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 is no one else to borrow from (usury was forbidden by the church), then, since legally all Jews are 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.

Escabeche (2)

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!

72 Comments Add yours

    1. Thank you so much for reblogging, dear Henrietta!

      Like

  1. chattykerry says:

    No one can tell a recipe story like you, Dolly. That was utterly fascinating. I did know that Jewish people were forced into money lending and then blamed for it… Stuck between the devil and deep blue sea. I had hoped to see some Sephardic Jewish DNA via my conquistador ancestors but to no avail. Just Christian and Pagan on my side. 😁 Isn’t the beautiful Nigella Lawson of Sephardic descent? As for the flounder platter – love it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, dear Kerry (I am blushing all over the internet)!
      Nigella Lawson had thought she had Sephardic ancestry, but she discovered that she was Ashkenazi on both sides.
      As to your ancestry, I doubt that there were Jews among the conquistadores; at least I have seen no mention of it. As long as you are the kind and wonderful you that you are – who cares!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. chattykerry says:

        Aww, thank you for the lovely compliment, Dolly. No one could be kinder than you. How fascinating that Nigella is Ashkenazi. Not that it changes anything, she is beautiful and talented just like you.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Blushing all over the internet again – thank you, dear Kerry! Nigella’s mother was a celebrated beauty, and so the daughter inherited the genes.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. chattykerry says:

        Her father was not a looker…😁

        Liked by 1 person

      4. So I’ve seen on photos. Her mother’s genes were stronger, obviously.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. What an awful thing Edward did! Your dish sounds way too good to leave any for more than perhaps lunch leftovers the next day.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, dear Mimi! You’re right; it is usually gobbled up instantly, and no leftovers.

      Like

  3. Love this tropical version of Escabeche. 🙂
    Hopefully the enemies of the Jews will remember that whoever exiled or killed them, ended up ruining their own countries. Unfortunately, idiots never learn…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hatred comes with a set of blinders to all reason.
      I truly appreciate your approval, dear Ronit! Hag Pesach Sameach!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. So true. חג שמח! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Same to you – Hag Pesach Sameach!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for reblogging, dear friend!

      Like

  4. RobbyeFaye says:

    I so enjoy your history “lessons!” Thank you for sharing it and the recipe!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your lovely comment, dear Robbie!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. RobbyeFaye says:

        You are so very welcome!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I hope you have a meaningful Pesach

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, dear friend! Many blessings to you and your lovely family!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. spearfruit says:

    Dolly, Great story and culinary creation!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Gary; I am so glad you like it!

      Like

  7. lifelessons says:

    Incredible the amount of cruelty there has been in human history. I was naive enough to think we had pretty much evolved above it, but seems I was wrong. Lately, modern history seems as cruel as the past.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ah, Judy, hatred and cruelty have always gone hand in hand, and it looks that the situation is escalating now. Instead of anticipating a joyful holiday, celebrating redemption from slavery, we arrange security at every synagogue – this is depressing!

      Like

      1. lifelessons says:

        Sad sad sad.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Dolly you are the best. You combine beautiful historical stories with your recipes. Too good.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, dear Kamal; you are too kind!

      Like

  9. I’ve learned something I didn’t know about Edward I. Thank you, Dolly

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, there’s more to him than meets the eye. His expulsion order was signed on the same date Titus had destroyed The Temple in Jerusalem. I don’t think, he timed it, though.
      Thank you for stopping by, Derrick

      Liked by 1 person

  10. theburningheart says:

    You will be surprised, but many Jews emigrated to America hoping to be let alone in the fringes of the Portuguese, and Spanish empire, as it was common for Conquistadors, and new settlers to move forward from the original settlement in search of land, and fortune, many conversos, but secret Jews took to move as far as possible from the capital of the provinces, so they would be let alone.
    Unfortunately the Inquisition will get there later too,
    In 1567, the Portuguese Luis de Carvajal y de la Cueva, from a family of New Christians,(read Conversos) arrived in New Spain aboard a wine ship. His story is well known.
    And about cooking, where do you think the flour tortilla from Northern Mexico comes from? 🙂
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luis_de_Carvajal_y_de_la_Cueva

    According to data from the Encyclopedia of Mexico (edicón 2000), the Mexican Inquisition executed around 50 people during its existence.3 Of a total of 324 people prosecuted between 1571 and 1700 for practicing the Jewish religion, 29 were sentenced to death.
    Also there was a settlement in Brazil who ended of all place in Manhattan Island, here is a link:

    Click to access Ann-Wainer.pdf

    Nice post I enjoyed it. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your extensive and very informative comment and the links.
      I am certainly familiar with the story of Luis de Carvajal, and in general, with “maranos” (conversos). Living as we are in a state with predominantly Hispanic population, we encounter their descendants every day. Some of them know of their Jewishness, some don’t, some discover it by accident; it’s quite fascinating. There were also several ethnological studies conducted in various regions of South and Latin America which found descendants of conversos who retained some customs and traditions without knowing the reasons.
      However, I do not know of any Jews, throughout history, including conversos, who took up arms to conquer, rather than to defend. Consequently, perhaps some conquistadores of Jewish descent did exist, but I have not heard of any.

      Like

    2. …got cut off, sorry.
      Merchants, even sailors – definitely; the two merchants on board Columbus’ expedition and part of his crew, and even, perhaps, Columbus himself, were conversos. None of those people, to the best of my knowledge, went into military service.
      I am glad you like my post – thank you kindly!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. theburningheart says:

    Yes I understand, Conversos, avoided the military service, despite some claims that few serviced and were executed later by Cortez when charged, as practicing Judaism secretly.
    The first “judaizantes” (“Judaizers”) were tried in 1528 and an auto-da-fé was conducted in the Cathedral of Mexico. Hernando Alonso, a carpenter employed by the conquistador army of Hernan Cortes, was one of the two convicted men burned at the stake on that day.

