Open Season: Spices from the Yucatan to light up your grill

BRADHORN/Nevada Appeal Yucatan grilled mahi with tropical salsa.

BRADHORN/Nevada Appeal Yucatan grilled mahi with tropical salsa.

The kitchen has a lot of rules. Don't add hot stock to hot roux, or you'll get lumps. Add salt to pasta water just before you add the pasta, or the water will be bitter. Tear lettuce instead of cutting it with a knife, or it will turn brown.

Most of these edicts are founded in food chemistry, and I am therefore at a loss, since I slept through that class in school. But like the captain of the Titanic, we plow through them with diminishing reverence as our experience makes us more reckless.

What about the elements that cannot be explained by science? Why after four hours of preparation does the first customer order the one thing you don't have prepared?

When you're low on pork, why is everyone ordering the carnitas?

there has to be more to it than just chemistry - a spiritual side to explain the inexplicable. To hedge our bet, we have a picture of San Pasqual, patron saint of cooks, hanging in our kitchen, watching over us and the daily chaos.

Born May 24, 1540, he became a Franciscan monk and assumed the life of poverty (I'm already identifying with him.) It is not clear if he was dimwitted or just so devoted to his prayers and the Eucharist as to seem so, but he was assigned to the kitchen as a sort of punishment.

Undeterred by this demotion, he continued to immerse himself so deeply in prayer that is said that angels had to stir his pots to keep them from burning. And when the baskets of food that he prepared for the needy were empty, they would be refilled by miracles.

When we were in Santa Fe, it was apparent how popular he was by the number of objects bearing his likeness available in the shops. However, they also offered patron saints of computer programmers, NASCAR fans and tattoo artists, so I purchased my Pasqual at the gift shop in the Catholic Church of the Assisi thinking it might have more juice. Does the Vatican know about all this?

I wish I could say that today's dish has something to do with the preceding. Like Pasqual, I was a fisherman when in fact he was a shepherd. But fish works better than sheep for the warm days of summer grilling, so here we go.

We've chosen Mahi Mahi for today, although any firm fish like salmon or swordfish will work. I like mahi because it's easy to find, works great whether frozen or fresh, and stays moist when grilled. The glaze and salsa work equally well with chicken, pork or just about anything else you want to grill. Just make sure your grill is hot and clean. Take a small, clean rag that's not your favorite, douse it with vegetable oil, and wipe the grates immediately before placing the fish, bone side down, on the grill. Make sure you see the perimeter of the fish starting to cook before turning it. And if it sticks a little when you turn it, that's where the salsa goes. OK, no more rules.

Yucatan Grilled Mahi with Tropical Salsa

eight servings

8 6-ounce mahi filets

For the glaze:

1 3.5-ounce block Achiote paste, available in Latin food markets

1/2 cup fresh squeezed orange juice

juice from two big limes

1/4 cup soy sauce

2 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend. Reserve.

For the salsa:

1 mango, peeled, pitted and cut in 1/2-inch cubes

1 small pineapple, skinned and cut in 1/2-inch cubes

3 large tomatillos, husked, rinsed and diced

1 small red bell pepper, seeded and diced

2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger

2 fresh serrano chiles, seeded and minced

2 teaspoons of minced garlic

2 teaspoons Kosher salt

1/2 cup chopped cilantro

5 or 6 mint leaves, chopped

2 ounces fresh orange juice.

Juice from two limes

3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

3 tablespoons olive oil

1.5 ounces Malibu coconut rum (optional but worth it)

Place the garlic on your cutting board and top with the salt. Using the side of a kitchen knife, mash and drag the knife over the garlic until a moist paste results. Add this and the remaining ingredients to a stainless steel bowl and combine. Can be made a couple hours ahead, or if making the day before, don't add the cilantro and the mint until an hour or so before service.

Place the Achiote glaze in a shallow baking dish and lay the mahi in bone side down (skin side up for about an hour. Remove from glaze and allow to drain a little before placing on the hot grill. Cook for about 4 or 5 minutes per side depending on the thickness of the filets. Serve with salsa and a little steamed rice.


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