Pickled hake with onions

Cooks perfected the art of pickling food products long before they had fridges. Try this great South African classic – pickled fish – with its mouth-watering sharpness and exquisite oceanic tang.

Pickled hake and onions

To make a batch of pickled fish for six diners, you will need:

  • 1kg hake (fresh or frozen)
  • 2 onions
  • 2 tablespoons of canola or sunflower oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 40mm fresh root ginger
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1 teaspoon dhania (coriander) seeds
  • ½ teaspoon white peppercorns
  • 2 teaspoons pickle masala
  • 2 teaspoons tumeric powder
  • 2 large red chillies
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 300ml white vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 50g dark brown sugar
  • A bunch of fresh dhania leaves

While artisanal, organic and glutenfree fetishists may always prefer fresh to frozen,
frozen hake works extremely well in this recipe and has the extra benefit of convenience,
especially for picklers a long way from the ocean.

Cut the hake into bitesized pieces, or – this being a democracy – leave the fish steaks whole. Chunks absorb more of the piquant pickle flavour, which, after all, is the whole purpose of the dish.

Peel and thinly slice the onions.

Crush the garlic cloves with the flat side of a heavy knife to speed up peeling, then cut them in thin cross sections. Peel, then finely chop the fresh ginger. Crush half of the fennel seeds with a mortar and pestle, leaving the remainder whole.

The pickle masala I recommend is the mix used to make mango atchar. Look for it in the packed spice section of your local supermarket.

Now for the two big red chillies. These are mostly for looks. The red goes so well with the yellow of the tumeric. But that’s not all, there’s a flavour input too! The big deal here is to limit the capsicum heat that radiates off big red chillies like radioactivity off Chernobyl.

Chillies are an accent here and do not provide all the flavour.

Cut a careful slit lengthwise down one side of each chilli and with the point of the knife, dislodge and discard most of the pips.

Select a large, stainless steel frying pan from your collection, and sweat the onions in canola or sunflower oil over moderate heat until they are soft but not slushy.

Add the prepared ginger and garlic and fry for a couple of minutes before adding the spices, with the exception of the whole fennel seeds and white peppercorns.

These are used to add to the general look of the meal, while the crushed fennel seeds augment the flavour. Next pour in the water, vinegar, brown sugar, salt and optional bay leaves.

Dried bay leaves taste of dust. Fresh ones taste of bay leaves. You know what you have to do. Let the contents of the pan simmer for 25 minutes, and then add the fish chunks or
steaks.

Simmer until the fish is cooked right through, then remove with a slotted spoon and reserve in a glass or ceramic dish along with the whole fennel seeds and white peppercorns.

Another choice is looming:

  • either mix the remaining sauce in a food processor without the chillies, or leave the sauce a chunky consistency.

Pour the sauce over the fish, seal the dish with cling film and leave to chill for 48 hours before serving, lightly garnished with dhania leaves, to your lucky guests.

David Basckin is a freelance journalist and videographer.