Skinny Girls Roadshow LIVE from Mexico — Black Gold

I had successfully taken over the kitchen at Casa Tres Coronitas — at least for a couple of our nights here. And Marilu actually seemed somewhat relieved.

At the PV Farmer's Market

At the PV Farmer’s Market

Out on the boat with our amigo Mario fishing, looking for whales, snorkeling and loitering on beaches, we’d caught a big red snapper and a couple of smaller fish that appeared to be in the tuna family. The little fish I made into a Mexican crudo with lime, chili, cilantro, onions and Jugo — the Mexican equivalent of soy sauce — while the larger fish I left to Marilu to grill, one of her specialties. (I didn’t want to steal her thunder. And her fish was delicioso, I could’ve done no better.)

A couple nights later, we had tasted perfection. I’d gone out scavenging on the rocks with Brando, Don and Monica’s older son, and collected sea urchins, sea vegetables and a few tiny oysters, which I wound up unable to open. I’d sashimied the last of our two little fish, topped them with fresh uni, crispy garlic, lime, chopped sea vegetable and olive oil. There was no reason to go on.

Mexican crudo with sea urchin and sea vegetables

Mexican crudo with sea urchin, crispy garlic and sea vegetables

But I was looking forward to a final evening of cooking, on either Saturday or Sunday, after I had the opportunidad to visit what was supposed to be a pretty darn good Saturday farmer’s market. (At least that was the rumor on the web.)

Since we had arrived almost a week ago, stopping on the way in from the airport at the Ley market for tequila and supplies, Señor Donnie had been telling me about the mariscos — a certain kind of black clam called “patas negras” that exuded a dark liquid and didn’t sound especially appetizing — at a nearby joint called Mariscos El Jefe. It was closed that day, but he insisted we return… and thought farmer’s market day might be la dia. Personally, I was more interested in the market, since I would be cooking that night. And clams that exuded black liquid weren’t really that alluring unless I somehow shifted my mindspace into Anthony Bourdain extreme eating territory.

Señor Donnie at the Ley

Señor Donnie at the Ley

Picturing images I’d seen of markets in Mexico City and Oaxaca, overflowing with squash blossoms and wild mushrooms and chiles beyond imagination, I was somewhat disappointed with the Puerto Vallarta farmer’s market. It was mostly gringos explaining in perfect English their precious artisanal products. We didn’t buy anything from them, opting instead for fresh cheeses from a Mexican guy, beautiful produce from a Mexican family, some complex chile sauces from another Mexican guy. But it wasn’t quite the bounty I had anticipated.

So after a few mojitos at the Bodeguita del Medio, Señor Donnie and I headed back to the Ley supermercado to find what we could find in the seafood section. On the way, we stopped at Mariscos El Jefe.

Patas at Mariscos Jefe

Patas at Mariscos El Jefe

The patas were just like he had described them — plump orange clams in black shells, sitting in pools of their own black liquid. I wasn’t sure about this, but sprinkled them with chili water and lime and sucked one down. The taste was similar to a really good oyster, the texture more firm, like a scallop. And I got over my aversion to the eww factor — like, real fast. I wanted to order a second dozen, but the esposas were drinking mojitos at the Bodeguita del Medio, and we didn’t dare leave them long.

Armed for dinner with tiny fish fillets of some sort, skate wings, a small red snapper and various odd cuts of fatty meats, we headed back, gathered up the families and put them in a cab home… while Señor Donnie, Brando and I continued on foot. Our destination was the bank, and possibly some al pastor tacos from a joint we’d discovered called Pancho’s Takos. But while crossing over a bridge along the beach, Don stopped.

“What do we have here?!”

Beach patas vendors under the bridge

Beach patas vendors and their clams under the bridge


My friend could spot a slice of bacon across a football field. Perhaps it was the scent of brine that had captured his attention. Craning his neck over the edge of the railing to see below the bridge, he had found a small marketplace of vendors with piles of shellfish. They waved us down, who were we to resist?

If only we had found them earlier than the second-to-last day of our vacation. We ate another dozen patas and a dozen oysters for good measure. We almost ate a lobster, but thought better of it. We swore to come back the next day — an oath I felt reasonably confident we would keep. And I wondered how I would make it all those months and months until I next came to Puerto Vallarta without my newly beloved black clams?

Back at the house, I was feeling somewhat deflated gazing at my pile of stuff — fresh Oaxacan cheese, leeks, tiny tomatoes and baby zucchini from the farmer’s market, and all the fish and meat from the Ley. I wasn’t that hungry anymore, and how would I compete with the simple perfection of all the fresh shellfish we’d just consumed down on the beach anyway?

Pan-fried skate wing with salsa de mercado

Pan-fried skate wing with salsa de mercado

The little fillets I dusted in corn starch and flour, fried up, tossed with salt and lime, and served as a crispy appetizer; the various meats I marinated in garlic, olive oil and paprika and grilled over hardwood coals; the skate wing I pan fried with a sauce of tiny tomatoes and dried chile; and the snapper I saved for the next night.

Everything was good. But still

*    *    *

Pan-fried skate wing with salsa de mercado
serves 4

1 lb. skate wing fillet (or other flat, delicate fish such as sole)
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp. olive oil
2 fresh anaheim chiles
1 dried pasilla chile
4 garlic cloves, crushed
2 cups small cherry or pear tomatoes
1/2 cup beer
1 tbsp. butter
salt & pepper to taste

Cook the Anaheim chiles over an open flame or in a hot pan for 3 or 4 minutes per side, until the skin becomes black and blistered. (Alternately, you can broil them in a toaster oven to the same affect.) Place in a plastic bag, close and let steam for 5 minutes. Remove from bag and scrape off all the skin. Cut the chiles in half lengthwise, scrape out all the seeds, flatten each half and set aside for later.

Heat 2 tbsp. of olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and cook, stirring, for a couple minutes, until garlic begins to crisp up and brown slightly. Add tomatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, for two minutes. Add beer and reduce heat to medium low.

Toast the dried chile — heat a skillet over medium heat and set the chile in the pan. Cook for about a minute, turning once or twice, until the chile puffs up and is hot to the touch. Remove from heat and let cool. Then remove the top and stem, shake out the seeds, and crumble the chile into the tomato sauce. Add a little more beer if the sauce is becoming too thick.

Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cut the skate wing into 4 equal pieces, and dust with flour. Pan fry in the oil about 2 minutes per side, until crisp and golden. Remove to a platter or individual plates. In the same pan while still hot, fry the Anaheim chile halves for about 1 minute per side, until golden. Place half a chile across the top of each of the skate wings.

Turn tomato sauce to high and cook for a minute until thick. Remove from heat. Stir in cold butter to velvet the sauce. Spoon a quarter of the sauce over each serving of skate wing, and serve.

10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. rachelocal
    Mar 25, 2014 @ 16:37:43

    I love your Mexico posts. That Mexican crudo sounds beyond amazing. And God bless Marilu for sharing the kitchen with you. 🙂


  2. bowearrow
    Mar 25, 2014 @ 23:25:17

    Reblogged this on Bow and Arrow Food and commented:
    Found this delicious post today. Black clams are something I first discovered in Melaque, far south of Puerto Vallarta. There’s no doubt your first impression might be ewww! But face your fears should you be so lucky as to find some fresh ones to savor


  3. Glennis
    Mar 26, 2014 @ 02:10:23

    There’s a little cevicheria on Pico in the Byzanto-Latino district where they sell those patas negras.


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