Pickled Fish – Whip It UP!

PICKLED fish is a specialty in Peranakan and Sundanese cultures. It is often called acar kuning (yellow pickle) owing to the predominance of turmeric as the key marinade, which stains food yellow. The Penang Nyonya version defers from the Sundanese dish in that there is no acar (the vegetables preserved in a vinegar-based marinade). However, it is just as delicious with aromatics like garlic and onion, spiced up with chilli.

Total time: 1 hour
Difficulty: 2/5
Cost: S$15.00
Serves: 5-6 persons


12 small blue spot mullet (ikan belanak)*

B: Garlic-Turmeric Paste

2 cloves garlic, peeled
Thumb-sized fresh turmeric, peeled

C: Aromatics

2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
2 small onions, peeled and sliced
Thumb-sized ginger, peeled and julienned
1 red chilli, sliced
1 tablespoon vinegar**
2-3 tablespoons water
Salt and sugar to taste
125ml oil, approximately half cup


  1. Clean and scale fish, then rub with salt. Set it aside.

2. Place peeled garlic with turmeric into the mortar and pestle.  Pound until it becomes a paste. This should yield approximately 1 tablespoon. Set it aside.

3. Heat up wok with oil over medium high heat until smoking. Gently slide fish, one by one, into wok. See technique.

Note: Do not overcrowd wok or fish will not crisp up. Fry fish until brown and crisp. Drain fish on paper towels. Set it aside.

Alternatively, if treadfin (ikan kurau) cutlets are preferred, fry until light golden brown. Three pieces should suffice.

4. Put ginger into wok. Add in more oil if required. and fry until aromatic. Transfer to a plate and set it aside. Add garlic, onions and B ingredients. Stir fry until aromatic.

5. Pour in vinegar followed by water. If you prefer it more sour, add more vinegar. Season with salt and sugar, adjusting to taste. Turn off stove heat. Toss in chillies and give it a good stir.

Add in fried fish. Garnish with ginger. Spread aromatics on top of fish. Serve with steamed rice.

TIP: If ikan belanak is not available, buy ikan senangin (blackspot threadfin, a smaller version of threadfin – see below). Alternatively opt for cutlets of ikan kurau (threadfin), Spanish mackerel (batang) or Spotted Spanish mackerel (tenggiri).

TECHNIQUE: Heat oil until smoking. Gently put in fish, then lower stove heat to medium. Let it fry for few minutes. When it starts to brown on the edges, gently lift it up. If you can easily move it, gently flip fish. Adjust heat – reduce or increase, if required. Frying fish demands patience as it takes the bulk of the cooking time in this recipe.

PHOTOS: Agnes Thor, Evonne Lyn Lee

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