the fruit in a blender or food processor.
  • Add a few tablespoons of the soaking water to the puree and continue to blend.
  • Blend until a creamy paste forms.
  • Add more of the soaking water if required.
  • Store in an airtight contain in the refrigerator.  You may freeze this paste for up to 3  months.
  • Date paste without the apricots is made using this method.
Here’s How

Fish Preparation

  • Firm up the fish by sprinkling Himalayan or Sea salt on both sides of the fillet and allowing it to stand in a glass bowl refrigerated, for about half an hour
  • Rinse the salt off thoroughly
  • Pat dry with kitchen paper towel
  • Cut the fish into serving sized  portions, leaving the skin attached.
  • If preferred, make a marinade with the lemon juice, freshly minced garlic, and spices and allow to marinate in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours
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  • Add olive oil to the pan and fry the fish until lightly browned and tender.  You may fry the fish without spice but with garlic and lemon juice if you prefer,  and / or lightly spice with freshly ground black pepper, fresh or dried dill,  and salt.
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  • Transfer the fried fish to a casserole dish and keep aside
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Sauce Preparation

  • Boil the stock in a pot, thereafter pour it over the desiccated coconut in a bowl and allow to stand for 30 minutes
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  • Strain through a wire strainer and reserve the liquid

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  • Roughly chop the garlic and ginger, or you may use the garlic and ginger paste
  • Peel and slice the onions, preferably into rings
  • Heat the oil in a frying pan and sauté the onion, ginger, garlic and chillies until soft – about 5-8 minutes
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  • Add the apricot-date paste, the liquid from the coconut, the turmeric powder, the all spice berries, the cloves, the peppercorns, bay leaves and salt to taste and simmer over low heat for about 20-30 minutes, allowing the sauce to thicken and the flavours to blend.

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  • There should be no need to add the arrow root powder or tapioca flour to thicken as the sauce reduces well simmering on low heat.
  • Pour the sauce mixture over the fish in the casserole dish, you may opt to have single layers or use a smaller casserole dish and do more layers, ending with a sauce layer.
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  •  Cover with cling-wrap when cooled, then store in the refrigerator.
  • Chilled pickled fish will keep for up to two weeks in the refrigerator, provided that it is kept airtight.
  • Served cold, this traditional Easter dish improves as the sauce melds with the fish.  This is a dish that is not only enjoyed over Easter, but may be prepared in the hot summer months if you prefer a cold meal.


  1. The cloves and black peppercorns along with the chilli add heat to this dish and may be halved or omitted, depending on preference.
  2. The yellow colour of the sauce is created by the addition of the turmeric.  you may add a touch of coriander powder and chilli powder to change the colouring if you prefer. This addition produces a darker hue but does add pungency to the taste of the sauce.
  3. The desiccated coconut and stock combined with the date and apricot paste, produces an amazing sweet-sour sauce that will rival the vinegar and sugar or vinegar and apricot jam combination!



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Prava Singh

A Mom, daughter, wife, sister, aunt and friend experiencing life through an evolutionary body with a revolutionary mind... A recent past former Type 2 insulin dependent and hypertensive walking time-bomb for 13.5 years, I have made positive lifestyle changes that has aided and abetted my health status for my overall betterment. Passionate about all things food, with a proud Indian heritage, I regularly blog my culinary attempts that have worked for me in my endeavours to break the shackles of food addictions and food slavery. Passionate about people too, my decision to share these endeavours is driven by informing others that a lifestyle change through food is indeed possible. I have indeed survived high school and survived life too in the most interesting and thought-provoking ways. Having lost over 50kgs of excess weight in just under a year, I have reclaimed my life and am thoroughly enjoying the journey.

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