Last Friday afternoon I rode my bike to Sarah’s with a bag so full of a giant fish that its beautiful pink tail was poking out the top. When we were on the Pacific coast of Mexico I ate a fish a day, and it was always accompanied by tortillas and salsa. This is my idea of a perfect meal. It surprised me at first that a fish taco came not readily prepared, but as a whole fish, and that the flesh was to be picked from the bones. But leaving the fish whole keeps it tasty and succulent – especially when it is steamed in its own juices as in the recipe below.
The flesh is lightly spiced, not too overpowering, so that the taste of the fish itself is still there. The capsicums become caramel sweet and unfolding the foil revealed a beautiful rosy fish and fragrant steam. We dug into the soft white flesh with our forks, grabbing a little of the spiced tomatoes-capsicum mix with each forkful and made our tortillas fat.
We didn’t have enough chairs for everyone so we ate standing up around the table, salsa dripping down our arms.
for the tortilla:
We don’t normally link to other sites for recipes, but we found this blog, and the step-by-step guide on how to make a tortilla is so easy and excellent that we thought the best thing would be just to direct you there! We made two batches of this tortilla dough. It may be difficult to find the masa flour, but we sourced ours from Casa Iberica on Johnson Street, Fitzroy.
for the fish:
Adapted from a recipe called Grouper Cooked in its Juice (Cherna en su Jugo) from My Mexico, Diana Kennedy
1 tbsp teaspoon cumin seeds
1 tbsp peppercorns
1 tbsp dried oregano
8 garlic cloves, peeled
½ teaspoon chipotle paste, or a little chili
4 tsp salt, or to taste
2kg whole fish, with slashes cut into the flesh of the fish on both sides
(bitter orange juice substitute)
2 tbsp orange juice
2 tbsp grapefruit juice
2 tbsp lime juice
zest of 1 lime
1 tsp grapefruit zest
¼ cup olive oil
1 small bunch of flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped with stems
1 medium white onion, chopped finely
2 sweet peppers or 1 green capsicum, seeded and thinly sliced
1 yellow capsicum, seeded and thinly sliced
6 tomatoes, thinly sliced
Toast the cumin, peppercorns and oregano until fragrant. Ground in the mortar and pestle. Remove. Crush the garlic and salt together in the mortar and pestle, add the spices, chipotle paste or chili. Spread this paste on both sides of the whole fish. Pour over the bitter orange juice substitute and set aside for a minimum of half an hour.
Heat oil in a skillet, add the onion, capsicums and fry without browning for about three minutes, add sliced tomato and parsley and continue cooking for a further five minutes. The mixture should still have some shape, and juice.
We cooked our fish on the BBQ, steamed in foil, but it could be cooked on a pan on the stovetop if you have two small fish instead of one large, or in a pan in the oven, covered.
Place the fish in foil/pan with the tomato mixture. Cook for 15 or so minutes depending on the size of the fish. Set aside to season off the heat, for about ten minutes before serving.
Serve with warm tortillas, salsa or hot sauce of your choice, a light coleslaw and the whole fish at the table, so that people can construct their own tacos.
(Sarah and I are a little conflicted about eating fish, with overfishing and the global state of fish stocks we really have considered giving up eating fish altogether, but we have settled on only eating fish rarely, (when not in Mexico …) and when we do we try and eat locally caught, sustainable fish – definitely not tuna, which is almost endangered, eeep! The pink fish we cooked on Friday was a red snapper – not the most sustainably fished fish, but it looked so fresh and beautiful. I hope we did its life justice with this delicious recipe.)
(This photo is a little different to how we normally shoot – film and flash. But it’s a new year and we are mixing things up a little. Thanks for modeling Max. Oh and thanks for making all those tortillas!)