Escabeche Lapu Lapu with crisply-fried grouper, pickled bell peppers, and papaya in a sweet and tangy sauce. This Filipino sweet and sour fish is easy to make for family dinners yet fancy enough for special occasions.
Escabeche Lapu-Lapu is one of my party favorites, yet I don’t make it often as grouper fish is not always available at the Asian supermarkets I frequent, especially ones that are big enough to feed a crowd.
Although I think a hefty lapu-lapu would be more impressive in a special gathering, this Filipino sweet and sour sauce dish is amazing regardless of the size and kind of fish you use. With crisply-fried whole fish topped with colorful bell peppers, shredded papaya, and a perfectly sweet and tangy sauce, it’s sure to be a crowd favorite!
What is in escabeche
Escabeche refers to a type of dish popular in Latin and Mediterranean cuisine wherein meat or fish are marinated and cooked in an acidic mixture such as vinegar or citrus juices. Assorted vegetables such as peppers, onions, and carrots are also commonly added for color and texture.
Filipino escabeche is a local adaptation of this Spanish dish and consists of fish that’s either poached or fried fish, smothered in a sweet and tangy sauce, and garnished with tender-crisp vegetables such as bell peppers and shredded papaya.
This sweet and sour fish recipe has three components, frying the fish, preparing the vegetables, and making the sauce.]
The recipe uses lapu-lapu or grouper, but any firm-fleshed fish such as tilapia, red snapper (Maya Maya), tanigue, pampano, apahap, or talikitok will work.
Season the cleaned fish with salt and pepper to taste and fry in hot oil until golden and crispy. You can also steam or poach if preferred.
I like to use a colorful mix of shredded papaya and julienned bell peppers along with garlic, onions, and ginger for flavor. Feel free to experiment with other vegetables that are great for pickling such as carrots, red onions, radish (labanos), cucumbers, celery, and cauliflower.
For best texture, cook the vegetables until tender yet crisp.
The sauce is made of vinegar and sugar with added ketchup for color and cornstarch for thickening.
If you prefer less of an acidic and more of a fruity taste, swap part or all of the vinegar with pineapple juice.
As it will thicken more as it stands and cools, you might want to cook the sauce a little thinner than your desired consistency.
How to serve
Serve with steamed rice for lunch or dinner.
Although other variants of escabeche can be eaten cold, this Filipino version is best enjoyed hot and fresh from the stove or at the very least at room temperature as the sauce tends to congeal as it stands. For best texture, top the fried fish with the vegetables and sauce just when ready to serve.
To store leftovers, wrap the fish tightly in foil and keep the vegetables and sauce in separate containers. Refrigerate for up to 3 days.