Thursday, September 20, 2012


Golly, do I love saying this word. Say it with me:  es-kah-BECH-ay. It just rolls off of the tongue and sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? For those unfamiliar with this term, it’s a classic Spanish preparation for meat or fish where the protein is seared and marinated in a vinegar solution with all kinds of wonderful spices.

I had never tried making this dish before, but became intrigued because it is very popular in Belize, and I wanted to do something different with some snapper fillets I recently purchased.

After doing a bunch trolling on the Web for escabeche recipes, I put together my own based on the ingredients I had.

I started off making a brine consisting on ¼ cup of Kosher salt and 4 cups of water. After stirring the brine to dissolve the salt, I added the fish fillets and let them soak in their briny bath at room temperature for about 30 minutes.

While the fish were off doing their thing, I drizzled some olive oil in a large pan and added a couple of smashed garlic cloves, crushed red pepper, and bay leaves.

Once the garlic had turned golden, I scooped that out along with the bay leaves.

When the fish was finished with their brine bath, I patted the fillets dry, put them in the pan (with the temperature set to the highest setting) for a quick sear on each side, then let them cool down to room temperature.

In the same pan, I added an onion that I had sliced in half moons...

 ... lowered the heat, and let them sauté until they were translucent.

Then the onions got removed from the pan and were set aside to come to room temperature like the fish.

While the onions and fish were cooling, I added 1 cup of white wine, 1 cup of rice wine vinegar, and 1 cup of water to the pan, along with some black peppercorns, cumin, coriander, thyme, and oregano. 

I cranked the heat back up to high, and let the mixture come to a boil, all the while scraping up all the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Oh, did this smell good.

Once the liquid had reduced by about a third, I removed the pan from the heat to let it cool to room temperature.

When everything was ready to go, I poured the liquid into a container, then added the sautéed onions and the fish fillets.

I gave the liquid a quick taste before covering the dish and placing it in the fridge overnight. At that stage, there was a distinct sharpness in the taste of the marinade. Maybe too much vinegar? And while a brief moment of fear came upon me – had I totally screwed this up and wasted some very nice fish ? – I decided to see how it went after all the flavors had enough time to marry.

Sure enough, once the marrying time was over, the marinade was smooth and incredibly tasty. 

As yesterday was beastly hot, I decided to serve the escabeche, including some of the onions, over a salad comprised of Romaine lettuce, diced cucumber, tomatoes, a bit of celery for added crunch, and some Feta cheese.

For the vinaigrette, I spooned some of the fish marinade into a bowl (about six tablespoons) and whisked in just the tiniest bit of mayo to help keep the dressing emulsified. Thanks to Cook’s Illustrated for that handy tip. Once the mayo was incorporated into the marinade, I whisked in about six tablespoons of olive oil.
The final verdict: YAY! The fish was tender, but still held its shape. Not soggy at all. The onions captured some of the marinade and made a great addition to the plate. All in all, a cooling dinner to beat the heat.

Just as a few asides:
  • Feel free to substitute white wine vinegar for the rice wine vinegar.
  • Fish or chicken stock can be used in the marinade instead of water. I didn’t have either one on hand that day, which is why I went the H2O route.
  • Experiment with peppers. Even though I opted for crushed red pepper flakes, any type of pepper would work when sautéing the aromatics.
  • The escabeche will last about a week in the fridge as long as it is covered in the vinegar marinade.


  1. John from MassachusettsSeptember 21, 2012 at 8:00 PM

    Hi Elizabeth.

    Way too much work! You don't need to cook anything. Try this recipe (my own). I've done this with striped bass and shrimp.

    Marinate the raw fish in:
    Fresh lime juice
    Healthy amount of fresh cilantro
    Red pepper flakes or chopped hot pepper to taste
    Chopped sweet or red onion
    Chopped sweet red pepper
    Dash of ground cumin
    salt and pepper to taste

    The lime juice will cook the fish and sweeten the onion. Refrigerate for half-hour to an hour.

    If you get out to Cerros Beach Resort, try Bill and Jenny's and reverse engineer it.

    Good luck. John

  2. John from MassachusettsSeptember 21, 2012 at 8:09 PM

    Hey Elizabeth,

    I'll correct myself. My recipe was for ceviche no escabeche. You should try it anyway...especially when it's too hot to cook.