Italian Sweet-Pickled Fish


Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Serves


    as a starter

Appears in

I first made this classic Neapolitan dish back in 1989 at a restaurant I worked in called Friths in London’s Soho, which chef Carla Tomasi owned. I tend to make this dish with whole anchovies or baby mackerel or sardines, bat red mallet, gurnard, tarakihi and snapper fillets work well too. Use either six fillets from three large fish, or 12 smaller filets from six fish. Scale the fish bat keep the skin on and remove the bones from the larger fish. I serve it as a starter, on toasted sourdough and undressed watercress with the pickling vegetables on top. It keeps in the fridge for a week and is actually better the day after it’s made.


  • 800 g(1 lb10 oz) fish fillets (see above)
  • 50 g(1 ⅔ oz) flour
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 medium red onions, peeled and sliced into rings
  • 80 ml(2 ½ fl oz) extra virgin olive oil
  • few sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 1 bayleaf
  • 2 heaped tablespoons dried currants
  • 80 g(2 ½ oz) demerara sugar
  • 200 ml(7 fl oz) cider or white wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • approx 300 ml(10 fl oz) water
  • oil for deep frying


Pat fish dry with paper towels then dust with flour mixed with 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper. Leave on a plate while you do the next step.

Fry onions in olive oil, stirring them occasionally, until they begin to caramelise. Add herbs and currants and fry 30 seconds. Add sugar, vinegar and 1 teaspoon salt and boil 20 seconds. Add water, bring to the boil, then remove from heat.

Heat 2 cm(¾ in) oil in a saucepan to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 (a pan about 30cm/12 in wide is ideal). Fry fish (in batches) for 90 seconds, or until golden brown. Drain on paper towels.

Spread half the onion mixture in the bottom of a non-reactive casserole dish and lay fish pieces on top, trying not to overlap them too much. Spoon on remaining onions, then pour over liquid. Ideally the liquid will just about cover the fish. Leave to cool, then cover tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 12 hours.