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Seafood Fiesta

by Hardy Haberman

From the tourist filled resorts of Acapulco to the bustling fishing port of Vera Cruz, seafood is the catch for festive eating in Mexico. If your only exposure to Mexican Food is the Tex Mex recipes popular in the USA, then you will have a pleasant surprise when sampling the subtle and sassy cuisine of the Mexican coast.

hat A typical start to a Mexican feast is a cool and delicious serving of Ceviche. This marinated appetizer of raw fish and seafood can be served chilled in an icy compote with wedges of avocado and lime, or piled on a bed of sliced jicama and garnished with ground red pepper. Either way it offers a distinctive beginning to a festive meal. The secret is the freshest fish and an attention to spicing.

Typical entrees run the spectrum of the sea's bounty. Huachinango (Red Snapper) is a favorite in Vera Cruz. Served lightly sauted and topped with a distinctive Veracruzana sauce this tasty dish enhances the essence of the fish while adding a bouquet of spices and chopped vegetables. On a bed of rice or accompanied by Fedeo (Mexican pasta) this dish is an authentic taste of Mexico.

The spicy creation, Pulpo en Diabla (Octopus in Diabolo Sauce) is favored in several places including Isla De Mujeres off the coast of Cancun. When carefully selected and cooked right, there is none of the rubbery texture sometimes associated with Octopus and Squid creations.

Camarones (Shrimp) appear in a bounty of dishes, including Camarones al Ajilla, a savory Mexican dish similar to the familiar Italian Scampi. Another spicy treat is Camarones in Adobo Sauce. This dark flavorful sauce is rich with Ancho chiles and can be prepared very hot or less spicy depending on your tastes.

Mexican ingenuity is legendary, and when it comes to seafood, they find dozens of ways to adapt foods to their traditional cooking and serving methods. Fish tacos are very popular throughout the country, not just the coastal cities.

These don't resemble the familiar US fast food tacos (thank goodness), but are flavorful mixtures wrapped in soft flour or corn tortillas. Great for a meal on the run or party food, Fish tacos can be made from nearly any kind of fish or seafood.

More familiar seafoods are popular on Mexican tables. Steamed lobster or crawfish make succulent centerpieces for a festive meal. Served with more typical Mexican side dishes, these simple entrees can take on an exotic flare. Serving a dish with Salsa as a garnish, or on a bed of Mexican rice, or with a side dish of black beans All these simple touches can make an ordinary meal a real fiesta.

Authors Note: My apologies to anyone who takes offense at my loose use of Spanish. As a native Texan, I speak the unique dialect known as "Spanglish" or "Tex-Mex". Luckily for us Texans, the good folks of Mexico have graciously shared their cuisine and culture with our state.

Octopus Pulpo en Diabla

This recipe is pieced together from a variety of experiments and resources, the chef who first served me this dish speaks little English and even less when asked to reveal the recipe.

Diabolo Sauce
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp. Fennel seeds
2 Jalapeno peppers, quartered
2 red bell peppers, coarse chopped
flesh of 1 large, ripe mango
2 cups chicken broth
2 tbsp. butter
Juice of 1 lime
salt to taste

Melt butter in saucepan over medium heat and add garlic, onion and fennel seeds. Saute for a while then stir in peppers and mango. Cook for 5 minutes before adding chicken broth. Reduce by 3/4. Transfer mixture to blender and blend ingredients on high speed for 1/2 min. Season to taste with lime juice and salt.

Cooking the Octopus
2 1/4 lbs. young octopus
8 tablespoons olive oil
1 thinly sliced medium white onion
1/2 cup red wine
8 oz. can of tomatoes, roughly chopped
2 teaspoons dried oregano
black pepper

Clean the octopus. Pull off the tentacles and then remove and discard the intestines and the ink sac and any other naughty bits inside. Outside, remove the eyes and cut off the beak. That disagreeable task out of the way, you may now skin the octopus and wash and scrub it thoroughly to remove any sand.

Cut it into 1 1/2 to 2 inch pieces and put it into a non-stick saucepan over medium flame to release the liquid inside the octopus. Stir until this liquid has evaporated.

Now add the olive oil and stir the octopus searing it lightly on all sides. Add the onion slices stirring once or twice, until they colour slightly.

Add the wine, tomatoes, oregano and a little fresh ground pepper. Stir well, cover the pan and simmer gently for about an hour, checking from time to time that the sauce has not dried out. If it does add a little more wine or water. The octopus is cooked when it can be easily pierced with a skewer.

Remove the octopus and retain some of the sauce in the pan. Add to this the Diabolo sauce and mix thoroughly over a medium heat . When it is well blended, return the chunks of octopus to the pan and stir them in until they are reheated. Remove from the stove and serve at once.

