Per Speedy’s request, dinner tonight was escabeche. I did as requested and cooked escabeche with a twist — I added slices of mango. Not soft and ripe mango but mango at that almost infinitesimal stage between unripe and ripe when it is still quite firm, subtly sweet and faintly tangy. The escabeche was so delicious, and so pretty with that burst of bright yellow, that I decided it was the perfect time to update my escabeche recipe — this post, originally published on October 9, 2010.
What is escabeche? The answer will depend on which version of escabeche you are referring to. A lot of Mediterranean and Latin American countries have their versions, each adapted to include local produce and ethnic food culture. In the Philippines, we have our escabeche too, part of our Spanish colonial legacy, which consists of fried whole fish served with pickled vegetables.
The easiest way to prepare escabeche is to fry a fish then top it with store-bought achara, pouring whatever sauce there is along with the pickled vegetables. Easy but you don’t get a lot of sauce from bottled achara. The obvious solution is to make your own, the fast way, and not in bulk but just enough to serve with the fish. It’s easy. And the ingredients are very basic.
I used alumahan (mackerel) for this version of escabeche; you can use any firm and fleshy fish. You can use one large fish to serve two or opt for two smaller pieces.
For the sauce, I used a combination of white and dark brown sugar for a richer and deeper amber color.
Filipino escabeche (fish with pickled vegetables)
- 1 bell pepper
- 1 small carrot
- 1 onion
- 1 stalk lemongrass
- 1-inch knob ginger
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 finger chili
- 1/4 cup vinegar
- 2 tbsps dark brown sugar
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- 2 whole alumahan (mackerel), total of about 500 g. in weight
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 2 cups vegetable cooking oil
- 1 semi-ripe mango thinly sliced
- finely sliced scallions to garnish
- Julienne the bell pepper, carrot and onion (see how to julienne).
- Finely slice the lemongrass (see tips) and chili.
- Pound and mince the garlic and ginger.
- Pour the vinegar into a small non-reactive (i.e., not aluminum) sauce pan. Add the sugar and a generous pinch of salt. Boil without stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Add the garlic, ginger, lemongrass and chili. Continue boiling over medium heat until syrupy, about 10 minutes.
- While the sauce cooks, score the fish (see illustration) and rub generously with salt and pepper.
- Heat the cooking oil until tiny wisps of smoke start to appear.
- Dredge the fish in cornstarch, shake off the excess, and fry until golden, flipping halfway through for even cooking. Remove from the oil, drain off the excess oil and arrange on a platter.
- When the sauce is done, turn off the heat and stir in the bell pepper, carrot and onion. Allow to steep for a minute. Stir in the mango slices. Pour everything over the fish.
- Sprinkle sliced scallions over the fish and serve hot.