“I’ll take Escabeche for $400, Alex!”
It’s no coincidence that the words escabeche and ceviche have a vaguely similar appearance and pronunciation. Ceviche has become somewhat familiar to American diners, escabeche is still fairly obscure. But escabeche probably predates ceviche. Let’s just say that escabeche appears to have originated on the Iberian peninsula as a fish dish, preserved by acidity, and is served cold. Sometimes cooked, sometimes not (more like ceviche), sometimes half cooked, sometimes fried, sometimes poached, it’s not even always fish. Chefs and cooks are frequently playful with their interpretations of it. Since colonial Spain had outposts in Asia and South America, the dish also appears there in regional cuisines, with varying variations on variants.
A great Austrian chef that came to California via Hong Kong and Canada demonstrated it for me 40 odd years ago, and I hadn’t seen or heard of it since. Now it has a page in Wikipedia, and it looks like they got it pretty much the way it was described to me. I’ll be interested to see if it starts showing up on menus.
Speaking of acidity
Pasteur didn’t really invent pasteurization, so much as he discovered it. Most preparations of food include steps that at least take a swing at killing bacteria, even though ancient populations had no idea that bacteria were responsible for food borne illness. They didn’t even know that bacteria existed, for that matter. But they must have noticed that certain foods handled certain ways were more or less likely to temporarily disable or even kill the entire tribe.
Heat definitely improved the odds of surviving dinner. There’s this acronym, called FATTOM. It stands for Food, Acidity, Time, Temperature, Oxygen, and Moisture. It refers to the conditions that govern whether bacteria (or any living thing) can survive in a particular environment.
- FOOD. The amount of food controls bacterial health, that’s an easy one. It is possible to deprive bacteria of food, but, when you do so, you may be depriving yourself of food at the same time. Sort of a Catch-22. Bacteria’s idea of food is not always the same as OUR idea of food, so depriving bacteria of food can make it safer for human consumption in some circumstances.
- ACIDITY. Acidity can kill a lot of bacteria. Most foods are not particularly acidic. So, we see vinegar and lemon juice in a lot of ancient recipes. Acidity is not a replacement for pasteurization, or even cooking, but in concert with other components, it can play an important role. Even though there are raw eggs in mayonnaise, it is safe because of acidity.
- TIME. Time, sure, it takes time for bacteria to reproduce. That’s why we try to rush foods through the temperature danger zones on the way to cooking temps, and, then, on the way back down when we shock them for refrigeration. You can only pass through that zone so many times, because autolytic mechanisms mimic bacterial infection, and can create toxicity in foods that spend long times in the temperature danger zone(s).
- TEMPERATURE. Temperature, we’re all familiar with that aspect, even though the rules have changed somewhat. For the most part, bacteria react to temperature the same way that humans do. Between 70F and 90F, we’re pretty active. Temps between 40F and 70F won’t kill us, but we slow down a bit. Temps above 90F slow us down too, and by the time it hits 120F, we start kicking off. Bacteria, and most living things, are exactly the same in this regard.
- OXYGEN. Oxygen, right, check. There are bacteria like Botulins that don’t like oxygen, but most of them do.
- MOISTURE. Moisture. This is another one of the ancient methods. Primitive populations discovered that jerky and pemmican and even dried fish would remain wholesome longer than the fresh stuff. We don’t think about it much, but moisture content has a LOT to do with food safety. Things like prosciutto and even bacon depend on reduced moisture level to discourage bacterial infection.
End of sermon, let’s make some escabeche.
- Trout, one, hopefully almost a pound.
- EVOO, 1/3 cup/80ml per lb. of trout, even though any neutral salad oil will serve well.
- Balsamic Vinegar, 1 oz/30ml per lb. of trout, even though any vinegar will do. I will write an article about vinegar misconceptions one of these days.
- Onion, white or yellow, sliced into rings as thin as possible, and then cut into fourths.
- Sugar, 1 tablespoon/20g per lb. of trout.
- S+P, a pinch.
- Yes, parsley. Even dried, if that’s what you have to do.
- After sealing the trout in a Ziploc or vacuum bag, process it sous vide @135F/57Cx30 minutes.
- Remove from tank, shock to 70F/21C, and refrigerate to 40F/4.5C.
- Split the skin along the top of the fish to make it easier to remove. Rub the fish lightly with a moist towel to remove the skin.
- There are a zillion ways to do this, but I like to use a spoon to crease the middle, and then push the filets away from the fish, exposing the spine.
- After that, you can just grab the spine at the head end and lift it off. It looks easy. It is. Calm. Breathe. Don’t let anybody watch.
- Gently break the pieces apart, and lay out in a flat dish with sides high enough to hold some liquid.
- Slice the onion as thin as possible, and cut quarter rings as shown.
- Sprinkle the onions lightly over the fish, kosher salt, ground pepper, and little bit of parsley.
- Drizzle with 2 oz. of the EVOO and a scant oz. of the Balsamic vinegar.
Make a Salad!
Baby kale, baby chard, and baby spinach.
- They’re calling these Campari tomatoes, but I’m pretty sure that’s a marketing thing. Surprisingly flavorful for hot house tomatoes though.
- Do this, and then you get this.
- and THIS. WOW!
- But I wanted lunch, so I did it like this.