Preserving Jews and All Sorts of Fish: Escabeche

An innovative and highly profitable method of borrowing money was practiced by King Edward I of England: you borrow from the Jews, as there was no one else to borrow from (usury was forbidden by the church), then, since legally all Jews were the King’s property, all debts payable to them instantly become payable to you. All you have to do is to kill some and expel the rest. To quote Mel Brooks, “It’s good to be the king!”

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Edward I issued the expulsion edict in 1290, two hundred years earlier than the famous expulsion from Spain by Isabella and Ferdinand. Although there are some dubious records of hidden Jews living in England here and there, mostly practicing as physicians, officially Jews were not readmitted until Cromwell, having just executed King Charles I and feeling magnanimous, allowed them to resettle in 1655.

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Meanwhile, things were literally getting hot for Jews all over Europe, and eventually the fires of inquisition, under the leadership of Their Most Catholic Majesties Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain, consumed thousands. Meanwhile, Queen Isabella’s daughter, Infanta Catalina of Aragon became Queen Catherine of England, the first wife of Henry VIII. Supposedly, the Spanish Ambassador, who was her only contact with her parents, was a hidden Jew, “marrano,” as they were derisively labeled in Spanish (it means a pig). Supposedly, there were a few “marrano” physicians around who were more knowledgeable and thus more in demand than barbers who practiced bloodletting. Certainly, when Henry decided to annul his marriage to Catherine in order to marry Anne Bolein, he engaged an Italian Jew Marco Rafael to help him make a case. Quite a few hidden Jews resided in London during his reign (http://www.jewishgen.org), but how did they get there? Enter a remarkable lady, “the grand dame” of both Jewish and European history, Doña Gracia Nasi Mendes.

Coming from an ancient prominent family (Nasi is not a name but a title equivalent to Prince) and widowed at a young age, she built a spice trade fleet to transport thousands of Jews to safety. In 1537 Doña Gracia, together with her daughter, sister and two nephews departed Lisbon on an English ship bound for London.  “Eventually they sailed to Antwerp, arriving by late February 1538.  Judging from this and other incidents there seems to have been an organized network for transporting Portuguese Jewish refugees to the Netherlands.  Using the spice trade as cover, they headed initially to an English port where they awaited news of the situation at their destination.  If this was unfavorable, they usually disembarked at Southampton and then proceeded to London” (ibid.).

Scene from an Inquisition, by Francisco Goya, 1819.

To feed desperate people secretly stuffed into ship holds like, well, like fish in a barrel, a recipe well-known in Spain was implemented: Escabeche, fish first fried, then marinated in something acidic. Even though the easy and delicious way of preserving fish has long been known in Persian and Arabic lands, it’s “the Jews fleeing the Inquisition” who had brought it to England (http://www.foodtimeline.org).  The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy by Hannah Glasse, published in 1796, includes a recipe The Jews way of preserving Salmon, and all Sorts of Fish which is a basic Escabeche.

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I usually make Escabeche for Shabbos of Pesach (Passover), as it could be served either hot or cold and is equally delicious both ways. My grandmother dredged fish fillets in potato starch, while I use coconut flour instead, but to get that Odessa flavor that we crave, I make it with typical Odessa fish – flounder. I don’t have a ship full of spices, as Doña Gracia did, so I simply mix coconut flour with allspice and sea salt.  Then I dredge fish through this mix and lightly fry it on barely misted with oil frying pan.

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The second step is marinating, and I do that with lemon juice. To continue with the tropical theme, I also sprinkle my fish with coconut flakes. A classic Escabeche will just sit in marinade for a while, but since I don’t fry my fish to full readiness, I prefer to bake it in marinade for about ten minutes.

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If you believe Hannah Glasse, “They will keep good a twelve-month,” but served on Friday night and accompanied by my papaya and kale salad (for recipe, click here), they instantly disappeared. Sadly, I never had a chance to test her assertion – maybe next year, when we all meet in Yerushalayim!

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 lbs flounder fillets
  • 1 cup coconut flour
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened coconut flakes

PROCEDURE

  • Preheat oven to 350 F. Preheat shallow frying pan, lightly mist with oil.
  • Mix coconut flour with allspice and salt, dredge fish fillets through mix making sure to cover thoroughly.
  • Fry for 1 minute on each side. Remove. Place fish fillets in one layer into lightly misted with oil baking pan. Pour lemon juice over fish, sprinkle coconut flakes. Bake covered for 10 minutes.
  • Could be served either hot or cold.

Enjoy!

 

 

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73 Comments Add yours

    1. Good evening, dear!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Safek says:

    I love the story and the recipe! I’ve never had escabeche myself and I wonder how it would be with either salmon or halibut? I might also be able to find arctic cod.

