I’ve always loved red snapper, especially at Thai restaurants. Haven’t had it in a while, but it’s the one thing I love to order every other visit. Cuban and Latin Americans eat pargo any kind of way, but I don’t remember my mother ever really making it. Short of recently seeing it prepared in avocado in a Cuban cookbook, I had kind of “back-burnered” it from my top culinary choices.
But then a good friend of mine—one who oft-times will offer to take me grocery shopping provided I cook for him)—kept suggesting he wanted me to make him escoviche. So, I took up his offer and had him take me shopping. We went to an international farmer’s market and bought whole (head and everything) red snapper. The price was so incredibly low, and had I been greedy, I would have asked him to buy six or so more pounds! Hugs and kisses all the way to the register, he couldn’t have been giddier. (I couldn’t help but tell him he’d better calm down in the event I didn’t exceed his expectations.)
I looked up the main ingredients for escoviche and found way too many recipes, so I did what I always do and made up my own receta. That’s what cooking’s all about anyway! There seemingly isn’t one prescribed way of making this Jamaican or Caribbean dish, so adding mine to the mix was okay. I found that most of them did call for this super spicy pepper called Scotch pepper (which I saw a paste of at the farmer’s market); but I left that out and subbed it for red, yellow and green peppers instead. I also added and omitted some other goodies, namely spices and herbs.
One thing I hadn’t tried three years ago, but absolutely love now, is coriander! Oh my God, what I’ve been missing in all my Cuban and fusion cooking!! I am officially addicted to this spice and have become a bon-a-fide lover of ALL spices! I called my mother immediately after having smashed it in my mortar & pestle and questioned her non-use of it in over 40 years of cooking. Naturally, she was like "mijita, no, no—eso no se usa en Cuba."
(I told her to get it together.)
A few weeks later I made the escoviche I so nicely mastered on my first try for my father. Let me tell you something about my father: He’s very, very hard on me. He’s my editor when I do professional writing (a political journalist of 30 years), my biggest critic and my number one devil’s advocate. But most importantly, my best man friend, ever. So, pleasing my father is not an easy task. He doesn’t intimidate me, just inspires me to work harder.
When he was done with his full headed and tailed red snapper escoviche, I got a high five. (YES!) It was cooked to point, not too salty, plenty of vegetables, right amount of tart flavor (vinegar), coriander seeds popping in aroma and flavor and not too much oregano! I wasn’t relieved as much as I was super happy that I felt confident in being able to add this dish to my repertoire of non-Cuban food. And, I had so much fun cooking it!
I love that cooking is an art, ergo, no rules! Leave me a comment and let me know which Latin dish you add your own flavor to!
RED SNAPPER ESCOVICHE
* 2-3 whole red snapper
* 1 green pepper, rings
* 1 red bell pepper, rings
* 1 yellow pepper, rings
* 1 red onion, rings
* 1 fresh carrot, thinly sliced
* 2 lemons, squeezed and divided
* 1 cup vinegar
* 6 garlic cloves, smashed and divided
* 1 tbsp. oregano
* 3 tbsp. dry white cooking wine
* 2 tbsp. coriander seeds, divided
* 1.5 tbsp. salt, divided
* 1 tbsp. black pepper
* 2 tsp. orange zest
* 1 bay leaf
* 1 cup vegetable or olive oil for fish
Make sure your fish is cleaned out inside. Rub salt and pepper on both sides. Stuff cavity with 1/2 of the garlic, half of coriander and squeeze one lemon on fish. Let sit for about 30 minutes. In large non-stick skillet, turn heat to medium and cook fish on both sides for about 10 minutes. Add remaining juice from the lemon marinade. While fish is cooking, add vinegar, bay leaf and all vegetables to a separate pan and cook for about 10 minutes on medium-high heat. Remove fish from heat. Add oregano, coriander, remaining salt, pepper, remaining lemon and orange zest to the vegetable mix. Stir gently and cook for another 10 minutes on medium. Transfer fish to larger pan, using 1/2 of the oil it was cooking in. Add vegetable mix to fish. Add cooking wine and additional salt to taste if needed. Cover and let cook on low-medium for another 10-15 minutes.
Serve with rice and any salad you like. Serves 4-6.
For more great cooking advice from Bren Herrera visit Flanboyanteats.com.