Easy Pickled Fish Recipe

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Pickle fish is a sweet and spicy traditional South African recipe prepared primarily during Easter. However, the love for this nutritious meal has now spread worldwide, and many people love it.

Pickling is a 2-step curing process whereby the fish is first soaked in a salt brine solution and then in a strong pickling solution, which is often a mixture of white vinegar, granulated sugar, white wine, and water.

Pike and other fatty fish are the most suited for the pickle recipe. But most fish will work pretty well. Here is an easy-to-follow pickled fish recipe to help you make it like a pro.

Preserved & Pickled Fish. Source

How to Make Pickled Fish

Making a perfect pickle fish involves a 2-step curing process and requires a 10-day course of action. Here is how the pickled fish recipe goes step by step.

Pickled Fish Ingredients

  • 1 ½ lb. fish fillets, white fish, herring, salmon, Pike (or any other preferred fish).
  • A large onion (red, yellow, or white) thinly sliced

For Brine:

  • 2 cups white vinegar
  • 1 cup canning salt
  • 1 ½ cups water

For Pickling Liquid:

  • 2 cups white vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup Riesling white wine (or any other sweet white wine)
  • 1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
  • Two tablespoons of pickling spices
  • One tablespoon of mustard seed

Optional Ingredients and Spices:

  • ¼ piece lemon squeezed
  • Bay leaves
  • Chili powder
  • Turmeric
  • Cinnamon
  • Vegetable oil
  • Ginger
  • Garlic

Recipe Instructions

Step 1: Prepare the Fish

Clean and rinse your fish. Then freeze it at 0 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 48 hours to kill all the parasites.

After 48 hours, thaw your fish, then slice it into 1/8 or ¼-inch chunks.

Note: Don’t worry about the bones. Leave them intact.

Step 2: Prepare the Brine

Mix 1 cup canning salt, 1 ½ cups water, and enough white vinegar (2 cups) in a shallow pan. Then, bring the mixture to a boil as you stir.

Let the brine cool at room temperature. However, if you are using stainless steel cookware, do not add the salt until the other two ingredients come to a high simmer. This way, your pot won’t get damaged.

Step 3: Soak Your Fish in the Brine and Refrigerate

Put the fish in a gallon-sized zip-lock bag or sealable jar. Then pour in the cooled brine and mix it well to ensure that all the fish is soaked in the solution.

Refrigerate for five days and keep stirring each day.

Step 4: Prepare the Pickling Liquid

Heat 1 cup water, 2 cups white vinegar, and 1 2/3 cups granulated or brown sugar in a shallow pan and bring them to a low boil.  

Add one tablespoon of mustard seed and two tablespoons of pickling spices and let it simmer for 5 to 10 minutes. Then, allow the solution to cool to room temperature.

Add 1 cup of Riesling white wine (you can use any other sweet to very sweet white wine). Then strain the mixture into a large glass/ plastic jar and reserve both the spices and liquid for the next step of this recipe.

Step 5: Pack the Pickle Jar

After five days of soaking in brine, drain your fish and rinse it twice. Then soak it in cold water for 5 to 10 minutes.

Drain the water, take some glass jars, and place a layer of fish at the bottom, followed by a layer of thinly-sliced onions. Then add more fish, then onions, and repeat this process until the jar is ¾ full. Ensure that the content is firmly packed.

Fill the remaining ¼ with pickling liquid, seal the jars, and refrigerate for five more days; you have your pickle fish.

  • Prep Time: 1 hour 20 minutes
  • Brining and Curing: 10 days
  • Cook Time: 5 minutes
  • Total Time: 10 days 1 hour 25 minutes

Key Points to Note:

  • Pickle fish is best served cold.
  • If the pickling spices and liquid remain, do not discard them. Combine with onions and sliced cucumbers and refrigerate.
  • Pickling alone is not enough to kill the larval tapeworms present in some fish. That is why freezing the fish before you begin the recipe is recommended. It helps to kill parasites.

For this reason, pre-freezing raw fish is a mandatory requirement in many states and nations. For instance, the European Union (EU) requires food businesses to pre-freeze all fish meant to be sold lightly cooked or raw.

This means keeping the fish at -20°C or -4°F for at least 24 hours before processing or serving.

The only exceptions are for farmed Atlantic salmon and FSA-authorized catches. Minnesota Sea Grant also recommends freezing pickle fish at 0°F for not less than 48 hours. Therefore, asking your fishmonger what laws apply in your area of residence is essential.

  • Another general rule regarding pickle fish recipes is; always use fresh ingredients. These include fish, onions, herbs, and spices.
  • Also, maintain good hygiene by keeping chopping boards and storage jars sterilized.
  • Always keep a good balance of the preservatives you add to the pickled fish.
  • Introducing spices and herbs such as mustard, bay leaves, and fennel to the pickling liquid helps to enhance the taste.
  • The minimum prep time for raw fish is five days. But the longer it stays in the pickling solution, the more flavorful it gets.
  • Pickled fish recipes can be pre-cured, cooked/ soused, or raw.

Related Questions

What Type of Fish Is Good for Pickling?

Pickled fish recipes are ideal for oily fish like herring and mackerel. However, you can use any other fish, including prawns, tuna, fish fillets, white fish, and bluegill.

What Does Pickled Fish Mean?

Pickled fish undergoes a pickling process whereby it is soaked in a solution of white vinegar, brine, brown sugar, and white wine.
It is then stored in a glass container and left to refrigerate. This 2-step curing process takes about 5 to 10 days.

How Long Does Homemade Pickled Fish Last?

Homemade pickle fish can last up to two months in the refrigerator at no higher than 40 degrees Fahrenheit. However, it would be good to consume it within 4 to 6 weeks to retain the best flavor.

Is Pickled Fish Good?

Pickled herring and fish, in general, are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D3, and B12, among other nutrients.

Does Pickling Fish Dissolve Bones?

Yes, pickling fish dissolves bones. However, ensure that you cover the fish in a salt brine and vinegar solution for five or more days. Otherwise, the bones will not dissolve, and the meat will not become as tender as it should be


Making your own pickled fish recipe at home is so simple. In addition, you can use the same recipe as ours or add a bit more creativity. This way, you can come up with a delicious way to make your dish.

Ensure you have fresh fish and all the necessary ingredients. Then, make a pickling brine solution with white vinegar, water, and canning salt. Soak your fish chunks in it for five days, then drain the water and rinse it thoroughly.

Then, make a pickling solution combining brown sugar, white wine, and spices. Pack your chunks in a jar, separating them with layers of sliced onions. Completely cover the jar with enough white vinegar and refrigerate for five more days.

Diana Nadim
Fishing Expert
Diana began fishing at the age of seven, as it has been a long-time family tradition. From catching small bullheads to catching strippers on the backwaters of Bighorn, she loves to get out in the wild and have a marvelous day on the water. Her dad was an expert angler, and he taught her fishing along with her two siblings. They used to go to the Bighorn River in Montana and Henry’s fork, Idaho. As a pragmatic person, she is obsessed with creating well-researched and practical guides and reviews of the best fishing methods and gear.
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