Featured in Vallarta Lifestyles Magazine, Fall/Winter 2008 issue.
A few minutes before the fish is finished cooking over the wood fire, the cook adds the final touch: a secret red sauce that gives the fish its special flavor. This traditional dish, which originated in the fishing region of Isla de Mexcaltitan, Nayarit, is usually prepared with pargo (sea bream), a fish that does not readily dry out when exposed to heat because of the fat content of its skin.
Originally, the fish was smoked over a fire of manglar wood, which is abundant in coastal zones, and palm fronds. But today, encino or Southern live oak wood is used more often. Likewise, the recipe has evolved, with various styles of pescado sarandeado served in restaurants around the bay, including Pescado Sarandeado Puerto Vallarta-style.
Gabriela Peña, owner of the Río Grande restaurant, says that the secret to the success of her recipe is the love they put into it. Twenty-five years ago, she and her husband used to travel all the way to Tepic, Nayarit, just for the delicious pescado sarandeado there — until they decided to start their own business. “We began experimenting with sauces, me in the kitchen preparing different variations to see which was the most successful until we settled on the one we currently use,” this pioneer of Puerto Vallarta sarandeado confides.
To prepare this dish at home and give it your own personal touch, you need pargo (sea bream) or huachinango (red snapper). After cleaning the fish, open the back to add salt and pepper, then cook it over the fire’s coals. Meanwhile, roast and dice chilies and add diced tomato and onion, or combine them all in a blender. When the fish is partially cooked, baste it with butter, mayonnaise and mustard, and let it cook over the coals another 15 minutes. Finally, spread the fish with the sauce you prepared and let it cook another minute. But remember, a secret ingredient makes the sauce special. What will yours be?