Fish Escabeche, Spanish Style – Cook First, Marinade Later

It is always fun for me to discover a new food to try. Despite years of cooking, I had never come across escabeche before. Today’s post is about Spanish style fish escabeche, and the round about way I found this exciting new (to me) dish!

Collecting cookbooks is an addiction for me. I own several hundred of them, and yet I can never have enough. As you might expect given the focus of this blog, I have many books on Mediterranean cuisines. Spanish, Turkish, Moroccan, Arabic, Italian, Provencal to name a few. I also have books on other global cuisines, books on techniques, and books on the science of cooking. You name it, I have a cookbook for it.

stack of cook books mezzeandtapas.com

Once I get a book, I obsess over it for weeks. Often, I slip scraps of paper between the pages as a promise to myself I will make this recipe. I try recipes and I adapt recipes. Sometimes I can get completely preoccupied with a new cookbook for weeks. It is one of the things I like most about writing a food blog. I love experimenting with new foods I discover in the cookbooks.

The Elegant Baker knows well of my obsession (it might be true she shares it, but with baking books and magazines!) So for a recent gift she got me Jose Pizarro’s excellent book Catalonia.. This book is a winner in every way. From the Miro inspired cover to the stunning photographs, and the delightful recipes.

Jose Pizarro Catalonia
Joan Miro

Besides to my passion for cooking, I am very enthusiastic about art.  Joan Miro is on of my favorite artists. He was an influential 20th century artist from Catalonia. His work is distinct, and often associated with Surrealism.  When you visit Barcelona, I would strongly recommend a visit to the Joan Miro Foundation there. It is one of the “must see” attractions in that great city.  

Joan Miro The Gold of the Azure
The Gold of the Azure — Joan Miro
Joan Miró Foundation, Barcelona, Spain
Back to the food

Besides the cover, Pizarro’s recipe for Mussels in Escabeche grabbed my attention. I can’t say I was aware of escabeche before seeing it here (the photo hooked me first). After reading through the recipe, I further researched escabeche. I found a variation on it in everyone of my Spanish cookbooks. Made with with mussels, quail, chicken, mackerel, sardines, I knew that I had to try it.

Escabeche is a technique where you are marinating the food after you cook in instead of before. In Spanish cuisine, escabeche is a useful technique for all sorts of fish, chicken, or pork dishes. The meat is cooked through and then allowed to rest for several hours in the escabeche sauce. From my reading, fish escabeche includes an acidic marinade along with herbs and olive oil. Vinegar, vermouth, and citrus are common acids used in escabeche.

The Islamic Spanish region of Al Andalus is believed to be the birthplace of escabeche. It is the technique of pickling meats in vinegar and olive oil. I also learned that fish ecabeche has made it way across the Atlantic. It is popular in Latin America including Cuban, Mexican and South American cuisines. Further, it is a near cousin to ‘ceviche’, using acid to tenderize fish. Of course, in ceviche, the acid is effectively cooking the fish as well. With escabeche, you do cook the meat through first.

fish escabeche ingredients

Because I had some on hand, I adapted the recipe for use with cod instead of mussels. We had mussels for dinner earlier in the week, so I wanted something different. I substitute grated tomato for seafood stock and sherry vinegar for vermouth vinegar.

Grating tomato allows you to discard the skin, but be left with a liquidy pulp from the fruit. Although it sounds a bit odd, it is actually as easy as its name implies. Place a grater over a bowl or plate. Cut the tomato in half, and begin rubbing the exposed inside of the tomato along the grater.

The rest of the dish comes together easily as well. I cut and seasoned the cod and then cooked it. I set the cooked cod, aside in a bowl. Using the same pan from the cod, I heated the remaining ingredients and, then combine them with the cod. The trick is to do this enough long before you want to eat. You want it to marinate together for two to three hours once it has all been cooked.

Having never had fish escabeche before, I didn’t know what to expect, but was very happy with the results.  The fish was very flavorful and melt in your mouth tender. I paired it with a carrot and watercress salad (I’ll post that recipe on another day) and we had a delicious meal. 

We have since had the opportunity to try escabeche at a local Spanish restaurant we were recently at.  They offered a starter of mussels in escabeche. I liked it, and I liked the texture of the mussels prepared this way.  Trying it at the restaurant also gave me the opportunity to compare the flavors.  I don’t think I’m bragging to say that I felt that mine compared favorably.  

I am not yet an expert on fish escabeche, and perhaps I haven’t executed the most traditional version here.  But I love trying new food and new skills, so I can easily say that I found the entire process enjoyable and very tasty!  I will be making escabeche again, and next time I will try it with the mussels!  

Spanish Style Fish Escabeche with Cod

Escabeche is the technique of marinating meats after they’ve been cooked. Common in Spain and Latin America. It creates a tender and flavorful dish
Prep Time30 mins
Cook Time2 hrs
Total Time2 hrs 30 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Mediterranean, Spanish
Servings: 4
Ingredients
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil divided
  • 1 lb cod fillets
  • 1 large shallot finely chopped
  • 2 piquillo peppers finely diced
  • 1 large clove garlic thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp sweet smoked paprika
  • 2 -3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ¼ cup sherry vinegar
  • 1 large tomato grated
  • ½ cup white wine
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  • Cut the cod fillet into large 8 -10 large chunks and season them with salt and pepper
  • Heat 2 TBS of the olive oil in a medium sized skillet over medium high heat
  • Add the cod chunks and sauté quickly on both sides until heated through and delicately browned.
  • Remove from the pan and set aside in a small bowl
  • Return the pan to the heat and add the remaining olive oil.
  • Add the shallot and piquillo pepper and cook until very tender, about 10 minutes
  • Next add the garlic, paprika, thyme and bay leaf and stirt to combine. Cook until the garlic just begins to soften, about 2 – 3 minutes
  • Add the sherry vinegar and bring to a quick simmer before adding the grated tomato and white wine
  • Cover and let simmer for about 5 minutes.
  • Pour the sauce over the fish in the bowl and carefully stir to combine.
  • Cover, and allow to rest on the countertop for about 2 hours. If you are going to rest it longer, you will need to move it to the refrigerator.
  • Serve at room temperature or cooled. . .
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