Cooking Like A Mexican

Pregnant Fish / Pescado embarazado
BY: ALE BORBOLLA

pescadoem.jpg

This time, I wanted to write something special to you, but no worries nobody’s pregnant.

“Pescado embarazado” is a play on words, with “en vara” on a stick and “asado” grilled. This is a typical way of cooking fish from Jalisco, more specifically off the coast of Puerto Vallarta. It is typically sold by local fishermen who walk around selling the fish or shrimp on a stick, very hygienic indeed.

Nobody knows for sure who started this tradition, but it must be as old as time. Fish were one of the main proteins prehistoric Mexicans consumed, being emperor Moctezuma famous for his preference. He had a team of “tamemes” messengers who would run from the Gulf of Mexico or the Pacific Ocean to Tenochtitlan.

Either way, the “tamemes” ran from the fisherman’s boat on shore straight to a meeting point and so on, until they reached Moctezuma’s temple. Altogether, it was at least 186,000 miles.

Some of the oldest animal stories are about fish, and that has reflected in traditional dances, woven into beautiful patterns in handcrafted tapestry and represented in many cave paintings. And fish was greatly consumed since there was no beef, pork or chicken in the country, those were gifts of colonization when the Spanish came with Cortez. 

Tenochtitlan, which is now Mexico City, had many rivers in it, which connected the whole town. These rivers carried some itty-bitty tiny fish (which are still eaten bones and everything), but more frogs, tadpoles, and similar aquatic critters. These were cooked in many ways, but one the most interesting methods consisted of making small caves in the ground with mud and pebbles and then firing some stones around a bonfire until the rocks became red. The seasoned ingredients were placed in the caves and covered with the red-hot stones, which would cook them in a jiffy.

Nowadays, we don’t have to recur to a hot stone to cook, but we have perfected the grill. Yes, Caucasian male who is reading this; MEXICANS GRILL. And for this one, I can’t say it was us who invented the grill because humans have been grilling since they discovered fire, but I can for sure say we do a pretty good job at it.

Pescado Embarazado is generally made of dogfish, marlin (DO NOT EVER BUY MARLIN, YOU CAN ONLY HAVE IT IF YOU FISH IT), mahi mahi and sometimes shrimp, it’s a very simple recipe but it does require a specific ingredient to make it authentic: salsa Huichol.

I generally do not write about commercial ingredients, but this salsa has an interesting history.

Salsa Huichol can be found at most seafood restaurants around the Mexican Pacific, and generally wherever seafood is sold. It all started in the 30s in a small cantina in the state of Nayarit. Don Roberto’s great grandmother used to make it for her clients at the cantina, and she passed on the recipe to her family. In Mexico, the food at the cantinas was originally very spicy, to sell more beer. The logic here is, that when your mouth is on fire, you’re going to want to put the fire out with something, namely cerveza.

Anyhow, don Roberto had to learn the recipe after his great-grandma’s passing. He was sent by his dad to buy two pounds of cascabel chiles and forty used bottles of Pacifico beer. With a super-secret recipe, he ground the chiles, spices and whatever great-grandma had deliciously paired up and filled the beer bottles with it. He then rode his bike to sell the first batch around town. He sold out in less than an hour and that’s how the brand started. Nowadays, the factory makes more than a hundred thousand bottles a day, which led them to have their very own electricity generator in Xalisco, Nayarit.

Roberto’s father would travel to Hermosillo back in the day when roads were all dirt, with a hundred boxed of the stuff. Back when Roberto was a child, the first factory was in the same building as their house, and when he and his siblings were little, they couldn’t sleep because of the overwhelming stench of chiles in the air.

The recipe is the same as great-grandma’s and there are still no artificial flavors, coloring or additives. This salsa is key to enjoy pescado embarazado properly.

Ingredients:

2 pounds of fish, cut in large pieces

6 large skewer sticks

5 cloves of garlic

3 pasilla chiles (boiled, deveined and seeded)

¼ cup of onion

3 oranges (well, just the juice)

1 lime (juice as well)

3 grilled tomatoes

Salt to taste

Procedure:

In a blender, puree tomatoes, garlic, pasilla chiles, onion, the citrus juices and a sprinkle of salt.

Place the fish (or shrimp) in the marinade, and let rest for at least three hours in the refrigerator.

Insert the marinated fish onto the skewers and grill on both sides until cooked, about 4 minutes per side. Some charring is recommended.

Serve with lime wedges, huichol sauce and mayo.

Crack a beer, sit back and enjoy some pregnant, not pregnant fish!

Find me at ale.borbolla@gringogazette.com for suggestions, questions, and fan mail, always grateful for those!