Escabeche or Sweet and Sour Fish

Escabeche is the homelier, more Filipino-ey version of Chinese sweet and sour fish. Just as leftover rice is the perfect excuse for making Garlic Rice, leftover fried fish is the perfect excuse for whipping up Escabeche. This recipe then is a good tool in the war against food waste.

Fried fish is a staple in my family menu simply because we are well… just your typical Filipino family. Leftover fried fish, however, has a way of going limp and greasy and just beyond hopes of reviving. I oftentimes grill them back to a semblance of crispness, or flake and debone them and drop them into my Filipino Vegetable Stew with Coconut Milk. However, still the best way to jazz leftover fried fish is to cook Escabeche.

My kids love Escabeche because of the following reasons:
  • It’s sweet and sour. And Filipinos have a thing for sweet and sour.
  • It’s complex. Sweet, salty, sour, spicy and hot all intermingle together.
  • It’s saucy. Really, given a choice between limp fried fish and thick and saucy Escabeche, the choice is rather obvious, right?
  • It doesn’t look leftover. At all. Steaming, red-hot sauce looks and tastes very new.
  • It’s good for pouring over a mound of rice. And Filipinos have a thing for rice.

On my part, I love escabeche because it magically transforms the most ordinary of fish to scrumptious. Best of all, it makes use of a variety of herbs. And I have a thing for herbs and antioxidants. Here is the herbal cast of characters:
  • fresh ginger root
  • garlic
  • onion
  • red bell pepper

Other healthful ingredients include the following:
  • raw, unpasteurized coconut vinegar
  • muscovado sugar

Now the funny thing about Escabeche is you simply have to wing it. There’s no other way to do otherwise simply because you don’t plan leftovers — well, not always Here’s how to wing it.

herbs for escabeche
Mise en place first. Chop up herbs that you think would be enough to flavor the sauce. This is tricky. To be safe, refer to the recipe below. Later, you can adjust according to your family’s tastes.

Size up the volume of the leftover fish. This here consists of about 8 single-serving-sized fishes that are most ordinary. Find a shallow serving dish that would be most appropriate for the volume of the fish.

Make a volume of base sauce that you think would be enough to cover the fish — in this case about 2 cups of sauce would be more like it — actually 3 as my family adore Escabeche sauce. My Escabeche sauce, no matter the volume, has this fixed proportion:
2  parts very sour coconut vinegar (raw and unpasteurized)
1 part water
1 part catsup (Filipinos use banana catsup)
2 parts muscovado sugar

Now that everything’s ready, here’s the recipe. The following recipe is for that many fishes as pictured. (You may click on the links to know the health benefits of each highlighted ingredient.)


  1. Heat coconut oil in wok or frying pan. Saute the herbs in the following order: ginger, garlic, onion, tomatoes, red bell pepper, carrots. You want the ginger to go fragrant, the garlic to go brown, the onions to go limp, the tomatoes to go mushy and the red bell pepper and carrots to still be crisp.
  2. Pour in the vinegar, water, banana catsup and muscovado sugar. Bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves.
  3. Add in the fish and simmer for about a minute or two. You don’t want to soften the fish, just enough to meld the flavors together. Season with salt or sugar or vinegar or catsup according to your taste.
  4. When the taste is to your liking, pour in the cornstarch mixture and stir until bubbly and thick. Remove from fire and serve.

The steps may look formidably long and the ingredients intimidatingly many but if you try it once, you’ll realize it’s really just simple.

Why not fry just a little more fish than you need today? Just so you can make Escabeche a day later, you know. I do that often, actually. (Wink.)

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