A Classic Mexican Recipe
Red snapper is the fish used most often for Huachinango a la Veracruzana — whole red snapper prepared in the style of Vera Cruz, a tropical, steamy port city on the Gulf of Mexico. But using red snapper for this dish is not as easy as it used to be. For one, red snapper populations are at very low levels in the Gulf of Mexico and the South Atlantic Ocean due to overfishing. Secondly, here in Mexico plate-sized red snapper is very popular on restaurant menus. A fish of that size has not reached maturity, and therefore has not had the opportunity to reproduce, further endangering the population.
It would be a shame not to make this dish because of the plight of red snapper, but there are other options. Any firm, white-fleshed fish fillet would be perfectly fine prepared veracruzana style. Tilapia, Pacific halibut, or Pacific cod come to mind. The need is greater than ever for us as consumers and residents of this fragile planet to shop responsibly. Monterey Bay Aquarium maintains a web page to help us select sustainable and healthy fish. Check it out.
Huachinango a la Veracruzana is a delicious dish full of Mexican flavors — tomatoes, chile, cilantro, lime, garlic, onion, and Mexican oregano (Lippia graveolens, not to be confused with Greek oregano, Origanum vulgare), which all come together for a full-bodied sauce served with the fish. Traditionally, whole fish is broiled or baked, but I have simplified the recipe by using fillets that are cooked in the sauce on top of the stove. And I have changed the name to Pescado a la Veracruzana, as any type of white fish can be used.
Pescado a la Veracruzana serves 2 – 4, depending on appetite
- 1/4 cup good quality olive oil
- 1/2 onion, medium dice
- 1 bell pepper (green, red or yellow), medium dice or julienned
- 2 teaspoons minced fresh chile pepper, such as jalapeño or serrano, or pickled jalapeño, or to taste
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 tomatoes, large dice
- 1/4 teaspoon dry Mexican oregano or 1 tablespoon fresh oregano
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons water
- 8 green olives, pitted and halved
- 1 scant tablespoon capers
- 1 lb. fish filets (about 4 filets)
- chopped cilantro and lime wedges for garnish
Heat a skillet over medium heat, add oil and cook onion for one minute. Add bell pepper and chile pepper and cook one minute longer. Add garlic and cook 30 seconds. Add tomatoes, oregano, bay leaf, salt and water and simmer one minute more.
Stir in capers and green olives. Make slight indentations in the tomato mixture and place a fillet in each indentation.
Cover the pan with a lid and cook at a low simmer until fish is cooked through. The timing depends on the thickness of the fillets. Generally, cook fish 10 minutes for each one inch of thickness of the fillet. In order not to overcook the fish, I cook it for 8 minutes per inch of thickness, then turn off heat and allow to rest, covered, for two minutes to complete cooking. To check for doneness, pierce a fillet gently with a fork to see if the “flakes” separate. If it doesn’t flake or if it is still pink inside, cook a little longer.
Adjust salt to taste. Serve over Golden Rice (recipe follows) and garnish with chopped cilantro and lime wedges. Serves two generously.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 cup long grain white, jasmine or basmati rice
- 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric (optional)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups less 2 tablespoons boiling water
Cook rice in olive oil over medium-low heat, stirring, until the grains start to turn a slight golden color. Add turmeric and salt.
Pour in boiling water, cover pan, and simmer over very low heat for 15 minutes. At the end of 15 minutes, turn off heat but don’t lift lid. Let rest for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, fluff with a fork and serve. Turmeric is not necessary, but it gives a golden color to the rice, providing a colorful backdrop for the Pescado a la Veracruzana.
- For more info on purchasing sustainable and healthy fish, you can download a list using the link on the right for Monterey Bay Aquarium.
- Vera Cruz, Mexico, is an interesting and enjoyable destination for the traveler. We have spent many an hour drinking its famed coffee on the picturesque plaza.
- The jalapeño pepper gets its name from Jalapa, a university town in the state of Vera Cruz. Jalapa (also spelled Xalapa) is home to the Museo de Antropología de Xalapa, known for the second finest collection of Indian artifacts in Mexico, the finest collection being in Mexico City.