My mother-in-law, Maria del Consuelo Rigo de Garrido, was born in the state of Veracruz to Italian immigrants and moved to Mexico City when she was a young woman – but in the kitchen she remained a Jarocha. Jarocha or jarocho (depending on gender) is a term applied to people born in the southern coastal regions of Veracruz, an area that is known for its seafood dishes. The cuisine of this region also reflects the influence of the Spaniards who made their entry to the Americas here, bringing olives and olive oil, almonds, and spices from around the world.
Huachinango a la Veracruzana, a typical comida casera or home-cooked dish, is one of the many that Consuelo taught me how to make and it remains a favorite in our household. The authentic recipe, like most Mexican dishes, calls for several hours of sauce simmering, and during the years we lived in Mexico I was all about authentic. However, when we returned to the U.S. and I rejoined the work force I quickly found short cuts that put plates on the table within an hour – without sacrificing too much flavor.
Consuelo returned to live in Veracruz several years ago, to the port of Coatzacoalcos. I have visited her there several times, but I rarely get a chance to try my hand in her kitchen. The next time I’m there I will prepare this “quicker” version of spicy, tomato-sauced Red Snapper for her. We’ll see if it passes her taste test. Vamos a ver!
3 filets Red Snapper
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups fresh salsa picante (bottled works, but not as well)
1 14 oz. can of diced canned tomatoes with juice
2 cloves garlic, diced
½ cup sliced olives (large pimiento stuffed)
1 bunch cilantro
Salt to taste
Pour olive oil into large skillet with a glass cover. When oil is warm add fresh salsa. If you can only find “mild” salsa you may add chopped jalapeno or serrano chiles, depending on your taste. Saute until onions are soft and add diced tomatoes, garlic and olives. Cover and simmer about 15 minutes and salt to taste. Do not add salt until this step is complete, as olives may vary in salt content.
Open skillet and cover fish with clean cilantro, stems and all. Cover, bring to boil and turn off burner (cilantro is a fragrant herb and overcooking results in zero flavor). When cilantro has wilted the dish is ready to serve…either removing the cilantro or serving it on the side.
This dish is traditionally served with white rice and lime. I used a brown rice pilaf and served it all up with braised broccoli rabe. The lime juice, squeezed over the entire dish, adds a fresh, piquant flavor to the entire plate.