This elegant dish of fish fillets poached in coconut milk was prepared and served to us by simple fisherman in the small town of Calderitas on the Mexican Caribbean coast. My husband Russ had struck up a conversation with them. He loves to fish and is very fluent in Spanish, so they were amigos in no time at all. This new friendship culminated in our being served this delectable dish, one we have never seen on a menu in Mexico or in any Mexican cookbook.
Their coconut milk was freshly made using an ingenious, homemade device, a circular grater attached to a stationary bicycle. The grated coconut was soaked in hot water and the milk was squeezed out by hand. It could not have been any simpler and it worked. You can use unsweetened canned coconut milk or make your own coconut milk, as I have been doing since our big harvest of homegrown, organic coconuts a few days ago.
After they made the coconut milk, one of the fishermen stepped into the surf and cast a net. He had obviously been doing this for a while and after a few casts, had enough fish for the pot. We looked at each other in amazement and delight. There is freshly prepared food, and then there is freshly caught and prepared food.
You can use any mild, boneless white fish fillets. This recipe multiplies easily.
Fish Fillets Poached in Coconut Milk
- 1/3 cup (80 ml.) celery, thinly sliced
- 1/3 cup (80 ml.) onion, chopped
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml.) coconut oil
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 1/2 (360 ml.) cups coconut milk
- 2 6-oz. (340 grams) fish fillets
- 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 ml.) Mexican oregano
- salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- cilantro for garnish
- cooked rice, optional
- Heat oil in a medium-sized skillet over medium-low heat.
- Sauté onion and garlic until tender, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, and cook an additional 30 seconds.
- Turn off the heat to allow pan to cool slightly. Add coconut milk to pan. (If the pan is too hot, the coconut milk may curdle, but this does not affect the taste of the dish.)
- Return to heat and place fillets in the coconut milk. Sprinkle with oregano.
- Cover the pan and bring slowly back to a gentle simmer over low heat.
- Cook 8-9 minutes per 1 inch of thickness (measuring thickest part of fillet). If the thickness of the fillets varies greatly, place the thinnest fillets in the pan a minutes or two after the thickest ones go in.
- Salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with cilantro.
- Pass a dish of cooked rice for each person to spoon into their broth.
This recipe is given exactly as it was prepared for us in Calderitas by the fishermen. Remembering that there are no rules in cooking, feel free to add sliced poblano chiles, red bell pepper, or any other vegetables that appeal to you when sautéing the onion and celery.
The fillets were served to us in bowls with the coconut broth, and we ate it soup-like. I serve it the same way, or over rice.