A Fish, a Beach & a Lazy Afternoon in Mexico

One afternoon my wife and our (at the time) young son were strolling down a wide, deserted beach along a malecón in Mazatlán, Mexico. It was around lunchtime, and the tall spires of the Pacifico Brewery in the distance were inspiring an almost religious-like thirst.

Su amigo, on the beach in Mazatlán

As fortune would have it, a gentleman came running from one of the dilapidated fish joins lining the malecón down the beach after us, promising delicious food and cold beer. A fisherman had just come in, he said, with a particular fish they rarely ever had — one of the best in all of Mexico! However skeptical we may have been about the story, we were ready for the pitch, so we followed him back up to the empty plastic tables and chairs and Tecaté umbrellas awaiting us away from the water.

“Do you want the fish cooked in the kitchen? Or over the coals, which will take a little longer but I highly recommend.”

Over the coals, of course. How much longer could “a little longer” be, after all?? An elderly gent emerged from the back kitchen and began the process of setting up the grill — a task he took to with the pace and mindfulness of a Buddhist monk. We were on Mexican time.

We enjoy spending long hours in pubs, tavernas, bars and cantinas, usually getting to know the help. Once in Kusadasi, Turkey, we became fast friends with our two waiters who were both named Mehmet. As it turned out, our Mazatlán beach waiter had a very interesting history.  And over the course of our very long afternoon there, we got to hear it all — including being born in the U.S. and living in various areas of Los Angeles near where we were at the same time.

Somewhere around beer #3, hour 2, the fire was ready. Fortunately our waiter had brought out a basket of packaged tostada shells, a bottle of hot sauce and more stories to keep us busy in the meantime. An ancient leathery Mexican beach vendor came along with beach toys, $1 for a plastic pail and some shovels which kept Flynn busy. And then the mariachi arrived, and we gladly paid mas dolares for such favorites as “Sabor a Mi” and “Volver, Volver.”

Our fish, which was admittedly beautiful, quite large and extraordinarily fresh, hit the grill with a sizzle. And finally, but another 30 minutes later, with fresh Pacificos, corn tortillas, lime and salsa, the fish would arrive at the table — well worth the wait. And we would dine like conquistadors.

Being serenaded, hour 3

What has got me thinking about all of this, several years after the fact? An impending vacation to Mexico, for one thing — when I am staying seaside south of the border, it is the rare terrestrial meat that crosses my lips. For this is a place of superb fish, some of the best shrimp on earth, briny crab cocktails and crunchy snapper tacos. And discovering a beautiful whole snapper at the Japanese market recently, I recreated our Mazatlán beach experience on the deck at home — complete with Pacificos, margaritas and mariachi. I thought you might want to do the same some warm evening in the waning days of a lazy summer. Like the commercial says, the sea is calling…

*   *   *

Mazatlán grilled fresh fish
serves 4

1 large fish, 2-3 lbs., very fresh, cleaned and scaled — skin and head left on
8-12 corn tortillas, brushed lightly with vegetable oil
2 avocados, pitted and sliced
1 yellow onion, chopped
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1 cup salsa of your choice
4 limes, quartered

Toss together the chopped onion and chopped cilantro until well integrated.

With a sharp knife, make 4 to 5 slits crosswise on your fish, from backbone to belly, about 1/4 inch deep. Repeat on second side.

Heat your grill to high and brush with vegetable oil. Place fish in a fish grilling basket or directly on the grill. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, turn over and repeat.

Remove fish from grill and place on a large oval platter. Sprinkle lightly with flaky sea salt, and surround with wedges of lime. Place tortillas on grill and heat for about 30 seconds per side. Stack and wrap with a clean cotton dishtowel.

Serve fish on the platter with a large spoon or spatula, tortillas, lime wedges, salsa, avocado and chopped onion and cilantro, allowing each guest pull meat from the fish and make their own tacos.

*Drink suggestions: Pacifico or other Mexican beer with limes, margaritas on the rocks or a chilled dry white wine such as sauvignon blanc.

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