The Gulf of Mexico is 600,000 square miles of water. Its deepest point, the “underwater Grand Canyon”, is an incredible 12,000 feet below the surface. More than 15,000 species of marine life call this vast oceanic habitat home, and provide the livelihoods and sustenance for the Mexican people.
Fish farming began in Mexico in 1883, with 500,000 rainbow trout eggs imported from the USA. Little did the exporters know that many enterprising Mexican fishermen were using them to cultivate and control local seafood production in order to feed their villages. Barriers built out of mangrove sticks were placed across the entrances of inland lagoons, allowing fishermen to simply scoop up fish and prawns with a large net at night, when they are most active. During the high season, several large buckets could be filled in an evening.
In the state of Chiapas, ancient tools for drying prawns have been found, and scientists have unearthed evidence of shrimp being caught and eaten in Central and North America from as far back as 600AD. Today, shrimp is not only Mexico’s largest exported variety of seafood, but also one of the most loved in cuisines across the country.
Mullet is another variety of fish found in Mexican cuisine; its light, slightly sweet flesh lends itself perfectly to the acidity of lime and the spice of chillies. It feeds on weeds, so many people don’t like to eat it, but it’s one of my favourites and I suggest you try it next time you’re making a true Mexican fish taco.
Another truly incredible Mexican marvel we discovered was the nopale or paddle cactus; you may have heard it called the “prickly pear”. Nopales are native to Mexico and you can find the fruit (prickly pear) and the paddles in most Mexican markets. The paddles are first scraped clean of spines then cooked until tender and juicy, with just a little snap; similar in texture to a bean but with a slightly tart flavor. Toss it in with your mullet taco and you’ll have a feast worthy of any street stall in Mexico.
Mexic-OH! fact The nopale cactus is incredibly simple to grow. Just plant a paddle in the ground and soon enough, you’ll have a new one.
Mexican Fiesta with Peter Kuruvita airs Thursdays 7.30pm on SBS ONE