A Latin American Fish Fiesta: 4 Recipes

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Holly A. Heyser


As much as I love catching fish, I enjoy experimenting with new ways of cooking seafood even more. The first good news was that we managed to get about 15 pounds of fish safely back from La Paz, Mexico, where Holly and I spent a week at the end of May—transporting fish and game from another country can be dicey.

Most of it was still frozen when we returned to California, but the top layer of mahi mahi, some of the bonito, and the one yellow snapper I caught had defrosted. Time to go on a fish-cooking binge!

As I was thinking about how to serve all these fish, the natural inclination was to, of course, go Mexican or Spanish. But Mexican cooking is Holly's turf, and I have stayed away from that cuisine on purpose. This time, however, she gave me special dispensation to break out the avocado, chiles, and cilantro.

I started with the obvious:

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Holly A. Heyser

How can you make seafood dishes inspired by Baja, Mexico, and not make ceviche? I know, right? It's on every menu there, and it's gooood. My version of ceviche, however, is actually not Mexican. It is Peruvian, where ceviche is thought to have originated. What makes it Peruvian? Really the mix of citrus juices—I use key lime, orange, and lemon juices—and a tropical-tasting, fiery Rocoto chile, which is a Peruvian pepper.

Ceviche is bracing and clean, and a perfect antidote to all the rich food I've been eating lately. No fat—just a crisp acidity and floral heat from the Rocoto chile combined with the meaty little pieces of snapper I marinated in it. It was a little too spicy for Holly, so maybe I'll only use half a chile next time.

Up next is a Spanish recipe for bonito, a little tuna with very dark red meat. I first found this recipe in Penelope Casas's Delicioso! The Regional Cooking of Spain. It is a wonderful, quick stew of seared tuna or bonito briefly simmered with a spicy red sauce loaded with roasted red peppers, garlic, and fresh herbs—all buzzed in a blender like a salad dressing.

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Holly A. Heyser

This is a big, bold dish that cries out for crusty bread and a light red wine or a dry Spanish rosé. I've made this recipe with yellowfin and bigeye tuna before, and it came out just as good. I highly recommend you give it a go. I call the dish Bonito, Canary Islands Style.

So I had a big red dish. What about a big green dish? I went to one of the bibles of Mexican cuisine for this one, Diana Kennedy's The Essential Cuisines of Mexico. Kennedy describes a dish called pescado en cilantro, which is typically done with snapper.

Since I'd used up my snapper, I decided to use some of the mahi mahi; I also wanted to modernize Kennedy's dish a bit. Pescado en cilantro is what is sounds like: fish and cilantro sauce. It's baked with onions and lime juice, and in Kennedy's original, the cilantro sauce. I didn't want my sauce to discolor, so I made it raw, like a salad dressing, and added it at the end. I also sautéed the onions first, because I'm that way, and added garlic and fire-roasted jalapeños I'd preserved last season; Kennedy's original calls for simple pickled jalapeños, which would also be good.

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Holly A. Heyser

This sauce rocked the house. Spicy, smoky, very green with cilantro—cilantro haters you'll need to skip this one—with bite from the raw garlic and the lime juice. It is a great foil for the mild baked fish.

Presented by

Hank Shaw runs the website Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, nominated for Best Food Blog by the James Beard Foundation in 2009 and 2010. He is the author of the recently released Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast. More

A former line cook, veteran political reporter, and fisherman, Hank Shaw is a freelance food writer who runs the website Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, which chronicles Shaw's search for what he calls the Forgotten Feast: The seasonal foods--mostly wild--we once delighted in, but are now curiosities at best. Game, wild mushrooms, seafood, and wild plants all have a place in modern cooking, and Shaw spends his days exploring their possibilities on the plate.

Hunter Angler Gardener Cook was nominated for Best Food Blog by the James Beard Foundation in both 2009 and 2010 and by the International Association of Culinary Professionals in 2010. He is the author of the recently released Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast. His work has appeared in magazines such as The Art of Eating, Field & Stream, and Gastronomica. He hunts, fishes, forages, and gardens in Northern California with his girlfriend--and photographer--Holly A. Heyser.

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