Ceviche, it would seem, is still conquering every foodie’s heart. Now don’t get me wrong, in the right hands, with just the right balance of chilli, lime and coriander; it can off course be absolutely delicious. But I have to confess that I’ve slowly fallen out of love this Peruvian icon and I’ve grown tired of it’s charms as practically every achingly hip, “trendy” Asian-Peruvian-Mexican fusion restaurant can’t resist putting it on their menus in some shape or form…usually with avocado, very often let down by clumsy knife work on the overly thick fish and disappointingly served with poor quality ingredients, all of which are unforgivable!
So if, like me, you are already bored with ceviche but still want to enjoy something fresh, acidic and full of flavour, it’s time to look closer to home at another traditional method of marinating food using an acidic-based marinade. It’s called escabeche and it’s been common practice in Spain for over a thousand years.
Escabeche is in fact a derivation of the Catalan word escabeix and is an ancient way of preserving foods in a spiced vinegar marinade. Hunting was once very much a normal part of rural life in every region of Spain, where small game- rabbit, hare, partridge and quail- was basically free for the taking. When the hunters returned the game would be cooked in a marinade, then packed into clay pots.
Olive oil in the marinade would rise to the top and create a protective seal, allowing the escabeche foods to be kept for several months during the cold season. Typically, escabeche was made with white wine, vinegar, olive oil, onion, garlic, salt, peppercorns, pimentón dulce (a type of Spanish paprika), cloves and bay leaf. Escabeche marinade is also used with fish and seafood such as mackerel, sardines, tuna and mussels.
Another wonderful Spanish marinade dish is Esqueixada. Sometimes described as the “Catalan ceviche”, Esqueixada is a traditional salad of shredded salt cod, tomatoes, onions, olive oil and vinegar, salt, and sometimes a garnish of olives or peppers. I love it and it is the perfect dish for long, hot summer days in the Spanish sun. You could also try “boquerones en vinagre”.
They are one of Spain’s most emblematic tapas made from fresh anchovies that are filleted, and then left in a vinegar marinade, no heat required. The vinegar turns the fillets white and firms up the flesh. The marinade is drained and the little fish are dressed with olive oil, chopped garlic and parsley. You can buy them already filleted in most Spanish markets and they are an inexpensive treat packed full of flavour at this time of the year.
MEJILLONES EN ESCABECHE
400ml dry white wine
4 bay leaves
100ml virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely sliced
4 garlic cloves, finely sliced
150ml white wine vinegar
6 whole black peppercorns
Scrub mussels and pull out hairy beards. Rinse well and drain.
Place the mussels with half of the white wine and bay leaves in a wide, heavy-based saucepan. Cover and cook over medium heat, shaking the pan occasionally, for 4-5 minutes, or just until mussels begin to open. Remove the mussels from their shells. You can reserve the cooking liquid for another dish such as soup or risotto.
To make escabeche, heat oil in a heavy-based saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, garlic and a pinch of salt and cook for 5 minutes, or until the onion is lightly coloured. Add vinegar, paprika, peppercorns and remaining wine, and then bring to the boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer for 8 minutes, then remove from heat and leave to cool for 10 minutes.
Stir mussels into escabeche and pour into a shallow dish. Leave to cool and serve with salad leaves.
ESQUEIXADA DE BACALAO CON OILVAS NEGRAS
MARINATED SALT COD AND BLACK OLIVE SALAD
You can buy ready-to-cook salt cod that has already been soaked and de-salted – alternatively, soak it overnight before cooking. If salt cod is unavailable you could substitute with smoked cod or smoked salmon
300g salt cod, soaked and de-salted
1 small red pepper, finely diced
1 small green pepper, finely diced
2 large ripe tomatoes
15 black olives, stoned
75ml olive oil
1tbsp chopped chives
Break the salt-cod into small pieces and place them in a large salad bowl. Add the chopped peppers, black olives and chopped chives. Cut the tomatoes into quarters and remove the seeds. Using a sharp knife, peel the tomatoes and add them to the salad bowl. Pour over the olive oil, season to taste and leave to marinate in the fridge for at least 30 minutes before serving.
BOQUERONES EN VINAGRE
400g fresh anchovies
250ml white wine vinegar
juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp salt
150ml Virgin olive oil
2 Garlic cloves, chopped
a bunch of fresh parsley for serving, chopped
Clean the fish by simply twisting and pinching off the heads, making a slit along the belly and pulling out the innards. Rinse well under cold running water.
Butterfly the fish, using a knife to extend the cut along the belly (used for gutting) right down to the tail. Put the anchovies, belly down, on a board and open them out, press firmly along the backbone with your thumbs to loosen it. Turn the fish over and pull out the backbone. Try to leave the little tail fins on. You will then have the two fillets still joined together. Wash and carefully dry the anchovies, put them in a shallow dish and pour over the wine vinegar to cover. Leave for about 10 minutes until the anchovies are beginning to turn white, then remove them and pat dry.
Arrange the anchovies, skin side up, in a dish and pour over the lemon juice, scatter over the chopped parsley, salt and garlic, and cover with cling film and refrigerate for 1 hour. Pour over the olive oil before serving.