Escabeche, or escabechados, are foods that are fried or steamed and then cooked or sometimes just stored in a mild brine. They can turn up as tapas or main courses and served cold or at room temperature.

Sardinas en EscabecheSardinas en Escabeche

For centuries, before the arrival of refrigeration and canning, this technique was used for preserving foods. In his wonderful book Catalan Cuisine, Colman Andrews explains that the word escabeche comes from the Perso-Arabic sikbaj, or "vinegar stew", a reminder of one of many culinary traditions the Moors introduced to the Spanish.

Partridge, quail, pheasant, chicken, trout, sardines, tuna, and mussels are among the foods most commonly prepared en escabeche. The brines generally include vinegar; olive oil; and wine, stock, or water; or a combination. These liquids are often, but not always, added in equal parts. Because sherry vinegar is strong flavoured, it is not commonly used. If you use it in place of the red wine or white wine vinegar in an escabeche recipe, add only half the amount called for and make up the difference with water, wine or stock.

A typical escabeche recipe

To give you an idea of the typical ingredient proportions, here is an example of a basic escabeches that would be suitable for 1 chicken: 


  • 1 cup red or white wine vinegar
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, halved
  • 10 black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon sweet pimenton
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 rosemary sprig
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 medium chicken


Combine the liquids and the spices into a marinade, stirring well to mix the flavours.

Cut the chicken into serving pieces, brown them in a skillet, add the marinade, and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes or so until cooked through.

Let the food cool completely in the escabeche brine and then store in the brine at cool room temperature for a day or so or in the refrigerator for up to a week.

If you are cooking small items, such as sardines, mussels, or bite-sized chunks of chicken,  reduce the cooking time to 10 minutes. If you are preparing large pieces, such a whole partridge, increase the cooking time to 1 or 1 1/2 hours. 

See also

Mejillones en escabeche: En escabeche is a traditional method of preserving foods that was frequently used before refrigeration. Castilla– La Mancha is known for its superb escabeches, of which this is just one good example. The mussels will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week. 

Pollo en Escabeche: Cooking chicken with escabeche is ideal for the summer, when you want to prepare a dish ahead of time. It is a simplified version of the traditional escabeche, and the process couldn't be easier. You can keep this dish refrigerated for a few days and then serve it cold or at room temperature. A green salad is a good accompaniment. 

Perdiz Escabechada

Perdiz escabechada: As you leave behind the famous plains of Castilla-La Mancha and head south, you reach the Sierra Morena, which leads into neighbouring Andalusia. This large, mountainous area is a haven for hunters, who come for the partridges, among other game. La Carolina, a town in the area, has a hotel and restaurant called La Perdiz, which is renowned for its partridge dishes, including the birds prepared en escabeche. This recipe echoes a dish served there.

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