Two ways to Escabeche

Today, my father brought home a big batch of red bell peppers, onions and carrots.  He always has this annoying habit of buying in bulk and then worrying they will all go bad.  Unless you intervene, he will be Mr. Inventor in the kitchen and cook up things you never imagined edible.  Most of the time, the food goes to waste.  A penny wise, a pound foolish.

So seeing the bags of these spices on the kitchen table, I decided to intervene. We have fish in the freezer, and it looked like I have everything I needed for “escabeche”.  I hurriedly got busy in the kitchen before my father comes up with some his ideas.

The Filipino escabeche tends to veer towards the Oriental sweet and sour recipe, with a reddish-orangy tint from the tomato sauce, with pineapple and carrots.  Bisaya escabeche usually goes without the tomatoe sauce, uses lots of ginger strips and is sweeter.  I love this Bisaya style and it takes a little after the most mediterranean escabeches.   While most Filipinos associate escabeche as fish in sweet and sour sauce, it is not exactly that.

Escabeche is  a latin pickling sauce used with fish, chicken or some fruits and vegetables.  In Bisaya, it brings to mind the taste, smell and ingredients of atchara(pickled papaya).  The main difference is that escabeche is oil-based while Bisaya escabeche uses plain water to dilute the sugar.  Atchara on the other – hand has very little sauce and is used by itself, as a side dish.  The usual ratio of sugar to vinegar to olive oil in escabeche is 1:1:0.5.

Pickling food, just like air drying or fermenting food, as in beef casajos and adobo was a popular practice back in the days when they didnt have refrigerators or iceboxes.  Besides, the fermentation process creates a wonderfully unique taste that makes the food even more sumptuous.  One other example of fermentation and pickling is the “inun-unan” in Bisaya or “paksiw” in Tagalog.  In all these dishes, the food will taste better 1 – 2 days after storing.

Well, I am doing this my way as usual.  But I am sharing both recipes for your information.


1 whole medium sized fleshy fish(anduhaw, lapu-lapu, tilapia)

enough oil for pan frying (not deep frying)

Bisaya Sauce:

5 tbsps sugar

5 tbsps vinegar


1 large ginger

3 medium sized red bell pepper

1 large onion

3 cloves garlic

Mediterranean Sauce:

1 large ginger

1 large onion

3 medium sized bell peppers

3 sili espada

several pieces of black olives

several pieces of peppercorns

1 bay leaf

3 cloves garlic

1 cup olive oil

1 cup white wine vinegar

1/2 cup sugar

salt to taste

Steps to cook fish:

1.  Cook some garlic in the oil until golden brown, do not burn garlic.  Take garlic out.  Score fish and pan fry until done.  Set aside to cool.

Steps to to make Bisaya sauce:

1.  Cut ginger and bell pepper into strips. 

2.  Heat 1 tbsp of oil in a pan.  Throw in the ginger and garlic before oil is hot.  Stir fry until brown, take extra care not to burn the garlic.

3.  Add the bell peppers and onions.  Sweat vegetables, do not overcook.

4.  Glaze ingredients with sugar.

5. Pour in the vinegar.

6.  If you want more sauce, put in a little water.

7.  Let simmer and season with salt to taste.

8.  Put in the fish and simmer for a minute, then serve hot.

Steps to make Mediterranean Sauce:

1.  Melt sugar in the oil and vinegar.  Beat until dissolved.

2.  Slice ginger, onions and bell peppers into strips.  Toss in a bowl with the oil mixture, add in olives, bay leaf, onion and peppercorn.  Add salt to taste.

3.  Pour on top of fried fish.  Be sure the fish is properly cooled down before doing this.

4.  Let fish marinate in the refrigerator, covered for at least 24 hours.

5.  Serve cold.  The fish will usually keep well up to a week, refrigerated.

(photo from the web)


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