Oaxaca is the south western region of Mexico, bordering on the Pacific Ocean. And home to a food culture that sets it apart from the rest of Mexico, or for that matter, any other part of the world. What is noteworthy about Oaxacan cuisine is that it has more or less stuck true to its roots and origins, despite the outside influences. It is not surprising that many indigenous people here take pride in the fact that they never have been conquered by any European power and their food ways are untouched by European ingredients or cooking methods. In many parts of Oaxaca, wood stoves earthenware pots are still the norm. Still, maybe due to exactly for the same reasons, Oaxaca today has become a global foodie travel destination, with an increasing number of luxurious restaurants opening up, catering to global tastes.
Known as the home of the seven moles (or the thousand, according to some), Oaxaca makes the best of the diverse varieties of chiles cultivated locally. Ancho, poblano, pasilla, chilaca, chile negro are just a few examples. Ingredients are matched and paired with the chilies to produce complex dishes which sometimes take hours to make.
Though concentrating on ingredients like corn, beans, chocolate, wild herbs, and local cheese, Oaxacan cuisine has its share of meat, poultry and fish. The fish we are focusing on today, is roasted in the oven, but it can also be grilled.
The mole like marinade is cooked first which gives it an amazing complexity and depth of flavor. The marinade is slathered on the fish, inside and out, before roasting it in a high heat oven.
I selected a red branzino to make this dish. Any fish that is fairly firm fleshed and of medium size can be used. Also, selecting a fish with not too many bones will be good.
Having decided to clean and prepare the fish myself, I opted to cut the fish head off. It can be kept on, if you prefer with only the insides removed.
Remember to be careful with the salt, as the fish sauce used in the marinade contains a fair amount of salt already. Letting the fish marinate for 20 minutes greatly enhances the flavor.
I have not tried this recipe for anything other than a whole fish so far. Maybe one of these days, I’ll try the recipe for a large piece of boneless fish.
You can combine this fish with anything from a pasta salad or a green salad to a bowl of cooked rice.
O is for Oaxacan Roasted Fish
- Place the ancho chilies in a bowl and add the fish sauce and apple cider vinegar to the bowl. Soak for 20 minutes.
- Pre-heat over to 400 F.
- Powder the black pepper, cumin, cloves, and oregano together.
- In a food processor or blender, grind together all marinade ingredients except the salt: the soaked ancho chilies with the soaking liquid, garlic, the powdered spices, and sugar. Form a smooth paste, adding a little extra water if required.
- Transfer this paste to a sauce pan and bring to a boil on medium heat. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes.
- Taste for seasoning and add salt if required.
- Prepare the fish by cleaning, washing and drying it with paper towels.
- Slather this paste on the cleaned fish inside and outside. Let sit for 20 minutes.
- Prepare a baking sheet with aluminum foil on is and place the fish on the baking sheet.
- Roast on the middle rack of the oven, for 8 to 10 minutes per side, turning the fish over half way through the process.
- Serve immediately with a salad on the side.