Spanish Escabeche

Probably every pub in the city serves some kind of Fish & Chips.  It’s a very popular and profitable dish. If the fish fillet came as frozen, it would have been either portioned accordingly and coated in an house batter, deep-fried half-way, and finished off before service started. It  could also have been shipped as individual fillets in a box and  deep-fried with a batter to order.  I’ve seen pubs working with or around this pretense as a way of lowering food cost and increasing dish recovery or turnover.

I was once a fan of Fish & Chips, up until I encountered some realy nasty deep-frying experiences at work. My first taste of an authentic Fish & Chips was in London nearly thirty years ago. I was about 13, and never realized I was having a major treat at my hands. At that age, I only wanted two things: toys and any books related to the martial arts; anything other than that was insignificant.  Academics was also off the radar, but I managed to pass my courses just to please my strict parents.  Of course, pretty and highly adorable ‘girls’ remained in my list and they still mesmerized me to this day, even though they weren’t exactly ladies yet at that time.  Phoebe Cates was my dream prom date as was with my peers.  It was part of growing up in a co-ed school whereby terribly attractive ‘girls’ constantly roamed around the four-story HS building with open corridors set for me and my barkada to enjoy and to discuss nonsense during recess. It was like watching a pageant set for adolescents who were studying in a very inhibitive and outdated educational curricula. We had our classes at the fourth floor on our senior year and, it felt like heaven!  I still often recall those moments, and as an adult, wouldn’t have had it in any other way.

Anyway, fish, particularly Filipino fried fish (Tilapia) with vinegar is just so plain and so boring. Filipinos seem to have it in no other way.Well, actually, with another way: Fish Escabeche.  I’ve checked out several Filipino Escabeche recipes and all played around with this combination of ingredients:  vinegar, sugar, soy sauce, catsup and bell peppers. I tasted this mixture growing-up and the house helpers did a fantastic a job of removing the dry and plain characteristics of the Fried Tilapia by turning it into Escabeche. I ate the Tilapia with gusto. It had the feeling of eating Sweet & Sour Pork without the crunch and the heavy, gingery thick sauce so common to many Sweet & Sour dishes.

My goal for this blog was to make the fish as crunchy as a Sweet and Sour Pork and  the sauce as addicting as any dimsum (particularly chicken feet). This is my take on Escabeche. I didn’t follow the usual Filipino ingredients and used fillets instead of a whole Tilapia. I just don’t like picking through a whole fish when fillets are readily available in the market.  This is a sort of a follow through to Iska’s Sinigang ng Isda; taking the fuzz out of eating something delicious without the hassles of deep-frying or picking through fish bones which can somehow ruin the enjoyment of the meal itself.

Ingredients:

  • Wild Cod Fillets
  • Sweet Rice Flour
  • Olive Oil
  • White Balsamic Vinegar or White Wine Vinegar
  • White Wine (Chardonnay)
  • Red & Green Bell Peppers, finely diced
  • White Onions, finely diced
  • Garlic, minced
  • Rosemary
  • Thyme
  • Lemon Rind
  • Lemon Juice
  • Dried Oregano: Optional

Season the fillets with salt and pepper and roll the fillets with a slice of lemon inside. Secure the fillets with a skewer or a toothpick.

Coat the fillets with sweet rice flour inside out and leave them in the fridge for about half an hour.

Heat a pan with oil and pan-fry or deep-fry the fillets until golden. Start dicing the bell peppers, onions and garlic while frying. Pat dry the fillets with a towel or let them sit on strainer while finishing off the sauce.

Saute the bell peppers, onions, and garlic in another pan. Add the herbs and the lemon rind and season to taste. Pour the White Balsamic Vinegar  into the pan followed by the White Wine. Let it boil to simmer and squeeze lemon juice at the final stages of cooking.

Set the fillet at the center of the plate and pour the sauce on top of the fish. Drizzle with olive oil, season with salt, and garnish with finely diced green onions.

The White Balsamic Vinegar and the White Wine combination were the killer ingredients. Indeed, quality products can make food stand out.

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