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Mauritian Pâtwa Style Pickled Fish for Good Friday

March 29, 2013

The aromas of oil, sauteing onions, spices, vinegar and fish assail the nostrils as one wanders around town during the week before Good Friday. Pickled Fish! A mixture of smells that I always associate with Easter, predominantly Good Friday. Through the ages pickled fish and hot cross buns have traditionally been eaten on Good Friday – and yes, many do eat them together although it is not something that I personally fancy. I prefer to eat my hot cross buns in the morning with a cup of tea when the family returns from church, and at lunch time and dinner time I will eat my pickled fish just as it is, or sometimes with a slice of bread and fresh farm butter (totally delicious!) I say I because I am the only one in the brownie household who eats pickled fish. I have made it a few times in the past but have preferred to buy the fresh one that is sold at a particular food hall in a tub that has been for my sole consumption!

A couple of days ago someone commented that they were flying home to Durban to enjoy her mother’s pickled fish because there is no other to compare. She mentioned that it was a Mauritian Pâtwa Style pickled fish and I was immediately interested because I had never heard of that before. I immediately googled it but found no links referring to any food or recipes called Pâtwa. I couldn’t find the meaning of Pâtwa at all other than to see that it is mentioned often in place of patois. So I imagine that it is a local style of cooking among the islanders.  I asked the lady what the fish was like and if she knew the ingredients for it and she very kindly replied by giving a rudimentary recipe for it, no measurements etc. I was thrilled to get it and adapted it and made up my own version. And OH.MY.WORD……..was she ever right? I don’t know how her mother’s pickled fish tastes but I can tell you I doubt that it could be any better than mine! It is that good…..

I went off to buy my fish the other day at the store (we have a fishing harbour about 5 minutes drive away from where we live but there are road works happening and that journey now takes almost half an hour there and then another half hour back so it is not an option at the moment) and picked up some lovely big fresh onions. While I was browsing in the fresh produce section I discovered a whole selection of Asian ingredients that I have never seen in the shops before, some of them looking totally alien! But what I did find, and buy, was some fresh Turmeric rizomes.

Was I ever excited? One of the core ingredients in pickled fish is, of course, Turmeric so what better time to try it?  I have used the dried root before (and of course we all use the powdered form because that is all we usually find) and found it to be more pungent and nicer than the powdered Turmeric so I was very eager to try the fresh. And I am ever so glad that I did. Apparently it has all kinds of health benefits (yay me!) and is good in smoothies etc. The aroma is very strong when it is grated and the flavour is somewhat sweeter than the powdered one. It is so easy to spoil a dish and turn it bitter by adding too much of the powder. I learned (good old google again) that you can double or treble the amount of fresh to powder…so if a recipe called for 5ml of powdered Turmeric you could safely use 15ml of the Fresh one. I am looking forward very much to buying more and using it in different ways. Just a word of warning. It stains everything it touches the most amazing yellow colour….a dash of sunshine in the kitchen on a dull day but not so great to remove….anything slightly porous absorbs the colour and it sits there. My hands are a bright yellow hue and it is embedded in my finger nails. Next time I use surgical gloves!


Adapted by me from the recipe given by Taryn on facebook)

Serves 2
For the Fish:
1kg Firm White Fish filleted and cut into 10cm square portions
30ml Fish Masala
5 Cloves Garlic – crushed
1cm Fresh Ginger – finely grated
10ml Olive Oil
2 Lemons – Juice of both, finely grated zest of 1
Salt flakes and freshly cracked Black Pepper
Grind the above ingredients (except for the fish of course) in a pestle and mortar to make an aromatic paste
Coat the fish well on all sides with the paste then cover and marinate in the fridge for 2 hours
Preheat oven to 180deg Celcius
Heat a large saucepan over medium heat and lightly brown the fish on both sides then place in an oven proof dish and bake for about 15 minutes

