Whole fish makes a great summer dish

ORLANDO, Fla. — A whole fish, says Wendy Lopez, is a show.

“It’s something special,” she said. “You take it out and put it on the table, and there’s that wow factor – it’s a feast!”

Lopez, whose executive role at Reyes Mezcaleria was recently expanded to Chef Partner (likely in part because of signature dishes like Mediterranean sea bass pibil wrapped in banana leaves), says it’s a perfect feast for your dinner table. summer – lighter and fresher than the pork with which this deep, earthy sauce is often associated – and much easier to cook than its impressive presentation would suggest.

Although the whole fish looks extremely impressive (and if you ask me, better, because of that crispy skin and its insulating properties when the flesh cooks inside), you can still choose to make the recipe below. below with nets instead. Either way, there are lessons to be learned about native Mexican cuisine.

Lopez calls Veracruz “the Italy of Mexico”, in part because of the use of tomatoes in its cuisine, and something that gives it a pibil touch. Instead of pairing vinegar with citrus for multi-layered acidity, it replaces tomato.

“I like the flavor that the char imparts, and it gives the dish sweetness and fruitiness with that acidity and helps with the texture of the sauce.”

Banana leaves offer more than their sensual properties — “an almost grassy, ​​fruity scent,” Lopez says — but gentle insulation from the scorching heat of the oven. You’ll find them fresh at many of the city’s local Asian and Latin markets, “but you can also buy them in the frozen section,” says Lopez.

“It’s as good as fresh. You thaw it in the fridge, roll it up and you’re good to go. They’ll be a little moist, but that’s fine because it will help steam it – plus it won’t catch fire.”

Neither will your taste buds. Although puerco pibil and habaneros are best friends, Lopez’s lighter version doesn’t push the heat level.

“This sauce is very tasty, but accessible. I want to make sure that the fish sings, that its flavor comes out well. At the end of the day, we want all the ingredients to be known and tasted.”

On the table, the dish is accompanied by simple accompaniments: marinated onions, coriander and rice. Feel free to also serve tortillas. There is no dual fuel in Mexico.

“A tortilla never looks like a carb. It’s a spoon.” jokes Lopez. “Tortillas are silverware!”

Whole fish pibil

Ingredients

A whole 2-3 pound fish of your choice. You can also use nets.

For the sauce

2 Roma tomatoes, split

1/2 white onion

3 cloves of garlic

10 dried guajillo peppers, destemmed and seeded

2 ounces of achiote paste

1 cup orange juice

1/2 cup fresh lime juice

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice

2 bay leaves

1 sprig of oregano

1/4 cup honey

Salt to taste

Instructions for the sauce

Place the tomatoes and onion in a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat for three to six minutes or until charred, adding the garlic for the last minute or two.

Remove from the heat and all the other ingredients except the honey. Cook the ingredients for 15-20 minutes until reduced by half.

Turn off the heat and stir in the honey. Leave to cool a little.

Place the mixture in the blender and blend until smooth. Let cool.

Season the fish of your choice with salt and pepper, both sides for fillets or inside and out for whole fish. Exterior score (see photo).

Using some of the sauce mixture as a marinade, coat the fish on both sides/inside and out.

Wrap the fish in banana leaves and bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 135 degrees. Carefully unwrap the leaves and add more sauce mixture. Return the fish to the oven for two to four minutes to obtain a crust.

Serve with pickled onions and cilantro as garnish, along with a side of your favorite rice and tortillas.