For this recipe, Rick Bayless offers several versions. We chose the option with the fish fillets for our first attempt, and so we will have the instructions for that here. I will reproduce the recipe as best I can, but it is really a whole chapter so I’m only posting the parts you need to cook the dish, and I encourage you to read the book (more on that later).
Filetes de Pescado a la Veracruzana
This is a no fuss, no muss dish that’s lower on the drama scale, but still high in flavor. To feed 6, simply marinate six 5-6-ounce boneless, skinless fish fillets (stripped bass, snapper or the like) in the juice of 2 limes with about 1/2 teaspoon salt in the refrigerator for up to 1 hour–no more. Prepare the sauce as described in step 2 of the recipe. Remove the fish from the marinade and lay in a single layer in an oiled 13 x 9-inch baking dish. Spoon about 5 cups of the hot tomato sauce over the fish (save the remaining sauce for another use) and bake at 350° F until the fish flakes under firm but gentle pressure, about 10 minutes. Use a spatula to transfer each fillet to a dinner plate, spoon on the sauce from the pan, sprinkle with the reserved capers, olives, and chiles, decorate with parsley and serve.
- 1/4 cup olive oil, preferably extra-virgin
- 1 medium white onion, thinly sliced
- 4 large garlic cloves, peeled and finley chopped
- 3 pounds (6 medium-large round) ripe tomatoes peeled (if you wish), cored and chopped into 1/2 inch pieces (about 7 cups)
- 3 to 4 bay leaves
- 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano, preferably Mexican
- 3 Tablespoons roughly chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus a few sprigs for garnish
- 1 cup pitted, roughly sliced green olives, preferably manzanillo olives
- 1/4 cup capers, drained and rinsed
- 3 pickled jalapeño chiles, stemmed, seeded and thinly sliced, store-bought or homemade
Preparing the Sauce
In a medium (4- or 5-quart) pot (preferably a Dutch oven or Mexican cazuela), heat the oil over medium. Add the onion and cook, stirring regularly, until just beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute more, stirring several times. Raise the heat to medium-high and add the tomatoes, bay leaves, oregano, parsley, and half of the olives, capers, and chiles. Simmer briskly, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes to evaporate some of the liquid. Reduce the heat to medium-low, stir in 1 cup of water and simmer for 15 minutes. Taste and season with salt, usually about 1 teaspoon. Remove from the heat.
From Mexico One Plate at a Time by Rick Bayless
Gray: Never in the history of cooking has a recipe had so little to live up to. Thus begins the story of the salsa-fish. Back about 10 or 11 years ago, before Katie and I were married, we were given some frozen red snapper fillets. Not knowing what to do with them, we found a recipe in one of our cookbooks and proceeded to prepare the dish. It basically called for sprinkling the thawed fillets with salt and pepper, then dumping some salsa over them, and baking in the oven. This sounded simple enough, so Katie proceeded to prepare the dish and serve it. The result was what has become a joke in our family… anything that is so disgustingly inedible that we feel bad feeding it to the dog, is labeled salsa-fish. It was so bad that we haven’t even been willing to try it again until now.
Enter Rick Bayless: We like Rick Bayless, no… we like Rick Bayless… a lot. His Frontera salsa is delicious, his show, Mexico One Plate at a Time, is a favorite, and this cookbook rocks. We figured that if anyone could get this recipe right, it was Rick Bayless.
I’m glad we were right. This was delicious, and we would definitely serve it again anytime.
Since it is only 2 of us, we purchased a fish and had it filleted by our fishmonger, Earp’s Seafood. This was the first time we have done this, and it is a huge convenience and we really appreciated the service (no charge), plus knowing that we had a fresh fish. We also halved the sauce recipe. Based on the timing, I got all of the ingredients ready and measured, peeled the tomatoes, then put the fish in the marinade. Then we sliced the onion and olives, chopped the tomatoes and parsley and started cooking. I pulled the sauce off the heat at about 55 minutes on the marinade time 🙂
After all was said and done, I was really pleased with the dish. It is very rich and flavorful, but it does require a fair amount of work to prepare it. I can appreciate serving it in the whole-fish method for a party where you want something with flair. You could make the sauce up ahead of time and finish it off at your party, and that would make it much easier. That being said, there are faster and easier ways to cook fish if you want a quick weeknight meal.
I also want to make sure I say how much I love this cookbook. It is a James Beard Award winning cookbook, and it shows. The recipes are treated with a depth of discussion and explanation that lets you really know what you are doing and why. This is the type of writing that elevates a cookbook from a collection of recipe cards to an enjoyable work of literary art.
Katie: Well, Gray was pretty nice about my salsa-fish debacle. It is funny to look back on it now, but I was upset at the time that my supper turned out so badly. On the salsa-fish theme, Gray once made this cabbage & sausage dish that was disgusting! We have both made our fair share of salsa-fish recipes in the past, and I’m sure we’ll continue to do so in the future. It is just part of cooking, and one of the things that helps you figure out what you like to eat.
This recipe was the bomb! Hooray Rick Bayless! In case you weren’t sure from Gray’s comments above, we love Rick Bayless’s show and cookbook. As I didn’t do very much in the preparation stages (thanks Gray!), I didn’t see it as labor intensive. So I just sat down with a nice plate of fish and a glass of wine and it was delicious! But I do know what work went into it, so we will probably save this recipe for a dinner party and prepare fish more simply for just the two of us. At the end of the day, we now know that snapper veracruz is actually delicious!