    And yes, even if by definition Carbajal was a Conquistador, granted lands in Northern Mexico, and Texas, named the province of Nuevo Leon by the king of Spain to pacify and colonize the new territory, Carabajal was allowed 100 soldiers, and 60 married laborers, accompanied by their wives and children. It is safe to assume that a number of these early colonists were Spanish Jews, who, under the guise of Marranos, had hoped to escape persecution and find prosperity in the New World.
    Most of the charges against him were spurious, except practicing Judaism in secret.

    http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/4015-carabajal

    Yes, I like your post, full of History, and little known information by the general public.
    Thank you for your nice response.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I thank you again for your extensive comment, full of important information. Thank you also for your kind comment about my post.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Thank you very much for another great recipe, Dolly! Thank you especially for the history lesson. We should remember these things.

    Hope you had a nice celebrations! Best wishes, Michael

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Michael, for your kind wishes! We had a lovely celebration, thank you. Have a wonderful week, dear friend!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You too Dolly! 🙂 Michael

        Liked by 1 person

  13. An inspiring story and a classic recipe, Dolly. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, dear Anna!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, darling!

      Like

  14. Reblogged this on koolkosherkitchen and commented:

    We are still in March, celebrating Women History Month and we are in the middle of Passover which will continue for six more days. This story of a remarkable woman and one of my favorite Pesach recipes certainly bears repeating. Enjoy, Beautiful People!

    Like

  15. I’m very biased because you and I share a similar family background [and some interests], Dolly, but I literally cannot imagine a food blog that is better than yours. It simply is not possible. Yours is intelligent, interesting, honest, warm, and everything that is good in the world.

    -David

    Liked by 3 people

    1. That’s it, David – I am blushing all over the Internet. Ms Manners insists that compliments must be accepted graciously, so I’ll try: Thank you so very much, David, for this array of ebulient adjectives! Now I should go and hide my head under a pillow …
      Mo-ed Sameach to you and your family,
      D

      Liked by 2 people

  16. BERNADETTE says:

    The way you combine history, storytelling and food is a beautiful thing. I thought myself a student of history but I learn something new every time I read one of your posts. May the world learn from history so that it is not repeated.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Amen! Thank you so much for your kind words, dear Bernadette.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. This looks awesome! And of course you manage to make any recipe sound interesting and educational. Good moed!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good Moed! Great to see you here, and thank you for a lovely comment. How have you been and how are the girls? I hope everyone is well and keeping safe.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I have missed the blogging world. The girls are growing up. We have to start planning for their next stage but due to the pandemic the budget has been suspended. The bright side is that we have had a lot of quality family time and we actually enjoy being together. How about you and your family??

        Liked by 1 person

      2. We are fine, B”H. I stay at home and teach online. My husband works, but his clients are farmaceutical manufacturers, so safety measures there are extremely strict. We are keeping safe, waiting for life to go back to normal.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. What are you teaching? I was transferred to the inpatient unit to care for COVID patients during the peak of the pandemic. So, I have gone into work every day.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. You are on the front line, dear friend! I hope you are taking all required measures.
        I teach the same course I’ve always taught, Psychology of Education. I am considered high risk so I don’t even venture outside. I am not getting vaccinated, per my dr.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. I believe in masks and I take a lot of supplements. I can send you a copy if you want. Ironically, I didn’t get sick taking care of the patients. Despite following all of the guidelines, we all got COVID. I was the last to test positive, so they got me sick. Fortunately, the girls and I were virtually a symptomatic. My husband on the other was another story. Fortunately, they are much better at treating COVID. In such a short time, amazing progress has been made.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. I am happy to hear that progress has been made, and I am glad that all of you got though it without major problems. I believe that masks are not G-d; we don’t have to believe in them, just wear them. Unfortunately, this is not the case with many tourists who throng through South Beach…

        Liked by 1 person

      7. This whole experience has taught me humility. Whatever I think I know— I am probably wrong. Beyond the basics — wearing a mask, hand washing and basic self care, G-d is in charge and not me. The answer is to be compassionate, giving and most of all, kind. Fear lowers one’s immunity.

        Liked by 1 person

      8. I cannot agree more, dear Carol!
        Have a wonderful Shabbos and a joyful Yom Tov, and let’s all see next Pesach in Jerusalem!

        Liked by 1 person

      9. Amen!!! 🙏🏻💕💕💕💕

        Liked by 1 person

      10. Let’s visualize the positive 🤩

        Liked by 1 person

      11. Always do! Next year in Jerusalem!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for reblogging, Jonathan.

      Liked by 1 person

  18. This looks extremely tasty. I’m not usually a big fan of coconut flavor, but I can see how the coconut flour and the lemon would go so well with the fish!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words, dear friend!

      Like

  19. renxkyoko says:

    Oh……. I cooked escabeche just a month ago ( for no meat day during The Holy Week ) . I thought Escabeche was purely Philippine dish. The fish Filipinos use for Escabeche is grouper. And it’s fried first. Then vinegar, sugar, bell pepper, carrots, are cooked , then added to the fish and served.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for a lovely comment, darling. Your Escabeche is a little different from the original Spanish one, as you cook sauce separately and then add it to the fish. Still, it sounds delicious!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. renxkyoko says:

        I’ll try something new… use lemon, instead of vinegar.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Great idea! Good luck!

        Like

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