Veracruz-Style Fish Fillets

Serves 4

Fish served with a mélange of tomatoes, capers, olives and onions is the most famous dish from the state of Veracruz. The capital city, on the Gulf of Mexico, has been a busy shipping and trade port for centuries. As a result, the food reflects influences from the Mediterranean to the Caribbean and, especially in this dish, Spain.

Red snapper or bass are typically used in Veracruz, but several mild, meaty fillets will work. Some of my favorites are hake or grouper depending on what I find in the market. In this version, I cook the sauce and fish separately. While the sauce simmers, the fish is first seared then baked in the oven. Serve with purchased pickled jalapeños and, if desired, accompanied by boiled rice.

2 tablespoons olive oil + 1 tablespoon oil to cook the fish
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and sliced
3-4 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 (28-ounce) can high quality diced tomatoes, drained (2 cups)
1/2 cup thinly sliced Spanish green olives with pimentos
1/4 cup capers
1 1/2 tablespoons dried oregano, preferably Mexican
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3-4 whole cloves
2 bay leaves
1/4 cup dry white wine
2-3 teaspoons freshly squeezed lime juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 (6-ounce) firm white fish fillets, blotted dry
Sliced pickled jalapeños, for garnish

  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
  2. In a large non-reactive skillet, heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat until hot. Add the onions, reduce the heat to medium, and sauté until translucent, about 4 minutes, stirring occasionally; add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Stir in the tomatoes, olives, capers, oregano, cinnamon, cloves and bay leaves; stir in the wine, bring to a boil then reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the lime juice, salt and pepper to taste and cook 30 seconds longer.
  3. Meanwhile, heat a cast-iron skillet large enough to comfortably hold the fish in a single layer without crowding over high heat until hot. Brush the skillet with the remaining oil. Season the fish on both sides with salt and pepper and place in the pan. Brown the fish on both sides, about 3 minutes per side; transfer to the oven to bake until done, 4 to 5 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish. Garnish each fillet with a few sliced jalapeños, if desired, and spoon the sauce around the fish. Serve at once.