Monday, September 16, 2019

Made in Mexico: Pescado a la Veracruzana

Happy Mexican Independence Day! I can't think of a better day of the year, other than perhaps Cinco de Mayo, to celebrate Mexican cuisine and talk to y'all about this gorgeous new cookbook by Danny Mena called Made in Mexico.

First of all, I have a decent array of Mexican cookbooks in my collection. Some of them focus on specific types of dishes, like tacos or salsas. But Made in Mexico is a unique cookbook offering, as it's not only a book full of mouthwatering recipes, but also a glimpse into the food scene of Mexico City.

The recipes within are approachable and appetizing. My only qualm with the book is that all the recipes titles are in Spanish only without an English translation. I find that in books featuring international cuisine it is very helpful for English-speaking audiences to have the names of the dishes listed in both languages. When I look at the Table of Contents I have no idea what most of it says. I would have to flip through the book and read the ingredient lists and look at the pictures to know what is what (which isn't all bad, but it almost defeats the purpose of having a handy Table of Contents listing all the chapters and recipes).

This is not your typical Mexican cookbook full of tacos and tamales. It bursts at the seams with a plethora of traditional and contemporary Mexican recipes derived from the heart of Mexico, in the country's capital. Recipe introductions refer to the actual Mexico City restaurants from which they originate.

Sauce ingredients ready to go!

I have compiled a long list of recipes I'd like to try, the first of which boasts the coastal flavors of Veracruz, a seaside state and city on the Gulf of Mexico. Pescado a la Veracruzana is a crowd-pleasing fish dish made with either a whole fish or fish fillets smothered in a tomato sauce infused with olives and capers. The flavors are reminiscent of of an Italian puttanesca, a bit of spice, some brininess, salt and acidity.

Although preparing the dish with a whole fish has a certain visual appeal, it cooks faster, and is easier to serve and eat if you opt for fillets. I used skin-on red snapper fillets, but any flaky white fish will do. I may try tilapia next time.

I absolutely loved this fish dish, and I have really enjoyed exploring Made in Mexico. Mexican food is one of my favorite global cuisines, and I am always looking to add more Mexican flair to my repertoire!

Pescado a la Veracruzana
Serves 4
(From Made in Mexico)

4 tablespoons olive oil (I scaled this down significantly to about 1/2 teaspoon for cooking the onions, and 1 tablespoon for cooking the fish)
1/2 yellow onion, minced
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons white wine
3 bay leaves
4 plum tomatoes, chopped (I used small farm-fresh tomatoes)
1 teaspoon fresh oregano leaves (I used 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano)
1 sprig fresh thyme
10 pitted Manzanilla (or other green) olives, roughly chopped (I increased this to 14)
2 tablespoons capers
2 canned pickled jalapeno peppers, chopped (I chopped a small handful of my homemade sliced pickled jalapenos)
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 large whole red snapper (3 to 4 pounds) or other flaky white fish (or substitute 1 1/2 pounds boneless skin-on fillets)

Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium-low heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook just until the onions are translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the wine and bay leaves and cook until the wine is almost completely evaporated. Add the tomatoes, oregano, thyme, olives, capers, and jalapeno and reduce the heat to low. Cook until the tomatoes are completely soft, stirring often, about 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Raise the heat if necessary to evaporate most of the liquid. Stir in the parsley.

If using a whole fish, score each side with three or four deep slashes (this will help the sauce penetrate the fish and keep it from curling up). If using fillets, remove the pinbones using fish tweezers or needle-nose pliers, and season the flesh-side with salt and pepper.

In a pan large enough to hold the whole fish (or the fillets in a single layer), heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the whole snapper and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until golden brown. Carefully flip the fish and pour the tomato mixture on top. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cover. Cook for about 10 minutes, until the fish is cooked through (the thickest part of the fish should flake easily when prodded with a fork). If using fillets, cook skin down first, then flip and add the tomato mixture, following the directions provided above (it won't take as long to cook as the whole fish).

To serve, divide the fish evenly among four plates and top with the sauce. Serve with white rice.

*Disclaimer* I received no compensation to write this review other than a free copy of the book. My opinions are always my own.


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