Veracruz-style red snapper

It’s been a while since I’ve posted here. I’d love to say it’s because I’ve been doing exciting, productive things in my spare time. But that’s really not it. If I’m being totally honest, it’s because I made this recipe months ago, and it was one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten. But I’ve been hesitant to show it off, because the only photo I have of it is terrible. (Ed: Photo replaced with a better one.)

This is one of the things that frustrates me most about food blogs. Everything’s got to be gorgeously plated and naturally lit. Everything’s got to look mouthwatering, no matter whether or not it actually is. Even if you’re just snapping a photo with your iPhone while your hungry family waits out of frame, it’s got to be magazine-worthy (or just a Photoshop revamp away). Gluten-Free Girl had a glorious “Fuck Pinterest” post up a while back, which I’m unable to find now, but which laid out the pressure of the perfect photograph so beautifully. It’s not really about the recipes anymore, but about how they look through a lens.

And while I’m ranting: I’ve also noticed lately that a lot of food personalities tend to use the word “rustic” as a substitute for “not asthetically perfect.” I bristle at that. There’s nothing “rustic” about my cooking. It’s homemade. I make mistakes. Calling an imperfectly chopped or arranged or plated dish “rustic” is pretending that even kitchen accidents are deliberate. It’s insisting that everything has to be “food-styled,” rather than just letting things look how they look. It’s like the cat that runs splat into a wall, then walks away with its tail high, as if to say, “I meant to do that.” (Though it’s significantly more adorable when a cat does it.)

I may not be a food stylist, or any good with an iPhone camera. But I sure can tell you how good this recipe tastes. It’s a Mexican fish dish, quick and easy to prepare and phenomenally delicious. It starts with fillets of flaky white fish, layered in a baking dish with a piquant sauteed mixture of tomatoes, capers, olives, and pickled jalapenos. In the oven, the fish exudes its own juices, creating a gauzy sauce in the bottom of the dish that’s perfect for spooning over rice or tortillas or bread. For the amount of time it takes to prepare–maybe 45 minutes, tops, if you’re a slow chopper like me–I can’t think of any dish that offers more explosive flavor per bite. I’ve now made it multiple times, and it’s become one of my go-tos for a simple but very special supper.

I’m sure another food blogger could make this look like a million bucks. Me? I just say make this, and make it soon–no matter what the photo says.

veracruz halibut

Huachinango a la Veracruzana (Veracruz-Style Red Snapper) (serves 6-8)

A mash-up of recipes from Food Wishes and Food52

Note: If you can’t get red snapper, just about any flaky white fish will work here. In the picture above, I actually used halibut, which was just as lovely as the snapper. Sea bass, cod, or catfish would also be terrific.

3 lb red snapper fillets (about 6 fillets), thawed if frozen

Salt to taste

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 tbsp olive oil

1 large white onion, diced

4 large or 6-8 small garlic cloves, minced

3 cups cherry or grape tomatoes, halved

1 cup pitted green olives, sliced, or to taste

1/3 cup sliced pickled jalapenos, or to taste

2 tbsp drained capers + 2 tbsp caper brine

2 tbsp chopped fresh oregano OR 2 tsp dried oregano

Juice of 4 limes (about 1/2 cup juice)

Preheat the oven to 425º F, and position a rack in the middle. Lightly grease a 9×13 baking dish. Cut the snapper fillets in half widthwise, into about 4-oz pieces. Season the pieces on both sides with salt and pepper. Set aside.

In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring frequently, for 6-8 minutes, or until the onion is translucent. Add garlic, tomatoes, olives, pickled jalapenos, capers, and caper brine, and continue to cook for 3-4 minutes, or until the tomatoes start to soften and collapse. Remove from the heat and stir in oregano.

Spoon about a third of the tomato mixture into the bottom of the baking dish. Lay down half of the snapper pieces in a single layer. Spoon over another third of the sauce, then drizzle over half of the lime juice. Lay the remaining snapper fillets on top, then top with the rest of the sauce and drizzle over the rest of the lime juice. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the fish is opaque all the way through and flakes easily with a fork. Remove from the oven and serve immediately.

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