Grilling down Yucatan way
Here we are at the beginning of summer, and that means it’s the season for grilling. Due in part, perhaps, to our primal need to gather the tribe around an open flame, backyard barbecues with their cinder-fried burgers and “kiss the cook” aprons are an American tradition.
But Mexico, in particular the Yucatan region, also has a strong tradition of grilling. There, the subject meats or fish are slathered with spice mixtures called recados, which translates to “complements.”
Recados generally fall into two categories – wet or dry. The dry ones are similar to our rubs and are used on meats and poultry with higher fat content, while the wet ones are usually used on lean fish and chicken breasts.
The recipe that follows uses Mahi Mahi and adobo, a paste consisting of Ancho chilis, spices, garlic and cider vinegar. The first people to make this paste, however, many hundreds of years ago were probably just as interested in preserving the meat as they were in adding flavor. As a result, the stuff will keep in the refrigerator almost forever. Keep it covered, and don’t contaminate it by dipping your brush into the batch after painting the meat. Take out just as much as you think you might need.
In the Yucatan, they use a technique for cooking that involves wrapping the painted fish in banana leaves then burying the packets in a pit filled with hot coals. For our purpose, your basic charcoal grill does nicely and will not require the re-sodding of your backyard. Banana leaves can be found at the little market on Fairview Drive across from Q’s Barbecue. They’re in the freezer and cost a little more than a dollar for about 10 feet worth.
If you don’t feel like going to the trouble (and you should), you can place the painted fish directly on the grill with good results. Serve with Pineapple Salsa.
Tip for the hopelessly lazy: Mix one pound softened butter, 1Ú4 cup adobo, 2 tsp. ground cumin, juice from one lime and 1 T. kosher salt. Dollop on any grilled fish, meat or poultry. Works great!
Chili Painted Mahi
Grilled on Banana Leaves
Red Chili Adobo
(makes about 1 cup)
• 8 cloves garlic, lightly browned in a little oil
• 10 dry Ancho chilis, stemmed and seeded
• 1Ú2 tsp. ground cinnamon
• Big pinch of ground cloves
• 1Ú2 tsp. ground black pepper
• 2 large bay leaves
• 1Ú4 tsp. ground cumin
• 1Ú2 tsp. dry oregano
• 1Ú2 tsp. dry thyme
• 1-1Ú2 tsp. salt
• 1Ú4 cup cider vinegar and 1Ú4 cup water
Heat a large skillet to medium hot. Add the Ancho chilis and toast until fragrant, about one minute or so. Transfer to a bowl and cover with hot water until soft, about 20 minutes. Remove the chilis from the water and transfer to a blender. Wipe out the pan with a dry towel, add the cinnamon, cloves, black pepper, bay leaves and cumin and toast briefly, shaking the pan to toast them even. Add to the blender along with the remaining ingredients.
Puree until smooth, adding a little water if necessary to facilitate blending. Strain through a fine tea strainer, forcing the solids with the back of a spoon until all the paste has been rendered. Be sure to get the paste that sticks to the outside of the strainer. Taste for salt, store covered and refrigerated.
Six-ounce Mahi filets, up to 10 pieces (salmon, grouper or any other firm fish works too)
Thaw the banana leaf and begin to unroll. Cut the leaf at about one foot intervals creating roughly one-foot squares. Sprinkle the Mahi with a little salt, then paint the inside (as opposed to the skin side) with a layer of adobo. Place the painted side down on the leaf, bring the two sides together then the top and bottom to create a square package. Place on a tray with the folded side down until ready to grill.
Get your grill to a medium temperature (not too hot). Place the packets on the grill folded side up and grill for about three minutes with the lid closed. Turn them over and grill for about five more minutes with the lid closed. Test for doneness by pressing on the package – the fish should feel fairly firm.
To serve place on a plate and tear the packet open like a baked potato. Serve salsa on the side.
(about 3 cups)
• 1 ripe pineapple (Hawaiian Golds are good)
• 1 medium red bell pepper, diced
• 1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
• 3 serrano chilis, seeded and minced
• 1 tsp. garlic
• 1 tsp. kosher salt
• Juice from two oranges
• Juice from two limes
• 3 T. rice wine vinegar
• 3 T. olive oil
• 1Ú2 bunch cilantro, chopped
Cut the top and bottom off the pineapple and stand it on its end. Cut off the outer skin with a sharp knife. Be sure to get rid of the little “black eyes” while not wasting too much pineapple. Slice the pineapple lengthwise into 1Ú2-inch thick slices, avoiding the hard center core. Dice the slice into 1Ú2-inch cubes and place in a medium nonreactive bowl. Add the remaining ingredients, mix and taste. Adjust acidity with a little more lime juice. Adjust salt. You can make this the day before by leaving out the cilantro until you’re ready to serve. Serve at cool room temperature.
• Brian Shaw and his wife, Ardie, own the Cafe del Rio, 394 S. C St. in Virginia City.