    It really seems like the story of Egypt gets replayed over and over again throughout Jewish history. The Jews are initially welcomed to a nation, even exalted for their contributions only to be faced with vicious anti-semitism and expulsion a few generations later.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. You’re so right, and Shlomo haMelech said it best: “There is nothing new under the sun and the moon…” Hopefully, Mashiach will come real soon, and we’ll all meet next year in Yerushalayim!
      Escabeche is delicious with salmon, and generally could be made with any fish and any spices. I was limited in terms of spices since I made it on Pesach, but during the year I would make it of any fish my husband catches (or I catch at the farmer’s market), and add cumin, bay leaf, diced tomatoes, peppercorn, and cilantro. You can throw in anything you want – it’ll only benefit!

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for reblogging

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Once again a super story, and the recipe also wonderful. Thx also for the link to jewishgen.org. I dont remembered, but in future i have to do some research in this direction. Have a nice evening. 😉 Michael

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much, Michael, you are so kind!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great recipe – I love fish and I also love the history too 😺 Thank you very much 🐟🐟🐟

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you so much for your kind comment, Samantha!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great post, I like when you blend history and seafood together. I don’t think I’ve had escabeche but had something similar in Portugal and growing up most of the fish was fried and covered in lemon. My grandfather has a knack for getting every last drop from a lemon, it’s amazing.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You are so right! Contrary to what most sources say, it did actually come to England from Portugal, rather than Spain, but the name was spelled a little differently, I think. I get every drop of lemon from a bottle – we are not like our grandmothers, unfortunately!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Interesting use of coconut here. I’m sure it’s very tasty. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Ronit! When I make it not on Pesach, I use spelt flour and load it with all kinds of spices, but here I was limited as to what I could use.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Necessity is the mother of invention! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  6. When you said preserving the Jews, my first thought was Queen Esther. But then, I couldn’t make a fish connection!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Not many people know about Dona Gracia Mendes, but this is real history, i.e. I didn’t make it up – I cite sources. What a lady!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. What a lady, indeed!! Thanks for the lesson!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thank you for reading my stories, girl friend!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. You’re so welcome. I love ’em!

        Liked by 1 person

      4. …the cake is still waiting to be posted…

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Working on it!! I promise!! It’s a coming!

        Liked by 1 person

      6. I can see it coming, from around the corner!

        Liked by 1 person

      7. Yeah for cat eyes!!

        Liked by 1 person

      8. We see in the dark, and all the things that haven’t even happen yet…

        Liked by 1 person

      9. (O) Supposed to be a surprised face. Obviously, I’m not good at making emojis!

        Liked by 1 person

      10. You are better than I – I don’t even try.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. This is only the second time I see a recipe with flounder fillets. I will have to try and get some to taste it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Flounder was one of the most common kinds of fish in Odessa. Here we can only get frozen fillets, but my husband and I grew up on it, so I always try to get some “Odessa taste” on my table for holidays. Be careful with it, though, as it is as fragile as sole.

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      1. Thanks for the tip – will try it out at some point

        Liked by 1 person

      2. My pleasure, dear Esme!

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Elizabeth says:

    Thank you for recounting the terrible times that Jews have endured. It was a fascinating read. And I may have to try this recipe although I’m pretty anti-fish. Mr. C would love it!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You sound like my younger son: “It tastes fishy!” He will fish, though, if the “fishiness” is disguised by lemon and spices. Maybe you will, too? You can throw in any spices of your choice.
      On a different topic, I hope you are feeling better!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Elizabeth says:

        I’ve eaten mild fish like tilapia but I’m still not a big fan. Shellfish, squid, and outputs are great. The muscle will take time to heal so I’m almost doing what I should. I spend a lot of time resting and I’m not doing a lot if physical work.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. You can make escabeche with tilapia – “all sorts of fish” after all. We don’t do shellfish so I won’t presume to venture an opinion, but I’ve heard of meat escabeche, so why not? Feel better, dear friend, and let the ducks do the work for you. They have to earn their keep, don’t they?

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Elizabeth says:

        I’m hoping they do! Freckles isn’t laying but I’ve decided she’s waiting to get outside. She proved she can do she’ll start again. I lost my tiny mind today and worked in the garden and used the tractor. Then I made dinner. That muscle has vowed to kill me in the wee hours. LOL

        Liked by 1 person

      4. That’s not funny! Take it easy, will you!

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Elizabeth says:

        I’m trying. But there’s nothing to do in bed! We only get 4 stations and tv generally is awful. I need new glasses so reading is out. So…it’s doing everything I’m not supposed to do. But I’ll try to behave. LOL Sort of.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. I am so much with you on that “sort of” thing!

