Escabeche Lapu Lapu with crisply-fried grouper, pickled bell peppers, and papaya in a sweet and tangy sauce.
I was going to update these old escabeche lapu lapu photos for our 24 Days to Christmas special series, but I couldn’t find a big enough fish at the Asian supermarkets I frequent. Of course, any type or size of firm-fleshed fish such as tilapia, red snapper (Maya Maya), talikitok, apahap or tanique is fine to use in this recipe, but I just think a hefty grouper is more party-worthy and would look more impressive on a holiday table.
Anyway, I am not going to sweat about how badly these pictures need reshooting. After all, it’s all about the taste and this Filipino-style sweet and sour fish is amah-zing! With crisply-fried whole fish smothered in colorful bell peppers, shredded papaya, and a perfectly sweet and tangy sauce, it is sure to be a crowd favorite.
What is in Escabeche?
Escabeche refers to a type of dish popular in Latin and Mediterranean cuisine wherein meat or fish are marinated and cooked in an acidic mixture such as vinegar or citrus juices. Assorted vegetables such as peppers, onions, and carrots are also commonly added for color and texture.
Filipino escabeche is a local adaptation of this Spanish dish and traditionally made of poached or fried fish. The cooked fish is smothered in a sweet and sour sauce and garnished with tender-crisp vegetables such as bell peppers and shredded papaya.
How to Make Sweet and Sour Sauce
The escabeche sauce is traditionally made of a simple mixture of vinegar and sugar with ketchup added for color and cornstarch or flour for thickening. I am updating my recipe to include pineapple juice as I tried it on sweet and sour meatballs (recipe coming tomorrow!) and its tart, fruity flavor really takes the sauce up a notch.
The measurements of 1 cup pineapple, 1/4 cup rice vinegar, 1/4 cup ketchup, and 1/4 cup brown sugar deliver the perfect balance of sweet and tangy I like, which is, of course, free for you to tweak as needed. If you’re using palm vinegar such as Datu Puti or distilled white vinegar, you might want to adjust the amount of vinegar called for in the recipe as the rice variety has a more muted acid taste.
Although other variants of escabeche can be served cold, this Filipino version is best enjoyed hot and fresh from the stove or at the very least at room temperature as the sauce tends to congeal.
- 1(2 to 3 pounds) whole Lapu Lapu (grouper)
- salt and pepper to taste
- canola oil
- 1small onion, peeled and sliced thinly
- 3clovesgarlic, peeled and minced
- 1thumb-size ginger, peeled and julienned
- 1/2small green papaya, peeled and grated
- 1small red bell pepper, seeded and cut into strips
- 1small green bell pepper, seeded and cut into strips
- 1cuppineapple juice
- 1/4cup rice vinegar
- 1/4cupbrown sugar
Clean and gut the fish. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
In a wide pan over medium heat, heat about 2-inch deep of oil. Add fish and cook, turning once or twice, until golden, crisp, and cooked through. Remove from heat and drain on paper towels. Keep warm.
In a pan over medium heat, heat about 1 tablespoon of oil. Add onions, garlic, and ginger and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened.
Add grated papaya and bell peppers and cook, stirring regularly, until tender yet crisp.
In a bowl, combine pineapple juice, rice vinegar, ketchup, brown sugar, and salt. Add to pan and bring to a boil.
In a small bowl, combine cornstarch and water. Stir until smooth. Add to the pan and continue to cook, whisking continuously, for about 1 to 2 minutes or until sauce thickens.
Place fried fish on a serving platter and top with sweet and sour sauce mixture.