Cooking Like a Mexican

 Cooking Like a Mexican

BY ALEJANDRA BORBOLLA

We are just past “Cuaresma” or Lent. For the non-Catholics visiting who need an introduction, Lent lasts for 40 days beginning Ash Wednesday and ending Easter Sunday. If you do a little math in your head right now, you’ll count 46 days. We say Lent is only 40 days because Sundays don’t count according to the church’s calendar. Sundays don’t count because Sunday has always been considered by Christians to be a ‘little Easter’. It’s the day we celebrate the Lord’s resurrection and his victory over sin and death. Sunday is never considered a day of penance but always a day of rejoicing.

In Mexico, as well as in many other mainly Catholic countries, it’s common for believers to refrain from eating meat on Ash Wednesday and Fridays throughout Lent. Some do meatless Fridays year-round. Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are also supposed to be fasting days, during which Catholic adults eat only one full meal. Depending on who you ask, you might find some who fast on all Fridays during Lent. You may also be familiar with the practice of Catholics giving things up for Lent – and maybe you’ve wondered what that’s all about. Fasting and giving up vices during Lent is a way for Catholics to connect to Jesus, making a sacrifice that is supposed to help us understand his suffering. Ideally, we aren’t just giving up sin during Lent, but abstaining from sin after Lent as well. For example, giving up your favorite candy (a particularly popular item for children to give up) but then going back to eating them after Lent is over is not how it’s supposed to work.

I am a huge fan of all seafood, and one of my favorite dishes is Zarandeado. The recipe is really for the adobo or sauce and cooking method. You can make it with fish, shrimp and even octopus and the way to do it is on a “zaranda” over a grill or open fire. 

The origin of Zarandeado dates back to prehispanic times when the states of Sinaloa and Nayarit were united by the Totorame people. Back then, the region was under the rule of the Chametla from the Piaxtla river in modern-day San Ignacio to the Santiago River in what is now Nayarit. 

More specifically, this dish is believed to come from Mexcaltitán, a very small island roughly the size of four football fields, right in the middle of the Santiago River in Nayarit. That small little island is called the “Mexican Venice” because during the rainy season, all the inner roads and pathways fill with water and the locals switch their usual wheeled transport for small balsas or rafts. 

Since Nayarit and Sinaloa were just one people, zarandeado can be considered to be authentic in both states. The recipes are a little different, but I will give you both so you can experiment and decide which one you like best. 

Before we begin, the best fish for zarandeado is huachinango, robalo or any other white flesh fish. 

Traditional Nayarit Zarandeado Ingredients: 

3 lbs. of fish, clean and open from mouth to tail or 3 lbs of clean shrimp (keep the shells on), or clean octopus. 

For the adobo or salsa: 

1 stick of butter

3 tablespoons of powdered achiote (available at any Mexican supermarket and some Latin and Asian supermarkets outside of Mexico) 

2 cloves of garlic, mashed (tip: to avoid garlic reflux and burps, slice garlic in half and remove the “heart” that looks like a small sprout or root)

3 dashes of soy sauce or Maggi sauce 

3 dashes of Worcester sauce 

½ cup of sour orange juice or the juice of 5 limes 

2 guajillo chiles, seedless and previously soaked in hot water (not spicy)

2 de arbol chiles, seedless and previously soaked in hot water (kind of spicy)

Salt and pepper to taste

Procedure: 

Once the protein you will use is clean, pat dry with paper towels. 

In a blender, make a sauce with all the ingredients except butter. 

In a skillet, melt the butter and then add it to the adobo. 

Mix well and brush on the seafood of choice, coating evenly on all sides. 

Place the coated fish, shrimp or octopus on a fish grill and cook over a grill or slow open fire with medium heat for 5-7 minutes per side, until fully cooked. The sides and thinner pieces will char. You want a little char all over. 

Sinaloa style Zarandeado ingredients: 

3 lbs. of fish, clean and open from mouth to tail or 3 lbs of clean shrimp (keep the shells on), or clean octopus.

For the adobo or sauce: 

1 stick of butter

4 tomatoes

4 tablespoons of soy sauce 

A bunch of cilantro 

3 tablespoons of regular mustard 

3 tablespoons of mayonnaise 

½ Morron pepper

½ white onion

2 tablespoons of oregano 

Salt and pepper to taste

Procedure: 

Once the seafood is clean, season it with salt and pepper on all sides. Let it rest for 10 minutes. 

On a large enough piece of aluminum foil, place chopped tomatoes and onions. 

Massage the seafood with butter, mustard and mayonnaise and place on top. 

Cover with more tomato and onion, add some dashes of soy sauce, and some cilantro and close neatly into a packet. 

Cook on a small flame or grill for 10-15 minutes until fully cooked and fragrant. 

Both recipes are accompanied with white rice, salad and tortillas. 

I am always available at ale.borbolla@gringogazette.com and happy to hear from you!