        Liked by 1 person

  9. LydiaA1614 says:

    Thank you so much for this delicious recipe and some interesting history that I never knew before. I love knowing the background story of a recipe and this fish sure has a big (and important) one. It is amazing what comes out of necessity.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for your kind comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Osyth says:

    Fascinating story – history serves to remind us of the good as well as the bad and the fact that there have always been those shining examples of people willing to risk their all for the greater good of the repressed and repulsively treated. The recipe sounds gorgeous though it may have to wait a while since I should probably be nil by mouth for a week having had a lovely (and lively) time introducing our weekend guests and their enchanting 2 year old to the joys of real French cuisine ….

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much! What were some of the shining examples of the real French cuisine that your guests were so lucky to enjoy?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Osyth says:

        I think the most memorable dishes were a daube of beef with gratin dauphinoise (which is from this place) , a blanquette de veau and cassoulet au confit de canard. But the ratatouille went down well as it always does, my courgettes with broad beans lemon and mint is my favourite light lunch, we made four different quiche – lorraine, saumon épinard, oignon and blue cheese and walnut (walnuts are very much of this area and just called noix here). Anya is vegetarian though she will eat meat since her diet is followed because she feels better meatless not for health or ethical reasons and she eats fish too so we tried to cater for her and for her carnivorous husband! Much bread, good pastries, the first french cherries of the season and of course far too much wine of all colours! Thank you for asking, it was a delightful sojourn amongst lovely people.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. You’ve made me miss France, or at least fine French restaurants! Thank you for listing your menu for me; I feel almost as if I am sharing the feast.You are quite a gourmet cook! I am glad you had a good time with your guests.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Osyth says:

        I’m a simple cook. I always preface the menu with ‘this could be a triumph or a disaster’ but I don’t get het up with the possibility of a catastrophe and when they occur I find laughter (and wine) the best medicine! I would also note that I choose things that don’t need fancy presentation … those skills are a step too far for me! No danger of a cookery blog in this corner – the pictures of anything I make are always frightful though I have a post cooking in my head that might benefit from a recipe snuck in at the end!

        Liked by 1 person

      4. There are no simply cooks in France – I am firmly convinced! Wine and laughter are the best medicine, and you can also add chocolate. I don’t do presentations either, if you have noticed; I am simply lucky to have a few pretty dishes and a collection of cat miniatures. Oh, and a very helpful cat who nudges my elbow from under the table when I take pictures with my little cell phone (it’s not even a smart phone – it’s a dumb phone!).
        I am very much looking forward to your post with a recipe!

        Liked by 1 person

  11. spearfruit says:

    Great story and recipe. Thanks Dolly, Happy Wednesday – Smile! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Terry, but it seems you are running ahead of time: on this coast of Florida, where I am, it is still Tuesday! Have a happy one and keep smiling!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. spearfruit says:

        Yes, I realized that after I left the comment, some days I have no idea what day it is. I will keep smiling. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. As long as you keep smiling, it doesn’t matter what day it is!

        Liked by 1 person

  12. voulaah says:

    great recipe, thank you so much for sharing dear
    kisses

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, gorgeous! Hugs and kisses right back to you!

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Cheila says:

    What a lovely story!! Jews have suffered so much throughout the years. It makes me really sad.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your kind words and for your empathy, dear Chelia!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. E says:

    Haha! Love the history lesson and the humor. Why don’t you have a ship full of spices? 🙂 Frying fish reminds me of my great grandma.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Because I’ll be sneezing from here to Jerusalem! Thank you so much for your kind comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Sumith says:

    Love the way you combine the history and food. The food sounds very interesting and delicious. Thanks for the share Dolly.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much, Sumith! I am sure that with your variety of Indian spices you can create a much more interesting escabeche, but during Passover we are limited as to what we can use.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. 1weaver says:

    always so enjoyable visiting your kool cooking blog – thank you! and blessing on an indefatigable race of people who should feel full of the right kind of pride.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your kind comment and thank you very much for the blessing! Blessings and best wishes for a wonderful weekend to you!

      Liked by 1 person

  17. reocochran says:

    Sad stories of prejudice and deception against the Jewish people. I like the idea of coconut flour and any time you cookfish it looks divine! hugs xo Robin

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, dear Robin, for your kind comment!

      Like

  18. Joëlle says:

    Catholicism has always had an ambiguous and uneasy relationship with money, and I think it has left an indelible imprint on how (we) the French regard rich people, hence many taxes such as ISF (impôt sur la fortune). Even success can be frowned upon…
    My husband once explained to me the story of the Marranos, adding that expelling Jews caused Spain’s demise.
    Thank you for the many posts, I have been gardening, I mean, weeding, and taken away from my WordPress reader. Lots of catching up to be done!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your husband is right, and Spain was not the only country that deteriorated after expelling Jews. Historically, genocide has not been a successful strategy, it seems.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Joëlle says:

        So true…

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Lev Tolstoy called Jews “the yeast of the world.” He had no great affection the Jews, which was the prevalent sentiment among Russian writers of that period, but he was a genius with turning a great phrase.

        Liked by 1 person

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