Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Cuban escabeche

Last time I made escabeche, back in September, '08 I mentioned that I wanted to make a Cuban version I had found and then I got distracted by the CSA. But now I've got free reign in choosing my recipes again so I've finally made it. I didn't make the recipe I had picked out back then. Instead, it seemed worth looking around to see what looks appealing to me now. That other recipe has some intriguing differences from what I settled on, so if I come back to the idea I may well give it a shot, but I found the inclusion of lime juice in the recipe I found at Chef4all.com interesting enough to give it the edge.

For those who haven't been reading since last Fall or have lives of your own so don't remember what I was posting about back then, I got interested in variations of cooked pickled fish after trying the Japanese version Nanban Zuke at Shiro's in Seattle.

I made a version of that myself and learned during my research that it evolved from Spanish and Portuguese escabeche dishes. So I made a few versions of that too using shrimp, mahi, and smelt with different results each time.

And now on to the Cuban version. Since I'm only serving myself, I used a single filet of tilapia instead of the two pounds the recipe is designed for. I quartered the rest of the ingredients and since the filet was a bit less than a half pound, I tossed in a few shrimp to make up the difference. Most of you are probably making more than one serving so here's the full unreduced recipe:

2 cups sunflower oil [I used a light olive oil]
1/2 cup white vinegar
1 teaspoon green peppercorns [I used the pickled sort recommended by, I think, Russell]
2 bay leaves
1 cup sliced black olives [I considered kalamata since I've got some left over, but they didn't seem right. Instead I used the less briny niçoise.]
1 thinly sliced carrot [I had one tiny CSA carrot languishing in the back of my produce drawer so I used that.]
1 Tbsp. capers
1 tsp. oregano
2 tsp. salt
1 red onion, sliced
2 limes, juiced
1 tsp. sugar
1 cup flour
2 pounds of white fleshed fish fillets
freshly chopped parsley or dill.

1. Add everything but the fish, flour, herbs and half the oil to a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce temperature to low, cover and simmer 10 minutes.

2. Chop the fish into serving pieces, sprinkle with salt and pepper and dredge in flour.

3. Heat the rest of the oil in a medium pan until shimmery. Cook the fish until golden brown and crisp on the outside and just barely cooked through. How long will depend on the thickness of each piece so use your judgment.

4. Line a lidded container with some of the solid bits from the marinade you prepared in step one. Lay out the fish (and the shrimp if you fried up some of that as I did). Add the rest of the solids on top and pour over the liquid. Seal the container and let sit in the refrigerator for up to seven days.

I only left it for one day and gave it a flip after 12 hours since the fish pieces weren't completely submerged. Unlike last time, the oil didn't separate out and solidify. There's nothing I recognize as an emulsifier in there so I'm not sure why that is.

When the day was up I pulled it out of the refrigerator and laid it out all pretty topped with chopped parsley.

This recipe is lighter on the vinegar than the last escabeche I made and I think that works well. The dressing is light and multidimensional--not overwhelmed with tartness. You can still taste the fish through it even though it's just a mild whitefish. The olives, capers, green peppers, even the carrots all contribute elements of flavor. I really like how they're all working together. The lime, on the other hand, is hard to find in there.

The fish have firmed up due to chemical cooking from the acid to a solid, somewhat chewy texture. It's something like canned tuna, but not dried out which helps a lot. The shrimp, on the other hand, got a little mushy. They didn't absorb the flavors as well either. Next time, poach out of the shell instead of a quick fry in the shell.

Shrimp aside, this is really quite lovely and, I've got to admit, rather better than I've come to expect from Cuban cuisine. If this is a legitimate Cuban preparation, I've written them off too soon. I guess I need to go out for a fancy Cuban dinner instead of just eating Cuban junk food from holes in various walls to see what I've been missing. Any recommendations?


Karen said...

Maybe try this with real sea food, like perhaps yellow tail, rather than tilapia which is a fresh-water fish. The difference would be interesting I'd think.

billjac said...

That's a pretty good point. I have to admit that I just grab whatever white fish that's on sale that my Seafood Watch guide says is OK. I really should be better about picking something appropriate for the recipe at hand.