Yet another way to add more flavor

Escabeche calls for marinating food after it's cooked

May 05, 2004|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,SUN STAFF

Latin cuisine is known for its hot side: spicy poblanos and jalapenos, fiery paellas and saucy salsa that seems to dance on the tongue.

But its cooler side seems to be catching on, too. Escabeche, a cooking technique that originated in Spain, is becoming popular both in home and restaurant cooking.

Escabeche (es-keh-BESH) requires marinating meat or fish after it's been cooked, preferably overnight. Some diners confuse it with ceviche, for which the chef places raw fish in a marinade and the fish pickles within a few hours.

But in escabeche, the food is completely cooked before it's marinated. The process gives fish and chicken another opportunity to soak up flavor - once while it's cooked and then again during the marinating process.

"It's a little bit of a unique concept to the general population, who are generally not used to marinating after cooking," said Laurie Harrsen, director of public relations for McCormick & Co. spice company. "It's very flavorful and refreshing, especially this time of year."

Escabeche has long been popular in Latin America as well as in France, Jamaica and Belgium. At Tio Pepe, chef Emiliano Sanz makes escabeche about four or five times every summer, serving it as a lunch special with onions, celery and carrots. "Normally, it's good for summertime," said Sanz, who learned the technique in Spain decades ago.

Harrsen says she's not surprised that escabeche is catching on among home cooks in the United States, as well. For one thing, the cooks can reuse the marinade as a salad dressing or sauce - something they can't do for safety reasons when the meat or fish is raw.

For another, the chef can experiment with different ingredients to control the calories and fat in the marinade. Because many marinades have a vinegar base, they tend to be lower in calories than a prepackaged salad dressing.

Mexicans celebrate Cinco de Mayo to commemorate their victory over the French in the Battle of Puebla in 1862. But because many Americans have taken to celebrating with a margarita and some nachos, it seems appropriate to invite escabeche to the Latin party.

It's easy to make at home. You'll want to start with the marinade. McCormick's flavor experts suggest using soy sauce, honey and vanilla extract along with vinegar as a marinade base, then adding garlic, basil and pepper to enhance the flavor.

It's particularly important to marinate with sweet flavors, because the cooking process can dull those, says Harrsen.

Chicken cooked the escabeche way can spice up a garden salad. Add pistachios, mango slices and some fresh mozzarella, pour on the remaining marinade as dressing, and it adds up to a tangy, filling meal. Likewise, salmon or tuna marinated after cooking and then tossed over pasta works well, with the extra marinade doing double duty as sauce.

Despite its origins, the dish doesn't have to be Latin. Depending on the marinade, the fish or chicken can quickly switch ethnic allegiances. For example, if you throw in a low-calorie peanut sauce or peanut butter, escabeche can work for a Thai theme.

Order the escabeche at Loco Hombre, and what you get is a seafood trio - tuna, shrimp and salmon - neatly laid out with a tangy yogurt sauce to match. The salmon is prepared ceviche-style - that is, pickled in citric acid. But the shrimp and tuna are pure escabeche.

Chef Jake Fatica steams the shrimp, then marinates it in olive oil and spices for three days. Likewise, he cooks the tuna and marinates it for three days in a cumin-yogurt sauce. This dish is one of the restaurant's top three appetizer sellers. Fatica said it does well because seafood fits well into most diets. Also, he says, the combination of marinated cooked foods may attract people who otherwise wouldn't want to order raw items in a Mexican restaurant.

"If we were an Asian restaurant, we would have no problem serving sushi-grade tuna. But when the majority of our items are enchiladas and fajitas, I just don't think rare tuna is what they're looking for," Fatica said.

Malaysian Chicken on Fresh Greens

Serves 6

1/2 cup rice-wine vinegar

2 tablespoons sesame oil

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon peanut butter

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper

2 packages (6 ounces each) grilled chicken-breast strips

Combine rice-wine vinegar, sesame oil, soy sauce, peanut butter and spices in medium bowl and mix well. Stir in chicken. Toss to coat with marinade.

Refrigerate for an hour, stirring occasionally. Toss over a fresh green salad with sprouts, carrots and radishes.

Per serving: 143 calories; 7 grams fat; 14 grams protein; 6 grams carbohydrate

- Recipe and analysis from McCormick & Co.

Caribbean Marinated Shrimp and Scallops

Serves 8

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 pound sea scallops

1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 cup diced bell pepper (red or yellow or both)

3/4 cup minced red onion

3 tablespoons thinly sliced green onions


1/3 cup orange juice

2 tablespoons lime juice

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon Caribbean jerk seasoning

1 tablespoon basil leaves

Heat vegetable oil in a skillet under high heat. Add scallops and sear for 1/2 minute to 2 minutes per side. Transfer scallops to medium bowl and chill.

Saute shrimp in same pan for 4 minutes or until the shrimp turn pink. Transfer shrimp to another bowl and chill.

Combine marinade ingredients in large bowl. Add chilled shrimp, pepper and onions. Cut chilled scallops into quarters; add to bowl; toss well. Cover and refrigerate at least an hour.

Per serving: 183 calories; 7 grams fat; 23 grams protein; 7 grams carbohydrate

-- Recipe and analysis from McCormick & Co.

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