Pacific Black Cod Escabeche

Black cod fillets marinated in a vinegar oil mixture and served as a classic escabeche.

Pacific Black Cod Escabeche
Elise Bauer

Escabeche (es-kah-BECH-ay) is a dish of Spanish origin in which seared meat or fish is marinated in an acidic marinade.

Fish escabeche is similar to ceviche, but the fish is cooked a bit first. Because of the acidity of the marinade, the dish lends itself to fatty fish, especially mackerel.

When I first had this version of escabeche, prepared by Chef Sean Bernal in the Bahamas, it was with a wahoo fish, and all I could think of was how good it would taste with mackerel.

Unfortunately for me I haven't been able to find any fresh mackerel (or herring, or sardines for that matter) in Sacramento. The fishmonger at Whole Foods recommended pacific black cod (also known as sablefish) as a substitute because it is fairly oily (and packed with omega 3s).

Pacific black cod may seem a little delicate for the task, but you know what? When I prepared it, it firmed up beautifully overnight.

Pacific Black Cod Escabeche
Elise Bauer

I also tried it with tuna, but the tuna ended up being too steak-y for the dish, it didn't flake like the black cod.

Because of the acidity, you can't eat too much of the escabeche at once. It does work great though, for quick fish tacos. Just take a basic cheese taco and add a bit of the fish, peppers and onions. Normally you wouldn't use melted cheddar in a fish taco, but because the cheese cuts through the acidity, it works.

The escabeche reminds me a bit of pickled herring, a staple in Norwegian buffets and Minnesota pantries, and also a bit of mackerel sushi, for those of you sushi lovers.

Do you have a favorite escabeche recipe? or even pickled herring? If so, please let us know about it in the comments.

Pacific Black Cod Escabeche

Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 20 mins
Total Time 35 mins
Servings 4 to 8 servings

You can eat the escabeche a few hours after you prepare it, but the it will be better if you let it marinate for a day. The fish will firm up and have a better texture.

Regarding the habanero, the original recipe called for a scotch bonnet, which is hard to find out here. One might think that a whole habanero would make the dish too spicy, but it was actually the perfect amount for this dish.

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 2-3 red, yellow, and green bell peppers, seeded and julienned
  • 1 white onion, julienned
  • 1 carrot, julienned
  • 1 habanero or scotch bonnet chili, seeded and minced
  • 1 cup white or cider vinegar
  • 3/4 pound pacific black cod (sablefish) fillets, pin bones removed, cut into 4 inch pieces
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup flour for dredging
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 6 allspice berries

Method

  1. Make the escabeche vegetable vinegar mix:

    Heat 1/2 cup olive oil in a large sauté pan on medium high heat (do not be tempted to cut back on this amount of oil, it is needed for the marinade). Sauté the bell peppers, onion, carrot and chili until softened, 5-10 minutes. Stir in vinegar, bay leaf, allspice berries, remove from heat, and set aside.

  2. Partially cook the fish fillets:

    Pat the fish fillets dry with a paper towel and sprinkle them on both sides with salt and pepper. Place flour on a plate and dredge the fillets in the flour on both sides.

    Heat remaining 1/4 cup of oil a frying pan on high heat. When the oil is hot (but not smoking), add the fish fillets to the pan. Cook on one side for 1-2 minutes, then flip and cook the other side for 1-2 minutes.

    Remove the fish from the pan when they are only half-cooked through, as the vinegar in the marinade will finish the cooking process.

  3. Cover fish with vegetable vinegar mixture:

    Place the partially cooked fish fillets in a non-reactive dish, such as a ceramic or pyrex casserole dish. Spoon the vinegar vegetable mix over and around the fish. Refrigerate overnight.

    The fish will finish "cooking" in the acidic marinade and will become firmer.

  4. Serve:

    Bring to room temperature before serving.

    Serve on a small plate, or on a crostini for an appetizer. Or add to a cheese taco (cheddar in softened corn tortilla) for a quick fish taco.

    Will last several days in the refrigerator.

Recipe adapted from a wahoo escabeche prepared by Chef Sean Bernal of the Oceanaire Seafood Room in Miami, Florida.