I used to cook at a Houston shelter for homeless men and women called Casa Juan Diego. The shelter is a project of “The Catholic Worker” movement, and it includes a residence for homeless refugees and immigrants, men with advanced cases of AIDS. One of the men asked me if I would please make him “Huachinango a la Veracruzana” because the dish reminded him of home and he knew he was facing his last days. That was a memorable, graced request that humbled me.
I made this dish for him, and it is just one example of how food is memory and love.
It is a celebratory and visually beautiful dish, an example of the Moroccan, Arab influence on Mexican cuisine. There is no cilantro in this recipe but rather flat leaf parsley, reminiscent of the Morrocan “Tagine” this dish resembles.
Note that the Mediterranean coast of Morocco resembles the coast of Veracruz.
The similarities to Moroccan, Mediterranean, cuisines continues with the delicious addition of onions, black pepper, briny capers and green olives. But then it’s really the main characters that give the dish its identity. Absolutely fresh and sweet Red Snapper from the Gulf of Mexico, ripe tomates (tomatoes) and the chile Jalapeño. I can understand how this dish is a source of memories and gives you a sense of belonging. I love to make it. For Father’s day, it’s an inspired change from steak.
(This recipe is from a previous blog post and is excerpted from my book: “Truly Texas Mexican: A Native Culinary Heritage In Recipes”
Recipe (serves 8 )
8 six-to-eight-ounce Red Snapper fillets
1/4 cup juice of Mexican limes
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 cups diced white onion
4 garlic cloves, minced
12 cups Roma tomatoes (about 12 tomatoes), diced
1 1/2 cups Manzanilla olives, some sliced, some whole
1/2 cup Spanish capers, whole
8 bay leaves
1/3 cup Flat parsley, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup Jalapeños en escabeche (pickled), sliced
1 Tbsp salt,
ground black pepper, t.t.
1. Dry the filets and season with 1/2 Tbsp salt and some freshly ground black pepper
2. Drizzle with the lime juice, cover and refrigerate for one hour or even up to four hours if your dinner party schedule requires it.
3. Preheat oven to 350º F
4. In a large skillet heat the extra virgin olive oil and cook the onions until translucent.
5. Add the garlic and cook for one minute.
6. Add the tomatoes, bay leaves, capers, olives, and 1/4 cup of the parsley and cook for 5 minutes until the tomatoes are tender. You can hold the mixture warm for up to an hour if you need to enjoy your guests and then proceed to the next step.
7 . Spread one half of the tomato mixture on the bottom of a casserole and lay the filets on top skin side down. Spread the rest of the tomato mixture over the filets, cover tightly and place in the oven.
8. Cook for 30 minutes or until the fish is thoroughly cooked.
9. Uncover the dish. Sprinkle the top of the filets with the rest of the parsley and the pickled Jalapeño slices.
Serve immediately over white rice. Enjoy!