Escabeche

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My thoughtful daughters gifted me a do-it-yourself fermentation kit for Christmas, 2017. Escabeche immediately came to mind.

I’ve only made escabeche one time, many years ago. The reason I only made these crunchy, zesty vegetables once is that the vinegar smelled up the house for days, which was very upsetting to my husband. I thought perhaps using the fermentation crock will “stink” up the house less.

The recipe I used was from Diana Kennedy’s ground-breaking book on Mexican cuisine, the bible, in a way – The Art of Mexican Cooking, published in 1989.

Escabeche is the Spanish word for “pickle”. Legumbres en escabeche describes a combination of pickled vegetables. It originates from Veracruz, and is a favorite for serving with Mexican dishes.

Chiles Jalapeños en Escabeche
Pickled Jalapeños
Makes about 8 cups

1 pound jalapeños, rinsed
1 1/2 pounds carrots, trimmed and scraped
3 tablespoons sea salt
1/3 cup water
5 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
10 peppercorns
1 teaspoon cumin seed
4 whole cloves
16 California bay leaves
Leaves from 2 fresh thyme sprigs
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/2 cup safflower oil
1 pound white bulbous onions, boiling onions, or regular white onions
3 cups mild vinegar
1 cup strong vinegar
10 garlic cloves, peeled
6 fresh thyme sprigs
1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar

Remove the stems from the fresh chiles and cut each into 4 lengthwise. Scrape out the seeds and put into a large bowl. I don’t have to scrape out seeds because I cut around the seeds.

Slice the carrots diagonally about 1/8” thick and add to the chiles. I used a mandoline for even slices. Sprinkle with salt and toss well. Set aside to macerate for about 1 hour.

Put the water into a blender jar and add the chopped garlic, peppercorns, cumin seed, cloves, 10 of the bay leaves, the thyme leaves, and 1/2 teaspoon of the oregano. Blend as thoroughly as possible.

Heat the oil in a large, fairly deep pan. Add the blended spices and onions and fry until the liquid has evaporated and the onions are translucent, not brown – about 10 minutes.

Strain the chiles and carrots, reserving the juice, and add to the pan. Fry over fairly high heat, stirring and turning the vegetables over for 10 minutes.


Add the chile and carrot juice, vinegars, whole garlic cloves, 6 thyme sprigs, remaining 6 bay leaves and remaining teaspoon oregano, and the sugar.

I wish you could smell this! The depth of odor is remarkable.

Bring to a boil and continue boiling for about 8 minutes. Transfer to a glass or ceramic bowl and set aside to cool before storing in the refrigerator.

But instead, just to take these pickled vegetables a step further, I used the fermentation crock for 24 hours, after the vegetables cooled down. I could have chosen 3 days, but I didn’t want the vegetables to lose crunchiness, which is very important.

The weight, placed over the vegetables and shown in the above right photo, is used to hold down the vegetables and keep them submerged in the pickling liquid.

The first time I used these aromatic pickled vegetables was with chicken and corn enchiladas made with an ancho white sauce.

Note: To better understand the difference between pickling and fermenting, this is a great read.

And if you’re interested in this kit, it was purchased at Uncommon Goods. The packaging is very sweet, and there are directions and recipes.

Achiote Oil

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Achiote oil is a handy ingredient to have on hand. This is especially true if you cook Latin American and Mexican cuisines.

The oil is made from beautiful red annato seeds, which are about the same size as cardamom seeds. Why this oil is not called annato oil, I’ll never know. For some reason the seeds have their own name, and the oil, a different one.

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An 8 or 12 ounce jar of achiote oil is easy to prepare, and the oil will keep in the fridge for quite a while.

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To make the oil, crush the annato seeds slightly – I do this in my wonderful little Magic Bullet, but it could even be done with a knife. Be careful, though. The yellow-orange of these seeds will stain your fingers and everything else.

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The suggested ratio for the oil is 1/4 cup of annato seeds to 1/2 cup of vegetable or grapeseed oil. In the end you get a lovely colored oil, along with it the smoky annato flavor.

Bring the oil with the seeds in it to a light boil, then turn off the heat. Let the oil become infused with the flavor and color of the annato seeds, until the oil is cool enough to handle.

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Using a fine sieve, strain the crushed seeds from the oil. Store the oil in the refrigerator.

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This oil can be used in absolutely any dish, either as part of the oil for sautéeing aromatics, or as a little drizzle on top of a finished dish like a soup or stew.

Try it in a rice or risotto dish, in any stew, or rub it over a pork loin! Here I’ve used it in a cornbread.

note: Do not “cook” the annato seeds in the oil. Simply heat the oil to a light boil and then remove from the heat. If you prefer, just warm the oil, and then let it sit overnight or for a few hours. Once I accidentally boiled the annato seeds, and the oil came out very bitter and nasty. Don’t do that!