For those who have never had huachinango (can you repeat huachinango-huachinango-huachinango-huachinango without messing up?), it is a medium-firm fish, mild but not too mild. It can take a good drenching of chile-tomato salsa or anything spicy you throw its way without wimping out. And it certainly holds it own here with this silky cilantro crema. In fact, like its colors red and green, the sweet fishy flavor of the huachinango and the creamy but pungent green flavor of the cilantro contrast a little too brilliantly, especially when you blend in some buttery avocado into the sauce—not essential, but I just can't go on to relate. It is too luscious for words, really.
That viejo of mine thinks that green blanket of crema covers up a lot of unpleasant things: namely, the huachinango's grim down-turned mouth and its unblinking but somehow angry fish glare. It is curious to see this new-found squeamishness in a man who loves to suck on the pickled patas of a pig, but I am not fooled. His landlocked roots are showing.
I put the plate before him and hold it up to his nose.
"Good—now we can devour it guilt-free and enjoy ourselves without having to look at it. The fish doesn't know it's mad—it's dead. Just eat it, okay? Esta cocina está cerrada—this kitchen is closed!" Which means I'm done cooking and you better eat this or I will huachinango you.
It took some doing, but once my viejo tasted the ocean by giving this little fish with the big fat name a try, his taste buds are no longer living in a dry landlocked desert. Ya se pone todo emocionado [Now he gets all excited about] ostiones [oysters] y camarones [shrimp], jaibas [crabs] y langostas [lobster] and all kinds of fish, including our little red hauchinango—with nary a complaint about fish heads with beady eyes.
Can the same happen to you?
So stop wrinkling that little nariz of yours and start eating.
Huachinango con crema de cilantro
Red Snapper with Cilantro Crema
Feel free to use parsley instead if you don't care for the taste of cilantro. I used Mexican crema for this dish, but if you like a thinner consistency, you can add some milk to the crema, or substitute an equal amount of half-and-half. Either way, this dish is easy to prepare, and is almost mistake proof. Just tweak it to your liking. You don't even have to cook a whole fish if you don't want to, filets are fine, too. I like to use a little seasoning salt in my cilantro crema, so I am suggesting it here. Loosely adapted from Mexico the Beautiful Cookbook.
1 whole red snapper or 3 lbs. of snapper filet. You can substitute it with any fish with white flesh, as long as it is firm.
one large lime or lemon, cut in half
1 clove garlic, minced
About ¼ cup of chopped onion. Cut a few slices for the top of the fish
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
2 cups of Mexican crema, or 2 cups of half-and-half (Fat-free half-and-half is fine.)
1 ½ cups fresh cilantro, or fresh flat-leafed parsley
1 avocado, preferably Hass (optional)
Preheat the oven to 325°. Sprinkle salt and pepper the fish. Then rub it all over with the minced garlic. Next, take one half of the cut lime or lemon and squeeze juice over the fish. Take some a few sprigs of cilantro and the chopped onion and stuff them into the fish's cavity. Place a bay leaf underneath the fish and put some slices of onion on top. Place the fish in an oiled baking dish and cover with aluminum foil. Refrigerate it for about 30 minutes.
In the meantime, take the crema or the half-and-half and the cilantro and whirl them in a blender. You can add more cilantro or parsley, salt and pepper or even some lemon juice until it tastes the way you want it to. You can dilute it by adding a little milk if you like. Blending in some avocado makes it extra rich.
Bake the fish for about 30 minutes or so. The fish is done cooking when its flesh feels firm, but do not over-bake it.
In the last few minutes of baking time, pour the cilantro crema into a saucepan and simmer it until it is warm, but not hot.
When the fish is done, take it out of the oven and pour the cilantro crema over the fish. Serve right away.
Serves 2 people very well.
Note: Last month I mentioned that my little friend, Nakita, who lives just north of Tokyo had not contacted me yet. Three weeks after that devastating quake, I finally heard from her. She and her family are okay. What a relief!)