A Fishy 5:2 Diet Recipe – Herring Escabeche

5:2 Diet Herring Escabeche and how travel influences our food.

Making this 5:2 diet dish, I believe, is Karma.  Just before I left for Portugal, I was talking with John from Delishfish about the new herring season which starts in June.  He was explaining to me that the new herrings, called Maatje in the Netherlands, have soft bones so they don’t need to be filleted and can be eaten like sardines, whole.  In fact I subsequently discovered that in the Netherlands, where there’s something close to Maatje fanaticism (the word means ‘virginal’), they also eat these very young fish raw

sarrdine escabeche portugal

For whatever reason I still have some of last year’s herring fillets left in my freezer and it’s obviously time to use them up, so I have been pondering what to make.  I rather like rollmops and had half a mind to make a bowlful.  Then, I went to Portugal and our first hostess served a delicious lightly spiced and pickled sardine dish that I thought would work very well made with my herrings.  In fact perhaps even better made with filleted herrings for a squeamish Brit who isn’t too sure about eating sardine heads.  John’s fillets do come beautifully filleted and pin-boned, so all you have to do is cook them.

I’m increasingly fascinated by the way the popularisation of travel has influenced our eating habits.  As a child I can remember my parents being quite dismissive of their less cosmopolitan friends who looked for English food when they went abroad.  And, the idea of local shops being full of wine vinegar, olive oil, garlic and peppers was unthinkable.  Now the majority of Brits will happily marinade food in wine, add garlic and cook in olive oil.  And some of that I am sure is a bringing back of holiday experiences.  What we are not so good at doing is adapting recipes to suit what is easily available, local and seasonal.  The humble tomato is a great example.  The limitations of the British weather mean our own tomatoes are never quite up to the job if used on a like for like basis in Mediterranean dishes.  But, add a little concentrated tomato puree or an extra glug of red wine and you have a solution.  My herring escabeche is another example.  Although we do sometimes have sardines in the shops, herrings are more common.  And  I have to say – a worthy substitute.

5:2 Diet Herring Escabeche

Serves 2-4
Prep time 10 minutes
Cook time 30 minutes
Total time 40 minutes
Allergy Fish
Meal type Lunch, Main Dish, Salad, Snack
Misc Pre-preparable, Serve Cold, Serve Hot
Region European


  • 4 herring fillets (or mackerel, or whole small sardines)
  • 30ml wine vinegar
  • 40ml olive oil
  • 1 lemon (zested and squeezed)
  • 1 teaspoon flour
  • 3 cloves garlic (peeled and crushed or finely chopped)
  • 1 carrot (peeled and finely sliced)
  • 2 shallots (peeled and finely sliced)
  • 2-3 sprigs fresh thyme (or rosemary or oregano)
  • 1 piece star anise
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1 pinch saffron
  • 2-3 cloves


Step 1 Crush the cloves, star anise and coriander seeds in a pestle and mortar
Step 2 Dust the herring fillets with flour and fry in a little olive oil skin side down till the flesh starts to turn opaque and the skins start to go crispy
Step 3 carrot and shallot for escabeche
put the remaining oil in a small pan and soften the carrot, shallot and garlic over a low heat for 5-8 minutes. Add all the spices, the lemon zest and the thyme and infuse for 10-15 minutes while the mixture cools
Step 4 Add the vinegar and lemon juice and season with salt and pepper to taste
Step 5 herring escabeche
Lay the herring fillets out on a shallow dish so there is one layer of fish. Pour over the infused oil and vinegar and then cover and put in the fridge overnight
Step 6 Serve at room temperature or gently warmed through in the oven with your choice of salads. For 5:2 Dieters or others on a low calorie diet, drain off as much of the marinade as possible.


This dish will keep well in the fridge for up to a week, so long as the fish remains covered with marinade.  Remember to drain off as much marinade as possible before eating.  You may vary the spices with fennel seed, cardamom and black peppercorns

I ‘constructed’ the recipe based on Ana’s explanation and by reading a few recipes for escabeche on the internet and mixing and matching spices and herbs that I had to hand.  I think Ana’s portuguese sardine escabeche may well have had fennel in it so next time I will try adding some finely sliced fennel to the carrot and shallot mixture.  And, there’s definitely a few bay leaves in there, which I completely forgot!

5:2 diet  herring escabeche

I’ve called this a ‘fishy 5:2 diet recipe’ because it is quite a rich and calorific mixture.  But, it’s the type of dish to enjoy with a lot of light salads and perhaps a warm bean or lentil dish – one fillet weighing 40g will use up about 220 cals of your daily calorie allowance so long as you drain off as much as possible of the marinade.  And, I’m not kidding, one fillet is quite filling and quite enough for a serving – a little in the same way that a small amount of smoked salmon is.  But a lot cheaper and just as good for you as all oily fish are.  I made a warm bean salad using a can of mixed beans with a little olive oil, half a chilli pepper,  half a red pepper with a little garlic.  Three tablespoons of the bean mixture are just 60 calories so that’s around 320 calories for a very filling supper.  Perfect for a 5:2 fast day.

5-2 diet escabeche and salad







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  1. says

    FIona!! so creative with your cooking.. I don’t eat herring, mackeral or sardines.. any other fish I could use instead? also……. young raw fish? (REALLY?)

    • says

      actually you can make escabeche with chicken and pork too – but I think it might be rather fine with a firm white fish like monkfish or bass? Don’t you agree though that travel inspires food. I know that dish owes it’s inspiration to Ana’s sardine escabeche

  2. Pamela Morse says

    This is international combinations working well for you. Travel brings ethnic culture home on the tastebuds. You are right about that.

  3. Jamielee Norris says

    Wow this looks so nice and certainly something that would be cooked for a special occasion x

  4. Claire Willmer says

    This looks and sounds so yummy. Will definately have to try this nutritious recipe for my family! bookmarked for later thanks x

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