Escabèche – Fried and Marinated Mackerel

Escabeche 3Escabèche is a Spanish method of preparing fish, first with a quick, hot sear then with a long, leisurely bath in olive oil, vinegar, herbs and spices. The vinegar finishes “cooking” the fish, producing moist, flaky flesh with a tangy, refreshing flavor. Spoon the fish and sauce over greens, and an instant salad is made.

It’s hard to find fish recipes that taste better as the week goes on, but this is exactly the point of escabèche. You can eat it after 6 hours or so of marinating, or over the course of a week. While any type of white fish works well, always consider sardines or mackerel for escabèche. The spicy, vinegary sauce tames the strong flavor of fatty fish. High levels of healthy omega-3 fats and low mercury levels make fresh sardines and mackerel the perfect fish to consume. And now, you have another easy and delicious way to serve them.

Servings: 4

Time in the Kitchen: 25 minutes, plus at least 6 hours to marinate


  • 1 pound/450 g white, flaky fish cut into 4 pieces, or 8 whole sardines or mackerel, filleted
  • ¼ teaspoon smoked paprika (1.2 ml)
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter (15 ml)
  • 2 tablespoons plus 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided (30 ml/160 ml)
  • 2 shallots, thinly sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 2 bell peppers, seeded and cut into thin strips
  • ½ cup white wine or red wine vinegar (120ml)
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt (2.5 ml)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 6 thyme sprigs
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes or 1 hot chile, thinly sliced (2.5 ml)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley (optional) (30 ml)


Season fish with paprika a generous sprinkle of salt.


Melt butter and 1 tablespoon (15 ml) olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Sear the fish on both sides until lightly browned, about 2 minutes per side. The fish should be browned, but not cooked through. Remove from the skillet and place in a glass or ceramic dish just big enough so the fish fits snugly.

Step 2

Wipe out the skillet to remove any black bits of fish leftover. Heat another tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add shallots, garlic and bell peppers. Cook just long enough to soften the shallot and bell pepper, about 4 minutes. Add the vinegar, salt, bay leaves, thyme sprigs and red pepper flakes. Bring to a low simmer for 5 minutes then add the remaining ¾ cup olive oil.

Pour the hot mixture of oil and vinegar over the fish, making sure most, if not all, of the fish is submerged. Cool to room temp. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 6 hours before eating. The fish will stay fresh and can be eaten over the next 3 to 5 days or so.

Sprinkle parsley on top before serving.


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9 thoughts on “Escabèche – Fried and Marinated Mackerel”

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  1. Mackerel is a most underrated fish. We in North America could learn so much from other cultures who eat anything!

    My favorite is smoked mackerel. Used to get it in the Netherlands when stopping there with my ship. Smoked mackerel and beer. Om Nom Nom.

  2. This looks like it would make a superb main-meal salad, no matter what type of fish is used. I’d like to first try it with less oil. 2/3 cup of EVOO is a LOT, depending on how much the fish absorbs. Spanish cooking always involves a ton of olive oil, but some of us might prefer the dish to be not quite so rich.

  3. So – you’re not cooking the fish more than 2 minutes per side? Then pouring the hot marinade over top and serving cold later?
    I don’t get it.

  4. Huh… I usually reach for the salmon, but the way it is prepared sounds like I will try Mackerel. I usually like to prep my food 4 or 5 days in advance and I usually do not try that with fish but this way I may be able to have a couple days of fresh fish meal preps. Thanks for the article!

  5. Looks very nice but I’m not sure how well it would work with the canned mackerel we have to make do with Down Under.

  6. This was amazing, so quick to put together (I did it in the morning after breakfast on a work from home day), and the flavor combo was fabulous. It’s really hot here at the moment and it was the perfect summer dish.
    The amount of oil and vinegar is right, I used slightly more fish than the recipe and 2/3 oil was right. I used gummy because we don’t get mackerel in southern Australia, it worked great. A new fave.