Walking through a fish market is fun for a cook, because you never know what you will find. And what you find determines the method of cooking. At the Fish Market in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle today, Mario and Martin at stall #25 had a small selection, but varied enough for our taste. The catch today was mostly pompano, sierra and huachinango, with some jurel, a jack mackerel.
The pompano caught our eye, as we already knew how flavorful and tender it is. We have used pompano to make Fish Fillets Poached in Coconut Milk, Chipotle Fish Soup, Ceviche, and Coconut Fish Fillets. Pompano is a great fish for almost anything you want to do with it, and considering the price here at the fish market — 35 pesos per kilo (about $1.50 per pound) — and considering how great it tastes, you won’t go wrong, no matter how you prepare it.
Two of the other fish offered today, sierra (with their gold dots) and huachinango, could be used for any of the recipes listed, and they are also great for grilling. If you grill, use a fish basket, which you can purchase at the La Cruz Wednesday street market, to place over the coals. Oil the basket and the fish well to make sure nothing sticks.
Whatever you buy, avoid the small huachinango, or red snapper. Because restaurant customers like whole red snapper that are plate-size, fishermen have a ready market for the small, immature snappers. While they may look beautiful on a plate, and be just the right size for one serving, they are juveniles that will never reach reproduction age. The seas are in trouble enough, without catching juveniles that will never be able to restock their species. This morning at the market, another vendor had small red snappers for sale. It was a sad sight.
This is a good time to take your Spanish-English dictionary, along with your camera, a bottle of water, and a reusable shopping bag. With the water, the boats and the fresh fish, you will find photo opportunities in every direction.
It doesn’t take much Spanish to communicate what you want to buy. For soup, “Para caldo”. For pan frying, “Para freír”. For ceviche, “Para ceviche“. That one is easy enough. For grilling, “Para asar”. Say two words, and you will be sold the right fish for your recipe, even if you don’t know what species you want. “Filete” or “Entero” will let your vendor know if you want the fish filleted or whole. If filleted, you can ask for the trimmings, “Huesos y cabeza”, to make fish stock. If you can’t get the words out, write them down. These guys will do anything to help you buy what you want.
If you bought fillets, there is one step to do at home before you start cooking. With your sharpest, thinnest knife, preferably a boning knife, cut out the blood line. This is the strip of red meat that runs down the center of the fillet. Use your fingers to feel the bones in the blood line and cut them out with the red meat. Angle the blade so that you make a diagonal cut into the edge of, and under, the red strip, running the blade down the length of the blood line. Do the same on the other side of the blood line and lift the red strip out. If you don’t cut this out, the blood line will give the fillet a strong, fishy taste. Feel the entire fillet for bones with your fingers tips. If you find any, use tweezers or small, needle-nose pliers to pull them out.
Remove the blood line as soon as you get home, as its taste will permeate the meat if it is left in during refrigerator storage. It doesn’t have to be wasted, either. Kitties love it.
To store fresh fish for up to 3 days (provided your fridge is very cold), fill a container with ice, lay a piece of plastic wrap over the ice, and place the fish on top on plastic wrap or in a zip-lock bag. Do not let fish set in melted ice, as the water will pull flavor out.
Pan Fried Fish Fillets
Now you are ready to cook fish as simply as possible: pan-fried. Allow about 6-8 oz. (about 200 grams) per serving, or just eye-ball an amount that looks good for your appetite. For each 6-oz. fillet, prepare 1 tablespoon of flour, seasoned with salt and pepper. Dredge the fish in the flour, coating it well on all sides.
Heat a skillet over medium heat with equal amounts of olive oil and butter . If you are cooking 2 fillets, 1 tablespoon of each is enough. When the butter has stopped foaming, put the fillets in the pan. Allow 8-9 minutes of cooking per 1 inch of fillet thickness. Halfway through cooking, turn the fillets over and cook the other side. Serve with lemon or lime slices and garnish with fresh cilantro.
If you want a recipe that is even easier, skip the dredging in flour part. Heat equal amounts of olive oil and butter, season the fillets with salt and pepper, and cook following the same instructions.
If this is still too much work for you, slice the raw fish so thin you can almost see through it, squeeze a few drops of lime juice and sprinkle tamari or soy sauce on the slices, and eat sashimi style. You would only do this with the freshest of fish caught the same day and you only do this with fish you filleted yourself, to avoid contamination at the fish market.
~ La Cruz de Huanacaxtle is located on the Bay of Banderas, about 15 miles north of Puerto Vallarta.
~ If you aren’t lucky enough to live close to a fresh fish market, don’t despair. For guidelines on purchasing seafood, refer to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch web page. Frozen fish is usually very good, as it is often flash-frozen on the boat for maximum flavor and freshness.
La Cruz de Huanacaxtle Fish Market