Veracruz was the first place in Mexico that Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés set foot in 1521, and its port remains a melting pot of cultures as reflected in its food. This recipe of red snapper cooked with the Spanish ingredients of olives, olive oil and capers melds beautifully with the ingredients native to Mexico: tomato and chillies.
- 2 garlic cloves, plus 6 garlic cloves, chopped, extra
- 2 tbsp white vinegar
- 1.5 kg red snapper, cleaned (see Note)
- 80 ml (⅓ cup) olive oil
- 1½ cup chopped white onion
- ½ cup sliced jalapeño, seeds removed
- 4 cups diced tomato
- salt, to taste
- 6 Mexican bay leaves
- ½ bunch thyme
- ½ cup pickled jalapeños (2 tbsp pickling liquid reserved)
- 1 cup green olives (2 tbsp brine reserved)
- ½ cup capers, drained
- steamed white rice, warmed tortillas, to serve
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Blend the 2 whole garlic cloves and the white vinegar until fine. Reserve.
Score the snapper with four deep cuts diagonally down each side of the fish. Place in a 20 cm x 40 cm non-reactive flameproof baking pan (a fish poacher will also work perfectly). Add enough water to the pan to reach a depth of 2 cm, then place over medium heat. Cover and cook, undisturbed, for 25 minutes. After 20 minutes, remove the lid from the fish tray and check for doneness. Add the Mexican bay leaves and the thyme.
Meanwhile, heat a 30 cm deep saucepan over medium. Add the olive oil and onion and cook gently, without colouring, for 5 minutes or until softened. Add the extra garlic and continue cooking, stirring frequently, for 2 minutes. Add the jalapeño strips and continue cooking for a further 5 minutes or until softened.
Add the garlic vinegar. Stir through, then add the diced tomato and season the mixture with salt. Continue cooking for 10 minutes, stirring frequently.
Pour the tomato mixture over the fish, then add the pickled jalapeños, capers, olives and reserved olive brine. Stir gently into the sauce taking care not to break up the fish. Continue cooking for a further 10 minutes or until the tomato is softened though.
To serve, gently lift the fish onto a platter, then spoon the sauce over. Serve with steamed white rice and warmed tortillas.
• Any white-fleshed fish will work perfectly with this sauce, but cooking times will vary depending on size and thickness of the fish.