Lapu-Lapu Escabeche / Fried Grouper with Sweet & Sour Sauce


Any guesses as to what this under all this stuff? A fried fish, of course… Ever since I can remember, I adored fried fish with escabeche sauce. I think it was the fact that the sweet sour sauce basically masked whatever it covered and so if I had to get through a meal I didn’t particularly like, I simply ate the sauce and some steamed rice. This sauce is one of those things that has been abused, in my opinion. It now covers whole fish, fillets, steaks, pork chops, squid, you name it. It has also gotten way sweeter (even gets canned pineapples!) rather than sour and the critical balance between the two tastes is often lost. It has also lost many of the spices that often appear in a more Spanish rendition. Finally, it gets a whopping treatment of cornstarch that often makes it too thick though I have to admit I hate it when it is runny…

At any rate, I was in the market in Bohol (not the main one, but a fish market in town, aesc2which I forgot the name of) last week and came upon these stunningly fresh lapu-lapu that looked like they had died just seconds before I got there. I purchased several and returned to our hotel (where I had some influence…) and got them to fry it and smother it with escabeche sauce up for lunch. For something I love so much, I have NEVER made escabeche myself. Our pinoy version has evolved a bit from the Spanish and it often includes ginger, garlic, onions, carrots, red peppers, green onions, water, vinegar, tomatoes, ketchup, salt, pepper and cornstarch.

First the fish is cleaned and salted then deep fried in lots of oil over a really hot flame. aesc3Some folks like to dredge the fish in flour first but I find I like it au naturel if the fish is wickedly fresh. Then prepare the sauce separately and pour over the fish and serve IMMEDIATELY. The dish shouldn’t sit around for minutes as the sauce will soften up the crisp fish. There were just two of us at the table for lunch. We easily put away a 1.3 kilo lapu-lapu with lots of white rice and a FEW other dishes to boot. Piggly wiggly, I know. While I only eat this piping hot, others actually serve escabeche at room temperature…


16 Responses

  1. That’s absolutely a gorgeous looking fish dish! Escabeche I miss the way my mom does it. I also haven’t tried cooking it myself…

  2. Filipino escabeche is sometimes can be very traditional like the Spanish or almost like the Chinese sweet and sour. Not exactly a mystery, what with Manila’s role in the galleon trade, ‘no? Hehehe!

  3. beautiful! there’s another Filipino escabeche recipe that uses turmeric and green papayas. amazingly, scientists are looking at turmeric as an age-defying, leukemia and cystic fibrosis preventive spice…

  4. Tried this fish escabeche in my aunt’s house. I would like to call it poor man’s escabeche since they used deep fried tilapia for the fish. Garlic, onion, carrot and red pepper slices were sauteed in 2 Tbsp oil from the fried fish. Add water, patis, sugar to balance the salty patis and maybe a drop of soy sauce for color. Thicken with cornstarch/water mixture. Put the fried crispy fish back in the sauce and let the flavors come together. Best with steaming hot rice!

  5. Our escabeche before wasn’t one the red/ketchupy side but rather yellowish? What’s the difference? I usually just like it with fried lobo lobo.

  6. The escabeche I know (from Samar) is also not red, but rather yellowish. Simply delicious in local vinegar, ginger and turmeric powder :)

  7. Yup, turmeric is often used and this takes it closer to a Malayan and Indonesian version of the dish… do we grow turmeric in the Philippines? Does anyone know what it’s native name is?

  8. turmeric is luyang dilaw, i believe. in the visayas it is called duwaw, dulao…i have some shrubs in my backyard, and they have the most beautiful not sure now whether i grow them for the luyang dilaw or for the flowers. adobong hito or tilapia with luyang dilaw is a family favorite, except that the yellow color sticks to your hands despite repeated washings, and you end up with yellow hands for a couple of days. never knew turmeric was used for escabeche, though. turmeric makes a good organic dye for easter eggs. and was once used to dye buddhist monks’ robes to make them what is commonly referred to as “saffron-colored”.

  9. we also used turmeric(we simply call it “dilaw”in my town in batangas) to color the atchara. its is sold in the market in powdered form. they dried the dilaw and then pulverize it using a big wooden mortar. sometimes my aunt buys it just dried and process it at home. we also cook ginataang tulingan w/ dilaw

  10. Our helper is from Negros and they use tumeric for curing skin diseases on animals. In India it was used to desinfect the food…
    You can get easily rid of tumeric stains on kitchen tools or cloth if you put it in the sunlight, the color is not lightproof though.

  11. I’ve heard of dilaw. About escabeche, yummy. It’s best when on the beach you see the fishermen walking with their catch and you buy a couple of them and go to the nearest restaurant and have them cook it escabeche style. I’ve done it many times in different beaches. From Batangas to Guimaras to Zamboanga, all the same, yummm!!!!

  12. when i was in seychelles they cook lapulapu similar to ours but of less sauce
    my english friend was so amazed i ate a whole fish. head to tail…

  13. I grew up eating escabeche Marikina style and that is with papaya achara. If its w/o the achara, we call it sweet & sour but we dont use ketchup. Nowadays, I still make them the way my mother did.

  14. in our town…in Labo Camarines Norte,by tradition if its with green papaya. its escabeche but if with ketchup it is sweet and sour…



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