A Classic Mexican Recipe
Red snapper is the fish most often called for in 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, and Pacific cod are sustainable options. 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
- 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 fillets (about 4 fillets)
- 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.
- 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 (careful, it will steam and spatter), 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, providing a colorful backdrop for Pescado a la Veracruzana.