As I mentioned before, the subjects of this blog would be as wide and varied as my interests, and to prove to you that this is NO LIE, I’m reporting on my official reunion with a functioning kitchen that I’m comfortable with using, and my first dish made since returning to LA from Boston.
I flew into LAX last Saturday, and my parents took me to lunch at El Puerto Escondido, a little Mexican seafood dive in Inglewood, right next to the airport. Nearly everything on the menu is seafood. I was about to order a plate of octopus sauteed in olive oil, but at the last second something caught my eye, and instantly I knew I had to have it. Rare are the days when I know exactly what I want at a restaurant without a shred of doubt – but this one of those days, so I threw down the menu and made my proclamation: I would be ordering tiritas de pescado.
Tiritas de pescado is a dish developed in and unique to the Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo region of Mexico. While on vacation on a few years back, my dad and I took a fishing trip into the ocean off Ixtapa, about a mile out, and caught some monstrous fish. The guys who took us out fishing told us that eating the fish tiritas-style – that is, marinating in lime rather than cooking it conventionally – increases the sex drive. Why take Viagra when you can eat fresh fish everyday? I imagined the driver of our boat going home and eating tiritas, then telling his wife, “Hey let’s get down to business, I’ve only got an hour tell this stuff burns off.” Anyways.
We caught a dozen or so fish, and the boat dropped us off on a small island off the coast, where our whole family spent most of the day resting in hammocks overlooking the sea as our fish was being prepared. When we were finally summoned to eat, we got a meal fit for a (seafood-obsessed) king, with several fish cooked a la plancha, and others made into tiritas. Oh boy. If I could tell you how good they were in a blog, I would have more than 5 or 6 readers, I can tell you that.
So it’s been about five years since then, and I hadn’t eaten tiritas since. Turns out it’s a very local dish, and only a few places around here serve it.
Back at El Puerto Escondido, tiritas de pescado arrived on our table just a few minutes after we ordered, a concoction of whitefish (I’m pretty sure it was bonito), sliced red onions, cilantro and a little bit of chile, all soaked in lime. Slices of tomatoes, cucumber and avocado dressed it up a bit. I told my parents I would try to replicate it.
A few days later, I took it on. The best part of making the dish is how easy it is to make, and how rewarding it is to eat. Everything I needed I was able to buy at Vons – a pound of whiting (next time I will buy some other whitefish, but this was all they had), fresh cilantro, eight limes, two red onions, eight serrano chiles, an avocado, tomato, cucumber and, of course, Tapatio. I already had salt, pepper and oregano, so I was ready to go.
It took me about 20 minutes to cut the fish in small strips that you could lift with a tortilla chip, then another 10 minutes to squeeze the juice of 8 limes into a bowl that would marinate the fish. I marinated the fish in lime juice, covered, for about 30 minutes, which is the perfect amount of time to chop up the cilantro, onions, chiles, cucumber, tomato and avocado. After 30 minutes, I threw together the fish, which had turned slightly darker from being cooked in lime juice, with the onions, cilantro and chiles, then threw the cucumber, tomato and avocado around the plate to finish it all off.
Pair all this with Trader Jose beer (tastes the same as a Corona, trust me), Tapatio and corn tortilla chips, and you have magic in your mouth. Well, make that a-little-bit-too-spicy-magic in your mouth, at least for me. Next time I’ll make it with four to six serrano chiles instead of eight. But other than that, I wouldn’t change a thing.
I don’t like to brag, but…(strike that, reverse it) well I DO like to brag, and this is the dish that I am most proud of making. I never forgot this dish from Ixtapa, and I’d like to think that I stored the details of its distinct taste in the deep recesses of my mind, so that one day, a day such as yesterday, I could make it on my own. Victory!!!!