Monday, September 29, 2014

Fish Escabeche

This is Ukrainian version of fish escabeche from my childhood. Cooked in tomato sauce it has a perfect balance of sweet and sour, spicy and salty. 

Blog's Category: International, My Staple Food, USSR-era Recipes, Vegetarian


As a picky eater in a childhood, I didn't appreciate much this dish. It was too bold, too spicy for me, and in addition, here and there, were small fish bones... Though adults must adored it, because for every more or less significant occasion when crowd had to be fed, fish escabeche was served. 

Now I think, I can hear my fellow friends from Eastern Europe "there were no such thing as escabeche there"... Actually, they are almost right... Escabeche is a dish well known in Spain, Italy, Mexico - it is fried fish marinated in vinegary sauce and served cold. Following this definition, fish dish, known in Ukraine under vague name "fish in tomato sauce" or "marinated fish", is indeed fish escabeche! Agree?

Fish escabeche is cooked using inexpensive sorts of fish such as whiting, perch, better with a skin on. Remembering my frustration with a fish bones, I always use fillets of fish - with all this wonderful sauce it's  a shame to go through all those bones and fins.

If you already tried Hispanic/Mediterranian version of fish escabeche and was not really impressed with it, try this version - you may be pleasantly surprised!

What is it?

Fish fillet pieces with a skin intact are fried first, then cooked in a rich tomato sauce. The most important, critical, in this dish is to reach a right balance between sugar and acide coming from tomato. Perfect level of spiciness, I would say mild-to-medium, is a must.

Taste Description

Pieces of fish, are tender although meaty. Skin adds up as a buttery layer to it and sauce is soaked in right into the heart of these fish nuggets. Plenty of delicious, bright-red  eye-pleasing sauce, makes it great partner to a piece of beautiful crusty baguette or giabatta bread... 

How to Serve/Store

If follow the rules, cooked fish escabeche has to sit in a fridge overnight to reach its full potential and then served cold. It rarely happens in my house - it's often consumed still warm or even right after I take it off the heat. 
It will keep in a fridge for several days.
As an option, serve fish escabeche with a chopped cilantro, or dollop of sour cream, or (oh, sin) grated parmesan or queso fresco.

Fish Escabeche

  • perch fillets, skin on
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 tbs tomato paste
  • 2 tbs paprika powder
  • 1 tsp red chili pepper flakes (or 1/4 tsp cayenne powder)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 tbs sugar 
  • some flour to dredge fish in before frying
  • oil for frying (light olive oil)
  • salt and ground black pepper to taste
- Make sure fish skin is cleaned from scale. Then cut fillets into 2" pieces, salt a little bit, dredge in flour and sear in an olive oil, on a medium-high heat, just until light-gold. It doesn't have to be cooked through. Transfer chicken into a pot or deep pan and set aside. You may need to do this in a couple of batches.

- In the same skillet, cook onion for 3 minutes, stirring. Add tomato paste, all spices and cook it stirring for one more minute. 

- Add about 1.5 quarts of water to your skillet, stir it thouroughly, continuing to cook until tomato paste and spices distribute evenly. Add more water if needed - you have to have enough sauce to cover all fish in a pot. Add salt and sugar. Let sauce simmer for 5 minutes. Add more sugar if sauce is still sour - it has to be sweet-and-sour. Keep in mind that it is not the final taste of your sauce - combined with fish, it will transform drastically.

- Pour sauce over your fried fish in a pot and place pot on a heat. Shake a pot a little bit to distribute a sauce in between the fish pieces. Simmer your fish escabeche, with a lid adjar, for about 30-40 minutes letting it just barely simmer. Take off heat - done! Enjoy!

This fillet of perch is often sold barely cleaned from scale.. so I always have to clean it. I like to use perch for fish escabeche because the texture of cooked perch is so buttery and it works really good with a sauce.

For a perch, it's really doesn't matter if you start to fry it skin side first or otherwise - it will swirl into tube anyway (tested!)

This time I added coriander powder to the sauce. I don't think it worth to do - it didn't add much to flavor but took away from a color adding brown hues. So, follow the recipe (above) to the word :)


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