After graduating from college, I spent a year teaching English as a Second Language at the Universidad Laica Eloy Alfaro de Manabí in the coastal town of Manta, Ecuador. I miss many things about my time in Ecuador: the wonderful friends I made, the beautiful scenery, and the food.
As you might imagine, seafood was king in the town where I lived and it wasn’t unusual to see trucks filled to the brim with whole tuna raising through town any time of day. When it came time to eat, my favorite place to go was the Malecón which hugged the beach and was filled with open-air restaurants where one could buy a bowl of fresh ceviche and spend a relaxing afternoon sipping a Pilsener and munching on chifles.
In a move that required a bit more faith in the benevolence of the stomach gods, I was also a fan of street food. My boyfriend, now husband, was particularly fond of the food served on buses. Corviche and pan de yuca were his two favorites to eat as we bumped and rumbled down the road. For my part, I was partial to the vendors who would peddle this soup, encebollado, in a brisk lunchtime trade.
I attempted to make this hearty stew several times since being back in the states with lackluster results. Then my dear friend Marcelo visited and cooked my husband and me a simmering pot of this soup. It was better than I remembered and I am glad that I copiously took notes as he prepped, simmered, and microwaved (yes, you read that right) our dinner.
What follows is the recipe derived from my notes of Marcelo’s preparation of this classic Ecuadorian dish. I hope you find each spoonful just as delicious I do. Buen provecho.
Encebollado de Pescado – Printer Friendly Recipe
I tried to recreate this dish back in the states, but it wasn’t until my dear friend Marcelo Hidalgo came to town in May that my attempts met with any success. He made encebollado for us one evening and one bite brought back so many delicious memories of sharing bowls of this traditional soup with friends in Ecuador.
He cooks the soup at a strong simmer which not only quickens the time it takes to get it to your table, but also gave the soup a pleasing thickness as the yuca breaks down. He also insists that half the fish should be microwaved for the most authentic results. I gave looks of disdain and argued with passion, but ultimately decided my critique was meaningless and I now prepare the dish a la Marcelo.
1 1/2 lbs yuca root (see notes on preparation below as uncooked yuca is poisonous)
16 ounces yellowfin tuna, divided
1 red, orange or yellow bell pepper (or a combination), roughly chopped
1 large tomato, cut into wedges
1/2 large red onion, cut into wedges (the other half of the red onion will be used as garnish)
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 sprigs fresh cilantro plus more for garnish
5 cups cold water
Juice from 1 lime
Chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 large red onion, thinly sliced and salted
Peel the yuca with a paring knife being careful to peel not only the waxy, brown outer-bark, but also the thin pink layer under the bark as well. After peeling, rinse the yuca and then slice it into 2-inch lengths. Place in a medium saucepan.
Add half the tuna, the chopped bell pepper, tomato, onion, garlic, and cilantro sprigs to the pot with the yuca and cover with 5 cups cold water (add a little more if needed to completely cover the ingredients). Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to a strong simmer and cook, uncovered, for 20 minutes until the yuca starts to soften.
Scoop out the yuca pieces with a slotted spoon and carefully remove the fibrous threads from the center of the vegetable. This can be done before cooking, but I find it much easier to do after the yuca is soft as it begins to break apart and the fibrous strands are removed easily by hand. Return the yuca to the pot and add the lime juice. Cook for another 10 to 20 minutes until the yuca is very tender and easily pierced with a knife. Uncooked yuca is poisonous so take care to properly cook it.
While the soup cooks, microwave the remaining 1/2 lb tuna for 2 1/2 to 3 minutes until cooked through. Break the tuna into chunks.
When ready to serve, remove the red onion wedges and cilantro sprigs from the soup as well as any tomato skins. Marcelo, who taught me this recipe, also removes the bell pepper pieces although I find that leaving them in does not detract from the final dish.
Pour a ladle of soup into each bowl and divide the cooked tuna between the bowls. Serve with chifles, fresh cilantro, red onion slices, and lime wedges. Enjoy!