Fish in the style of Veracruz Mexico is a classic treatment that at first blush looks like a strange cocktail of ingredients. Tomatoes with cinnamon and cloves? Olives and capers? Pickled jalapeno juice?
There is definitely a Spanish influence here and an almost Renaissance approach to flavors. Yet somehow it all works, producing in the end a dish that many of the kids in our "food appreciation" classes went absolutely wild over.
Others just don't like fish. Well, there's no accounting for taste.
We happen to be in Veracruz on our virtual world food tour after three weeks hopping around the Caribbean. Veracruz is the steamy Mexican port on the Carribean side of the country, perhaps best known for its sugar cane refineries. But Veracruz also has a style of food all its own and we definitely wanted to sample what may be its signature dish.
Typically, fish Veracruz would be made with red snapper but snapper has been overfished and is rated "avoid" by seafood sustainability groups such as "Seafood Watch" at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Consequently we chose a farmed U.S. catfish, which holds up very well to being cooked in a tomato sauce, almost like a seafood stew.
The list of ingredients for this preparation is lengthy. But the actual assembly is rather quick and easy. The reward is all in the unique flavor--a bit sweet and sour, a little spicy--definitely exotic and perhaps unlike anything you've tried before.
For the fish:
1 1/2 pounds thick farmed catfish fillet, cut into 2-inch chunks
For the sauce:
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, peeled, halved lengthwise and sliced thin
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes with juices
12 pitted green olives, preferably Manzanillo, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon Spanish capers
1 large pickled jalapeno pepper, stemmed, seeded and cut into thin strips
1 tablespoon pickled jalapeno juice
3 /4 teaspoon dried oregano
3/4 teaspoon dried thyme
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 spice sachet consisting of 3 bay leaves, 1 cinnamon stick, 2 cloves and six crushed black peppercorns tied in cheesecloth
1 cup fish stock
Salt to taste
In a heavy pot, heat the olive oil over moderately low heat. Sweat the onions and garlic until soft, about 8 minutes. Add the tomatoes, olives, capers, jalapenos, pickling juice, oregano, thyme, parsley, spice sachet and fish stock. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for about 30 minutes. Season with salt as needed. Add catfish and cook another 10 minutes, or until the fish is just cooked through.
Ladle the stew over brown rice and garnish with additional parsley. Serve immediately with warm corn tortillas.