Somewhere South with Chef Vivian Howard

Catfish Escabeche

Photo by Andrea Weigl

Photo by Andrea Weigl

This recipe is from chef Agnes Marrero of Smithtown Seafood in Lexington, Ky. Marrero is from Puerto Rico and her family made escabeche during Lent. Typically, the raw fish would be left to sit in the pickling liquid overnight, which cooks it and is enjoyed the next day. Marrero made this version with fried catfish as a fundraiser at the restaurant during a hurricane relief fundraiser.


  • 4 catfish filets, scored on skin side
  • 4 teaspoons Adobo seasoning
  • Juice of 2 limes
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ large Spanish onions, cut in half and sliced  
  • 3 sweet red pepper, seeds and ribs removed, sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
  • 12 black peppercorns 
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 2 cups canola and olive oil blend, plus more for frying
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar 
  • 1 tablespoon plus ½ teaspoon salt, divided
  • 1 cup green Spanish olives, cut in half
  • 2 avocados, pits removed and peeled, chopped
  • White bread rolls


Step 1: Sprinkle catfish fillets with Adobo seasoning and lime juice in a large bowl. Leave to marinate for 30 minutes. 

Place flour in a shallow dish. Set aside. 

Step 2: Combine onions, peppers, smashed garlic, peppercorns, bay leaves, oil, vinegar  and 1 tablespoon salt in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir occasionally. Bring to a simmer and lower heat; simmer for 20 to 30 minutes until onions are fully cooked.

Step 3: Fill a wide skillet or Dutch oven with enough oil so fish fillets can be completely submerged. Heat the oil over medium-low heat.

Dredge the fish on both sides in the flour to lightly coat. Set out on a platter. 

The oil is ready when it sizzles when you drop a little flour in it. Fry two fish fillets at a time, flip after about 5 minutes. Continue frying for another 2 minutes or so. Remove to a paper towel-lined platter. Repeat with remaining fish fillets. Combine fish with escabeche sauce in a large bowl. This can sit out until you are ready to serve. 

When ready to serve, combine olives, avocados and ½ teaspoon salt in a small bowl. Place a piece of fish on each plate. Top each fish fillet with pickled vegetables and serve each with a scoop of avocados and olives and a white bread roll on the side. 

Yield: 4 servings