• John M

Cook First, Marinade Later -- Spanish Style Escabeche with Cod

Collecting cookbooks is an addiction for me. I own several hundred of them, and yet I feel like I can never have enough. As you might expect given the focus of this blog, I have many books on Spanish, Turkish, Moroccan, Arabic, Italian, Provencal, and general Mediterranean cuisines. But I also have books on other global cuisines, books on techniques, books specific foods, and books on the science of cooking. You name it, I probably have a cookbook for it.

Once I get a book, I obsess over it for weeks. I slip scraps of paper between the pages as a promise to myself I will make this recipe. I try recipes and I adapt recipes. I can get completely preoccupied with a new cookbook for weeks. One of the things I like most about writing a food blog is the process of experimenting with new foods I discover in the cookbooks.

The Elegant Baker knows well of my obsession (it might be true she shares it, but with baking books and magazines!) So for a recent gift she got me Jose Pizarro’s excellent book Catalonia.. This book is a winner in every way. From the Miro inspired cover (and throughout) to the stunning photographs, and on through to the delightful recipes.

A complete aside here -- in addition to my passion for cooking, I am very enthusiastic about art, particularly paintings. One of my favorite artist is Joan Miro, the influential 20th century artist from Catalonia. His work is distinct, and often associated with Surrealism. If you ever get the opportunity to visit Barcelona, I would strongly recommend a visit to the Joan Miro Foundation there. It is one of the “must see” attractions in that great city.

One thing that grabbed my attention in Pizarro’s book was his recipe for Mussels in Escabeche. I can’t say I was aware of escabeche before seeing it here (the photo really hooked me first). After reading through the recipe, I further researched escabeche, and found a variation on it in just about everyone of my Spanish cookbooks -- with mussels, quail, chicken, mackerel, sardines, I knew that I had to try it.

Escabeche is a technique where you are basically marinating the food after you cook in instead of before. In Spanish cuisine, escabeche is a useful technique for all sorts of fish, chicken, or pork dishes. The meat is quickly cooked through and then allowed to rest for several hours in the escabeche sauce. From my reading, escabeche typically includes an acidic marinade along with herbs and olive oil. Vinegar, vermouth, and citrus are common acids used in escabeche.

Thought to have originated centuries ago in the Islamic Spanish region of Al Andalus, the technique of pickling meats in vinegar and olive oil survives today in escabeche sauce. I also learned that escabeche has made it way across the Atlantic and is popular in cuisines of Latin America including Cuban, Mexican and South American. Further, is a near cousin to ‘ceviche’, using acid to tenderize fish. Of course, in ceviche, the acid is effectively cooking the fish as well. With escabeche, you do cook the meat through first.

Because I had some on hand, I adapted the recipe for use with cod instead of mussels. We had just had mussels earlier in the week, so I wanted something different. Also, I substitute grated tomato for seafood stock (we have an allergy to crustaceans, and seafood stock is often made with shrimp or lobster shells) and sherry vinegar for vermouth vinegar.

Grating tomato is an interesting process that allows you to discard the skin, but basically be left with a loose pulp from the fruit. Although it sounds a bit odd, it is actually as easy as its name implies. Simply place a grater over a bowl or plate. Cut the tomato in half, and begin rubbing the exposed inside of the tomato along the grater.

The rest of the dish comes together easily as well. I cut and seasoned the cod and then cooked it. I set the cooked cod, aside in a bowl. Using the same pan from the cod, I heated the remaining ingredients and, then combine them with the cod. The trick of course is to do this enough before you want to eat it so that it can all marinade together for two to three hours once it has all been cooked.

Having never had escabeche before, I didn’t know what to expect, but was very happy with the results. The fish was very flavorful and melt in your mouth tender. I paired it with a carrot and watercress salad (I’ll post that recipe on another day) and we had a delicious meal.

We have since had the opportunity to try escabeche at a local Spanish restaurant we were recently at. They offered a starter of mussels in escabeche. I liked it, and I liked the texture of the mussels prepared this way. Trying it at the restaurant also gave me the opportunity to compare the flavors of mine with those of someone more familiar with it. I don’t think I’m bragging to say that I felt that mine compared favorably.

I am not yet an expert on escabeche, and perhaps I haven’t executed the most traditional version here. But I love trying new food and new skills, so I can easily say that I found the entire process enjoyable and very tasty! I will be making escabeche again, and next time I will try it with the mussels!


¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, divided

1 lb cod fillets

1 large shallot, finely chopped

2 piquillo peppers, finely diced

1 large clove garlic, thinly sliced

1 tsp sweet smoked paprika

2 -3 sprigs fresh thyme

1 bay leaf

¼ cup sherry vinegar

1 large tomato, grated

½ cup white wine

Salt and pepper to taste


Cut the cod fillet into large 8 -10 large chunks and season them with salt and pepper

Heat 2 TBS of the olive oil in a medium sized skillet over medium high heat

Add the cod chunks and sauté quickly on both sides until heated through and delicately browned.

Remove from the pan and set aside in a small bowl

Return the pan to the heat and add the remaining olive oil.

Add the shallot and piquillo pepper and cook until very tender, about 10 minutes

Next add the garlic, paprika, thyme and bay leaf and stirt to combine. Cook until the garlic just begins to soften, about 2 - 3 minutes

Add the sherry vinegar and bring to a quick simmer before adding the grated tomato and white wine

Cover and let simmer for about 5 minutes.

Pour the sauce over the fish in the bowl and carefully stir to combine.

Cover, and allow to rest on the countertop for about 2 hours. If you are going to rest it longer, you will need to move it to the refrigerator.

Serve at room temperature or cooled. .


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