Monday, October 15, 2012

Mackerel Pickle

Growing up in the coastal town of Mangalore, South India, brown rice and fresh fish curry was our staple diet. Mum's "gandh kadi" with "fresh masli" was something we looked forward to everyday. Monsoons were hard on the food front when fresh fish was replaced by "sukhi masli"(dry fish) and an occasional bikna(jackfruit seeds) curry. While mum enjoyed these delicacies I always waited for the time when the fishermen could venture out into the seas once again.
Post marriage, the firs thing I did was to search for a place where I could buy brown rice along with a fish merchant. I was fortunate to find the very best of fish shops wherever and whenever we moved within Bangalore. The last five years saw me become chaddi dosth with a fish merchant in Jakkasandra, Koramangala. The freshest fish was home delivered to me week after week, month after month for five long years. Friends always asked me whether he ever cheated or sent me rotten fish home. Never!!! Such was my trust in him to provide me with the very fresh. The regret I have of not having been able to properly bid him goodbye..:-) Such are my memories of the fish delicacies I had back home, thanks to him.

On arrival to Deutschland we were in for a rude shock. Having arrived during peak winter, fish was hardly available. The two or three local varieties of fresh water fish that we tried had to be promptly thrown into the bin. It was with dismay that we passed the first few months without our fish delicacies. Once spring arrived, so also familiar fish in the markets. Mackerel was one of them. I still remember the excitement we had to bring the fish home and fry it..:D Over a period of time, we had mussels and squids making a rare appearance. My Indian friend in Switzerland recommended Pangasius which also made for delicious curries. We were content till winter arrived again and the fish slowly stopped in the markets. By then we figured out that fish in winter was simply not available.  By the third winter we decided to give freezing three months of fish supply a shot. It worked like a charm. This year, our fourth and last season of winter I chose to go a step further. Apart from freezing some, I thought I'd make some pickle too, for the cold wintry days. Thus began my search for a simple recipe. Having found one and also hitting a jackpot with the fresh curry leaves, the following was the end result. 

Source:  BBC Food recipes(adapted to suit our palette)


For the marinade:
  • 1 kg oily fish such as king fish or mackerel cut into 1 cm cubes.
  • 1 tsp chilli powder
  • 1 tsp turmeric powder
  • 2 tsp salt
  • sunflower oil for frying

For the pickle base:
  • 6 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 1 tbsp mustard seeds
  • 5 sprigs curry leaves
  • 150 g fresh ginger chopped
  • 150 g fresh garlic chopped

For the fish pickle powder:
  • 2 tsp red chilli powder
  • 1 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1/2 tsp ground fenugreek
  • a pinch asafoetida
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 100 ml white vinegar

  1. Place the fish pieces in a bowl. Add the salt, chilli and turmeric powders(for the marinade ingredients). Mix well so that all the pieces are coated evenly with the spice powders. Set aside for an hour.
  2. Heat oil in a deep heavy based frying pan. Carefully lower the marinated fish pieces into the hot oil and fry for 3-5 minutes or until crisp and golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside to drain on kitchen paper.
  3. Prepare the fish pickle powder by mixing all the powders with 1 tbsp water  and NOT the vinegar. Mix well to make a paste.
  4. For the pickle base, heat oil in a separate frying pan. When the oil is hot add the mustard seeds. Once the seeds have popped, add the curry leaves, chopped ginger and garlic. Fry over low heat for 3-4 minutes.
  5. Add the fish pickle paste to the above and stir well until combined. Fry well for 3-5 minutes or until the mixture darkens in colour.
  6. Slowly add the fried fish pieces into the above mixture and stir well. Add the vinegar and bring the mixture to a boil. Remove the pan from heat . Adjust salt. Set aside to cool.
  7. Once the pickle has cooled, transfer it into a vacuum sealed glass jar. Store in the refrigerator for 2 weeks before using.


  1. Since this was my first time preparing fish pickle, I attempted to separate the bones and flesh in the raw state, cut it into 1 cm cubes and then deep fry. It was tiring, cumbersome and I ended up with small bruises on my hands. What I would do the next time would be to cut the fish into 2 or 3 pieces, deep fry them and then separate the flesh into the required size. 
  2. I have used a little more of ginger and garlic than what the original recipe called for. 


  1. Mouthwatering here, such an irresistible and new pickle for me.

  2. This is way too good looking and delicious sounding. I am currently unfortunate enough to be living in a completely landlocked province (waaaaaaaaahhhh!!!!) and so we only get fish that Kevin catches in the summer. I miss our small fish so much, like tharle, bangde, erlyo... also fresh crab. I never thought of making fish pickle now I have to try it. I have some Eastern prawn pickle, and once that is over, this is getting made :)

    1. The pickle is over and we miss it so much. You must try preparing it Michelle, you will love it. Am debating on attempting another kind of pickle, veggies or prawn, yet to decide.