Thursday, June 3, 2010
Micro Fish Eater: Whiting Escabeche
Perhaps the highlight of my Memorial Day weekend was this whiting escabeche. Served on my roof overlooking an unusually quiet Brooklyn thoroughfare, with a loaf of crusty bread and a bottle of wine, this escabeche ushered in summer -- not with a big bang, but with a mixture of deep and arresting flavors and textures.
Escabeche is popular in North Africa, Southern Europe, and the Caribbean as a method of preparation, relying on vinegar or wine to preserve and thereby allowing the dish to keep for days at a time. Frequently, as is above, fish is lightly sauteed and then marinated with vinegar, olive oil and lots of optional aromatics.
James Peterson, in his encyclopedic Fish & Shellfish, calls for sardines, but unfortunately none were available at the monger's that morning. Instead, whiting. Gutted and filleted, it's quickly dipped in flour, then 1-2-3 in the frying pan before it's doused with vinegar and onions, thyme, olive oil, garlic, bay leaves, parsley and olives. Into the fridge it goes until appetizer time. Served at room temperature with good bread (and even better wine), you've got yourself the start of a fantastic evening.
While lots of fish can be substituted for the sardines, Peterson's recipe provides a helpful framework from which to begin.
Sardine Escabeche (from James Peterson's Fish & Shellfish)
18-30 fresh sardines, about 3 lbs, cleaned with scales rubbed off
salt and pepper
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 cup olive oil
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, peeled
2/3 cup sherry vinegar or white wine vinegar
2 bay leaves
1/2 fresh thyme, or 1/4 t. dried
2 T finely chopped parsley
1/2 cup green French or Italian olives, pitted and coarsely chopped (these are optional, but highly recommended. Other optional additions in Peterson's recipe include pearl onions, fennel, and baby artichokes).
Season the fillets or whole fish with salt and pepper and dredge them in flour. Pat off any excess flour.
Over medium to high heat, brown the fish for about 1 1/2 minutes per side in 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a non-stick pan. Especially if you're using fillets, keep the fish slightly undercooked so that they won't fall apart when stirred with the marinade. Transfer the cooked fish to a bowl or square casserole large enough to hold them in a single layer.
Wipe out the saute pan and add 2 more tablespoons of olive oil. Cook the red onion and garlic over medium heat until the onion softens but remain crisp, about 8 minutes. Pour in the vinegar, bring to a simmer, and add the bay leaves and thyme. Simmer gently for 5 minutes, then pour in the rest of the olive oil and the parsley. Pour this mixture over the fish. Let cool, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, but up to 3 days.