Buen Escabeche (Cold Fish in Vinegar Sauce)

Original (1):  Buen Escabeche

Take a crustless piece of bread soaked in white vinegar, and take blanched almonds, and toasted hazelnuts, and pine nuts, and grind everything together until it is well-ground; and when it is ground, blend it with fish broth, and then strain it through a woolen cloth; and then take a few raisins with the seeds removed, and grind them well with the other things, and set it to cook. And cast in the pot all fine spices and saffron, because the sauce ought to be very deep in color, and sweet in taste, and black; however, the sweetness should be from honey. And when it is thick, remove it from the fire; and then take the fish when it is cold, and put it on a plate, and cast the escabeche on top. However, this sauce should be eaten with pandora or dentex before any other fish; and when you cook it, cast on the escabeche. And when it is cold, put a little ground cinnamon on top; and then stick in some pine nuts, point upwards, all around the plate, and shredded parsley. And this sauce is commonly served cold, but [served] hot it is not bad.

Original (2): Pajeles

Pandoras are cooked fried and roasted and boiled; but the best way of eating them is fried with your orange juice and pepper, or in escabeche with your vinegar and the oil in which they are fried; and vinegar, and pepper, and ginger, and saffron, and cloves, and a few bay leaves upon the fish, and orange juice, and your honey.
Source (for both): An English Translation of Ruperto de Nola’s “Libre del Coch” (1529) by Lady Brighid ni Chiarain.

Redaction

4 lbs filet of Pandora, Tilapia or other fish
6 medium onions
3 pieces toasted wheat bread
1/3 cup honey
~1 cup white wine vinegar
½ cup almonds
¼ cup hazelnuts
¼ cup pine nuts
~ 3 cups fish broth
1 cup raisins
Salsa fina to taste (about 2 t)
1 cup chopped parsley
olive oil for sautéing
Salsa fina (yields ~ 4 T)
7 t ground ginger
1.5 t ground cinnamon
1 t ground pepper
1 t ground cloves
¼ tsp pinch ground nutmeg
¼ ground mace
  1. Clean and scale fish, and if skin is still present, score it crosswise with a sharp knife. Panfry the filets in olive oil, drain and refrigerate.
  2. Julienne the onions, panfry those in olive oil as well and refrigerate. Toast bread and nuts and grind in a food processor. Grind raisins in a food processor.
  3. Place bread and nuts in a pan, add vinegar to moisten. Add broth, raisins and salsa fina and cook for 10-20 minutes, then refrigerate.
  4. To serve, plate the fish and scatter the onions around it. Pour some of the escabeche over the top, then garnish with parsley. Serve the remainder of the escabeche on the side.

Notes and Choices

Pandoras or seabreams (family Sparidae, genus Pagellus) are common fish in the
Mediterranean Sea that are related to porgies. They have a firm white flesh. We had no easy source for fish from this family in bulk (the common Atlantic Seabream Pagrus pagrus would have been our top choice), and so chose to serve our escabeche with Tilapia, a cichlid that is a moderately close relative of Pagellus and that has a similar
texture and flavor.

According to Lady Brighid ni Chiarain, de Nola frequently calls for “fine spices,” sometimes specifying a list and sometimes not. Included spices appear to have been cinnamon, cloves, ginger, grains of paradise, mace, nutmeg, and saffron. It’s not clear if he intends the cook to add all of these spices or not.

Again according to Lady Brighid, the Libro de Sent Sovi gives a recipe for a pound of spice mixture called salsa fina which includes ginger, cinnamon, pepper, cloves, mace, nutmeg and saffron. We used  cinnamon, cloves, ginger, pepper, mace and nutmeg in our version. We couldn’t taste the saffron in an early trial and so left it out of the final version to save on cost. The Libro de  Sent Sovi gives proportions for salsa fina based on weight; we maintained the same proportionality but based our measures on volume, not weight.

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