For the pickling sauce:
100ml Cooking Oil
30ml finely grated fresh Turmeric root or 15ml Turmeric Powder
5ml Ground Chilli Powder
4 Whole Cloves
4 Whole Cardamom Pods
1 Star Anise
5ml Cumin Seeds
5ml Fennel or Dill Seeds
10ml Whole Allspice Berries
15ml Mustard Seed
5ml Whole Black Peppercorns
2 Fresh Bay Leaves
Sprig of Fresh Curry Leaves or a small handful of dried leaves
6 – 8 Small Green Chillies whole (use less if you can’t take the heat)
1 small Red Chilli – deseeded and finely sliced (leave the seeds in if you CAN take the heat!)
4 Large Onions – peeled and thickly sliced
300ml Grape Vinegar
125ml Hot Water
Salt Flakes and Black Peppercorns
100g Brown Sugar

  • Sauté all the above ingredients excepting the vinegar, sugar and seasoning in a large shallow saucepan over low to medium heat until the onion rings are translucent and limp and the wonderful aromas of the spices fill the air
  • Add half of the vinegar, all the water and all the sugar and mix in well over a low heat for the sugar to dissolve
  • Taste and adjust the flavor by adding seasoning and more vinegar if you need it. I used all the vinegar
  • Place the hot fish into the sauce making sure it is covered with the sauce.
  • Cover with the lid and allow to cool, the fish absorbing all the flavours.
  • Layer into a dish, making sure once again that all the fish is covered with the sauce. Cover tightly and refrigerate for two days before eating.

NOTE: If you are using fresh turmeric then add it towards the end of the cooking time when the onions are almost translucent. If using dried powdered turmeric add it at the beginning with the other spices
I always like to add the onions to the pan with the oil and a good splash of boiling water and allow the water to cook away, softening the onions before they start to sauté.


Enjoy! And I wish all my Christian readers a Blessed and Happy Easter. To those travelling, be safe and have a wonderful long weekend!

browniegirl xx

I am  going to attempt making my own hot cross buns early tomorrow so if it works out I will post that recipe as well 😉

PS  Huge internet problems have forced me to stop blogging for the time being….my apologies to all my regular readers. I will be back as soon as Telkom fixes the underground cables near my home.


10 Comments leave one →
  1. March 29, 2013 2:43 PM

    I noticed a comment on the recipe which said ‘ Grind the above ingredients (except the fish of course) and thought “How Rude’! So had to read your blog and was relieved to find the same comment there as well and not specifically directed at me! BHWAHAHAHAHAHA! Would not have blamed you on the other hand but I would never had admitted to having made Pickled Minced Fish!
    Hope you had a blessed Easter and thanks so much for sharing!

    • Colleen permalink*
      May 7, 2013 8:43 PM

      HAHAHAHA! You are so funny Douglas my friend! Am so glad you enjoyed this dish as much as I did. It is simply stunning xx

  2. March 29, 2013 6:09 PM

    Very interesting to find fresh turmeric – I’ve never seen it before.I’ve never tasted pickled fish but you make it sound very appealing. Maybe one day I’ll try it… except now I’m stuffed after eating too many home-made hot cross buns for tea! Happy Easter, Colleen!

    • Colleen permalink*
      May 7, 2013 8:45 PM

      Thank you so much Kit, apologies for taking so long in responding….internet problems! This pickled fish dish is totally awesome. You must try it. And yes, the fresh turmeric is amazing. Am loving it. xx

  3. April 2, 2013 4:35 PM

    I love pickled fish and your version sounds and looks wonderful! I want some right now! *sulks*

    • Colleen permalink*
      May 7, 2013 9:38 PM

      Hehe….sorry Sue. But it is seriously delicious….I am longing for some now as I am reading and replying to comments. I bet it would chase my flu away 😉 xx

  4. April 10, 2013 9:48 PM

    O my Word, Brownie!! This sounds absolutely delicious! AS must try, since I have never made this before!!

    • Colleen permalink*
      June 29, 2013 7:35 PM

      It was a fabulous dish Zirkie. Sorry to be replying so late…have had dreadful internet issues xx

  5. May 23, 2013 3:56 AM

    When my mom was pregnant she had an immense craving for ice cream and pickled fish. Sometimes together. I suspect that this is why I like neither. But this actually sounds damn good and will be going on Pinterest for when I’m back in SA and can get all the spices without a Holy Grail-esque quest into the Big City. Thanks for sharing!

    • Colleen permalink*
      June 29, 2013 7:36 PM

      Aaaah haha Liz. I do hope that you try this dish and do let me know what you think of it. All the best xx

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