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Escabeche de Caballa | Marinated Mackerel

Escabeche is a very traditional preparation, in which fish, chicken, rabbit, or other meats are cooked first, then marinated in a flavored vinegar-based liquid. For this recipe, I want to focus on escabeche of fish. At some point in the future, I will explore some of the other proteins commonly used. The preparation goes back in Spain at least as far as the Arab conquest, and, in fact, it was likely the Moors that brought it to Spain. These days variations of escabeche can be found throughout almost the entirety of the former Spanish empire, and it is still quite popular in much of Spain.

The highly acidic soaking liquid originally served as a way to preserve proteins for a few extra days in hot climates. Now, with refrigeration widely available, I don’t know anyone that views it as an important preservation technique, but it remains quite popular because of how delicious it is, especially on hot summer days, when you can serve it cold or at room temperature. I prefer it at room temperature.

There are only a few spices in this preparation, but if you follow the technique, and toast them off in the oil, your marinade will be packed with flavor. In some places, onions and other vegetables are added to the marinade, but I am a fan of this simpler version, based on Rosa's mother's preferred recipe.

When doing escabeche of fish, whenever possible, the fish is left whole (head and tail on), and simply gutted and scaled (if necessary), before cooking. The most popular fish for escabeche in the circles I have traveled in are different types of mackerel and other flavorful, oily fish. Mackerel are definitely my favorite for this preparation. If the fish is a bit larger, cut it in pieces that are large enough to hold together when cooked and marinated.


  • 2 – 3 lbs Mackerel or Sardines, gutted, rinsed, and patted dry. If very large, cut the fish in large pieces

  • Flour for dredging

  • 7 or 8 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole

  • 6 or 7 whole cloves

  • 1 Tbsp whole black peppercorns

  • 3 bay leaves

  • 2 tsps pimentón de la vera (dulce)

  • 1 cup white wine

  • 1 cup white wine vinegar (or substitute cider vinegar)

  • 1 cup water

  • Oil for cooking

  • Salt TT

1. Sear the fish: Season the flour with salt, and dredge the fish in the flour. Heat a large, heavy-bottomed pan on a medium-high flame. When hot, add enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Tap off excess flour from the fish, and sear it off in batches. It’s more important to get a nice sear on the fish, without burning it, than to cook it all the way through. Sear well on both sides, lowering the temperature of the pan as needed, and set the fish aside in a large casserole or baking dish, as it is cooked.

You don’t need to cook the fish all the way through. If it is cooked at least medium, or so, it will finish cooking in the marinade.

2. When all the fish is cooked, add the garlic to the pan, stirring constantly. When the garlic begins to brown, add all of the spices, and let cook for a few seconds more to bring up all the aroma.

3. Pour in the wine, and bring up to a boil. Let simmer for about 30 seconds to cook off some of the alcohol, then pour in the vinegar and the water. Bring up to a simmer, then add the pimentón. Let simmer for a few more seconds, then immediately pour the hot liquid over the seared fish.

4. Let the fish marinate for at least a few hours before serving. Turn the fish over occasionally to make sure it gets thoroughly and evenly marinated. If not serving that day, cover and store in the fridge until ready to eat.

Serve cold, or at room temperature, accompanied by boiled potatoes and good bread, with some vegetables on the side.

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