Camarones al Ajillo
2 lbs. medium size shrimp peeled and deveined
1 1/2 cup of olive oil
4 tbs. chopped fresh garlic
1 tsp. salt
1 tbs. tabasco sauce
2 tbs. Cilantro
1/2 fresh lime

In medium size skillet, heat olive oil until medium hot. Add garlic and saute for 2-3 minutes until light golden brown. Add the shrimp, tabasco sauce and salt and cook for 5 minutes.

Before serving, sprinkle with cilantro and the juice of a fresh lime. This dish can be served in a sizzling skillet or over saffroned rice.


8 oz peeled and deveined shrimp
3/4 lb swordfish fillets cut in 1/2 inch cubes
8 oz scallops
Juice of 7 small limes
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
3/4 cup tomato juice
2 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoon finely chopped jalapeno peppers

3/4 finely chopped white onion
4 chopped serrano peppers
2 finely chopped tomatoes
2 tablespoon dried and crushed oregano
Salt to taste

Fresh chopped Cilantro

In glass bowl mix all seafood ingredients and cover with lime juice. Marinate 4 hours or overnight. Drain. Return seafood to bowl.

Mix onion, serrano peppers, tomatoes, parsely and cilantro. Stir in tomato juice, oil, jalapenos with juice, oregano and salt. Pour sauce over fish, mix gently and marinate for 1 day in refrigerator.

Fill serving cups with ceviche, garnishing with cilantro. Ceviche can be refrigerated for up to 5 days. Serves 6

Fish Huachinango a la Veracruzana
1 red snapper (about 3 lbs.)
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoon lime juice
2 lb. tomatoes peeled and seeded, chopped roughly
1/4 cup olive oil
1 finely sliced onion
2 finely sliced cloves of garlic
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon oregano
12 green olives cut in half
2 tablespoon capers
2 jalapenos en escabeche cut in strips
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoon olive oil

Clean the fish well and leave the head and tail on.

With a fork, prick the fish on both sides and rub in the salt and lime juice. Then set it aside in a baking dish to season for about two hours.

In a skillet, heat the olive oil and fry the onion and garlic until they become soft. Add the chopped tomatoes, oregano, olives, bay leaf, capers, jalapenos, and remaining salt to the pan and cook over a high flame until some of the juice has evaporated--about ten minutes. Stir constantly. Pour the sauce over the snapper, sprinkle with a little olive oil and bake for about 20 minutes at 350 degrees. Turn the fish over and continue baking it until it is barely tender basting it frequently with the sauce.

Serve topped with the sauce remaining in the pan and garnish with a few sprigs of cilantro and thinly sliced wedges of lemon or lime.

Shrimp In Adobo Sauce
2 dried ancho chiles
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 lbs. peeled and deveined shrimp
1/4 cup olive oil
8 oz can of tomatoes
1 cup orange juice
1 cup chopped onion
1 minced clove of garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon Mexican oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Shredded lettuce 1/4 head
Sprigs of fresh cilantro
Thin orange slices

Cut ancho chiles open, discard stems and seeds. Cut the chiles into small pieces with a pair of scissors or a sharp knife. Place in a small bowl and cover with boiling water; set aside for 45 to 60 minutes to soak. Drain.

Lightly brown the shrimp in hot oil, then place them in a 9 X 12" baking dish.

Combine drained ancho chiles (or crushed red peppers) with undrained tomatoes, orange juice, onions, garlic, salt, oregano, cumin, cinnamon, and cloves in a blender. Blend until smooth.

In the skillet used for cooking the shrimp, simmer this mixture for about 20 minutes, or until thickened, stirring occasionally.

Pour the Adobo sauce over the shrimp in the baking dish. Bake, uncovered, in a preheated 350º degree F. oven for 20 minutes. Transfer the shrimp to a serving platter. Garnish with shredded lettuce, cilantro and orange slices. Serves about 6 people.

Fish Tacos

1 lb. boned and fileted white fish such as snapper, swordfish, or yellow fin
Juice of 1/2 lime
six 8 inch flour tortillas
1 chopped tomato
1 cups shredded lettuce
1/2 cup chopped green onion

Spice Mix
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Picante salsa

Rub the fish with lime juice, and spice mix and set aside.

In Mexico they serve these on the street, so the cooking is over a small gas burner, but for the kitchen: Use a non-stick skillet or griddle lightly coated with olive oil and heated over a medium flame. Cook filets for a couple of minutes on each side or until fish flakes easily. This will make a lot of smoke, so have enough ventilation.

Warm the flour tortillas in a medium over or microwave. If warmed in a microwave, separate with wax paper. Roll the fish in tortillas with a little shredded lettuce,tomatoes, green onions. Sprinkle with salsa and cilantro.

More Mexican Seafood recipes from our archive

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