Saturday, March 24, 2012


Quail legs in escabeche marinade make a tasty tapa.
Escabeche is one of my favorite cooking methods. I use it for fish, poultry and game. The procedure, which involves putting cooked food into a vinegar marinade, makes tangy foods that are great for tapas and for salads.

Escabeche is an ancient way of preserving foods. Hunting once was much a part of rural life in every region of Spain. where small game—rabbit, hare, partridge and quail—were free for the taking on scrubby hillsides and in dry ravines. During the season when hunters returned with an abundance, the game would be dressed-out and cooked in a marinade, then packed into clay pots. Olive oil in the marinade would rise to the top and create a protective seal, allowing the escabeche foods to be kept for several months during the cold season. Chunks of marinated meat could be reheated with beans or added, cold, to salads.

Typically, escabeche is made with white wine, vinegar, olive oil, onion, garlic, salt, peppercorns, pimentón or dried chile, cloves and bay leaf. In order to conserve the game, the marinade needed to be very strong in vinegar. Nowadays, with refrigeration, the escabeche is not so sharp.

Escabeche marinade is also used with fish, both fresh water trout, pike and tench, and seafood such as mackerel, sardines and oysters. Fish is gutted, floured and fried until thoroughly cooked. Then hot escabeche marinade is poured over the pieces of fish. Left to marinate for a day or two, the fish acquires a delicious tang. Escabeche fish is usually served as a cold dish, on a bed of lettuce and garnished with lemon and sliced tomatoes.

When  preparing escabeche marinades, use nonreactive pans and bowls—glass or ceramic. Dusting the fish or poultry pieces with flour before frying keeps them from splattering in the hot oil and allows them to brown nicely. If using leftover cooked food (for example, roast turkey), simply add it to the marinade and bring to a boil. It does not need to cook further. Warming escabeche before serving helps to liquefy the jellied marinade. The foods can can be served warm or room temperature. 

ChupaChups de Codorniz en Escabeche
Lollipops of Quail in Escabeche Marinade

ChupaChups is a popular brand of lollipop. Eat these miniscule quail legs right off the bone like a lolly, a two-bite tapa. Leave drumstick and thigh connected if you’re cutting them from whole quail. This recipe can also be prepared using chicken drumettes, the thick, first joint of a chicken wing. 

To serve as finger food, reheat the legs or wings to liquefy the sauce and skim them out of the liquid. If desired, wrap ends in foil, and serve with paper napkins, as they are a bit messy. They can also be used in the following recipe for Salad of Pickled Partridge or Chicken.

Makes 12 tapas.

12 whole quail legs or chicken wings
Flour for dredging
Salt and pepper
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 leek (white part only), sliced
1 carrot, sliced crosswise
1 slice of onion
1 slice of lemon
2 cloves garlic, slivered lengthwise
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon pimentón (paprika) stirred into 1 tablespoon water
1 small dry red chile (optional)
10 peppercorns
1 teaspoon oregano
2 teaspoons salt
1 cup water
 ½ cup white wine
½ cup wine vinegar
Salad greens and cherry tomatoes, to serve

Sprinkle the quail legs with salt and pepper. Dredge them in flour and shake off excess. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a skillet on medium heat. Brown the quail on both sides, about 2 minutes. Remove. Wipe out the pan.

Add remaining 2 tablespoons of oil to the pan with the leek, carrot, onion, lemon, garlic, bay leaf, pimentón, chile, if using; peppercorns, oregano, salt, water, wine and vinegar. Bring to a boil. Return the quail to the pan. Cover and simmer until quail is tender, but not falling off the bone, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat and allow the quail to cool in the marinade.

Cover and refrigerate at least 24 hours or up to 48 hours. Serve cold or room temperature, garnished with salad leaves and tomatoes.

Salad of chicken wing escabeche.
Ensalada con Escabeche
Escabeche Salad

Partridge in spiced escabeche is an emblematic dish of La Mancha (central Spain). If you find canned pickled partridge at gourmet shops, serve it in this delectable salad. The salad is almost as good made with chicken wings in escabeche. Strip the meat from the bones, discarding most of the skin too. You’ll need the meat from about 8 wings (16 wing pieces) to serve 4. Use some of the carrots from the marinade in the salad too. The salad can be garnished with pickled mushrooms and onions. Or, omit the pickles and scatter pomegranate seeds over the salad.

Serves 4.

4 cups mixed salad greens
3 cups boned partridge or chicken wings in escabeche plus pickling liquid
8 hard-cooked quail eggs, halved, or 4 hard-cooked eggs, quartered
Cherry tomatoes or sliced plum tomatoes
¼ teaspoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons chopped scallions
Pickled mushrooms, optional
Pickled onions, optional
Olives or capers
4 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Divide the salad greens between 4 salad plates. Divide the boned partridge or chicken between the plates. If there are carrot pieces in the escabeche, scatter them around the partridge or chicken.

Garnish the partridge with hard-cooked eggs, tomatoes, oregano, scallions, pickled mushrooms and onions, if using, olives or capers.

If escabeche liquid is jellied, heat it briefly in microwave or in a saucepan to liquefy. Drizzle 2 teaspoons of the pickling liquid over each salad. Dribble 1 teaspoon oil over each. Garnish with chopped parsley.


  1. The quail recipe sounds easy but I wish I had someone in the kitchen to walk me through it the first time I try it. Trial and Error are lousy teachers as I have learned the hard way. I see a lot of really fat quails on my bike rides near La Albufera. I think they must gorge themselves on the rice that abounds there, but I could be wrong. I'm as fat as a tick after Fallas but when I return to my fighting weight I will give these a go.

    1. Leftbanker: I buy farm-raised quail at the meat market. Once, a butcher with nothing else to do agreed to bone out a dozen quail for me--breasts and legs, wings and carcass for soup. Makes prepping so easy!

  2. Hi Janet -- This post brings up mouthwatering memories of the trout in escabeche I had in the Sierras de Cazorla -- I couldn't get enough. You make the process sound so unintimidating and doable. How long do you store partridge or fish preserved this way? Thank you! I look forward to reading what's cooking for Semana Santa.

    1. Ansley: my recipe is not a true conserve, so keep it in the fridge up to 5 days. When preparing trout or mackerel in escabeche, rather than fry the pieces of fish, as in the authentic preparation, I tend to cook them right in the vinegar marinade, then allow to cool. Again, store up to 5 days. Having done "If it's Good Friday, it must be bacalao" TWICE already, I may jump straight to Easter Sunday this year!