There are few fish better suited to pickling than Yellowtail, which is a firm game fish that can withstand the intensity of the pickling sauce without losing the flavour of the fish – and it is an excellent way of using this gift from the sea which cannot be consumed in one sitting if you are a family of four. A good-sized Yellowtail will easily feed 16 people. I was the lucky recipient of such a specimen yesterday, but unlucky to have to clean it myself. First lay about 10 sheets of newspaper (or the local rag if you are no longer buying newspapers) to ensure that as you progressively clean the fish, you are able to fold the scales, blood and guts in manageable parcels for incarceration in the deep freeze before the flies arrive. Hold the fish by the tail and use a high-power hose fitting to blast the scales off (hopefully into the garden). Chop off the tail and head (you may need a mallet to bash the blade through the bone), then slice the stomach and pull out the guts. Wash thoroughly with the hose again. Lay the fish down, place your hand firmly on the fish and slice towards you along the belly from tail to head along the bone, making sure that the tip of the knife reaches the mid-line. Do this along the dorsal line, then turn the fish over and repeat. Ease back the flesh and release the middle from the bone with the tip of the knife. You should be left with two large fillets and a backbone as per cartoons of cats at dustbins. Wash the fish again, fold up all the newspaper and put in the deep freeze. You are now ready to cook your fish. (All of this can be avoided if you actually buy the fish from a supermarket or fishmonger, but it is always good to know the anatomy of a fish, I think.)
Do not remove the skin. Slice the fish into steaks 4-5cm thick and place, skin side down and slightly separated, on a baking sheet (put tin foil in first so that this can also be folded up and put in the deep freeze after cooking). Lightly salt and pepper, Place in a pre-heated oven at 180degC for about 15 minutes or until just cooked through. Remove and allow to cool. It looks unappetizing as no browning must take place! The skin will stick to the tin foil as you lift each piece and place alternately with the onions (see below) in the deep airtight container you will be storing your pickled fish in. Fold the tin foil, drain the juices (or feed the skins and juice to your pets) then put in deep freeze. All this effort enables the cooking and cleaning to be done with the least fuss, and I am a bit obsessed with ‘clean as you go’!
While the fish was cooking, you were preparing the pickling sauce! Here we go:
In a large pot, place the following ingredients, bring to the boil then simmer for 15 minutes until the onions are cooked but crunchy:
3 cups brown grape vinegar, 1 cup water, 6 sliced onions, 1 Tablesp black peppercorns, 1/2 cup sultanas, 3/4 cup sugar (plus 2 Tablesp – just takes the edge off the vinegar), 6 bay leaves, 1 teasp salt, 1 Tablesp turmeric, 3 Tablesp curry powder.
Layer the onions and fish until used up, then pour the remaining sauce over it so that it covers the fish. Refrigerate for 3 days before eating. This will keep for 6 weeks, but I have never had the opportunity to test this out; it has been eaten well before expiry!