Tilapia Escovitch

I was first introduced to the concept of the “Escovitch” style of preparation by my friend and former colleague, Chef Mario Martinez.  Mario was originally born in Spain and spent many years working aboard cruise ships in the Caribbean where he encountered this method of preparation.  Chef Mario’s recipe below is for Red Snapper which is delicious but other thin slices of fish can be used.  I presented this recipe this past weekend at the Americasmart wholesale market in Atlanta and substituted Tilapia for the Snapper.

Guests will love the bold, pungent flavors of the garlic, ginger, and habanero chilies.  You’ll love the fact that it makes a great dish for entertaining because it is delicious at room temperature as well as hot right out of the pan.  The Spanish “Escabeche” style of preparation was originally created to pickle the fish as a means of preservation.


Tilapia en Escabeche 2



Tilapia Scaloppine Escovitch
“Pescado en Escabeche” is a traditional Spanish dish in which fish(often swordfish) is cooked and then marinated with a pickled vegetable mixture. It is often served in tapas bars throughout Spain. This style of preparation was taken to the Caribbean with Spanish Jews that emigrated to avoid persecution during the Spanish inquisition. This is a quick version of the Jamaican rendition called “Escovitch” which uses a Scotch Bonnet or Habanero chile pepper and fresh thyme . This dish is great for buffet entertaining because it can be served both hot or at room temperature.

4 Servings
4 red snapper fillets (6-8 oz.) skinless, boneless and cut into ½ thick slices
½ cup all-purpose flour, seasoned to taste with 1 tablespoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper
½ cup olive oil
1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
2 bay leaves
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and sliced into 1 ½-inch long very thin strips
1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded and sliced into 1 ½-inch long very thin strips
1 large carrot, peeled, cut into 1 ½-inch long planks and sliced into 1/8” thin strips
1 Scotch Bonnet (or Habanero) pepper, seeded and sliced into very thin strips*
1 cup water
2 large sprigs fresh thyme, bruised on cutting board with the side of a chef’s knife
½ cup malt vinegar (sherry wine vinegar or cider vinegar also work)
Salt, to taste
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Preheat oven to lowest setting. Oven will be used to keep fish warm while finishing the dish.

Dredge the snapper slices through the seasoned flour and arrange on a sheet pan. Heat half the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Saute the floured snapper slices until lightly golden on each side, remove skillet from heat, transfer the sautéed snapper slices to a serving platter and hold in the warm oven.

Return the skillet to the heat with the remaining olive oil and sauté the garlic and ginger with the bay leaves for 1 minute. Add the peppers, onion, carrot, and Scotch Bonnet pepper and sauté another 1-2 minutes. Add the water and thyme sprig and deglaze the bottom of the pan; allow the liquid to reduce 20-30 seconds. Remove the bay leaves and thyme sprigs. Add the vinegar, season to taste with salt and remove from the heat. Remove the serving platter with the snapper slices from the oven. Top the snapper with the sautéed vegetable mixture and garnish with chopped parsley.

*When handling potent chile peppers such as Scotch Bonnets or habaneros, work with latex gloves, because even repeated hand washing will not be effective in removing the large amounts of capsaicin (the compound that gives chile peppers their fiery nature) which can irritate the eyes and skin.


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