A few years before Comal opened, I was feeling a little burnt out from my previous job, having gone a couple of years without taking significant time off. What I needed more than anything was a “lay on the beach” type of vacation. I remembered that I had won the use of a condo in Puerto Vallarta at a silent auction the previous year, and decided to cash it in. With a former roommate and fellow chef in tow, we headed off to Mexico.
Whenever I travel, especially abroad, eating the local specialties is always an important part of the experience. While in the taxi en route from the airport to the condo, I asked the cab driver what local dishes should not be missed. Immediately he responded that we should make sure to have a fish “Zarandeado”.
“Zarandeado” refers to the action of rotating the fish over the wood coals while it is cooking. What makes this preparation truly distinctive is the rub that is smeared on the fish. It is a mayonnaise-based marinade that has some flavors that one would expect to find in Mexico, and others that are truly surprising. Traditionally it is flavored with tomatoes, chiles and garlic. It also contains soy sauce, an ingredient introduced by the sizable Chinese immigrant population in Puerto Vallarta. This rub creates a fantastic crust as it caramelizes the skin while the fish is turned over open coals. The best restaurants in Puerto Vallarta for seafood are right on the beach where the fishermen dock with the daily catch. One can select an extremely fresh fish, have it cleaned, rubbed, and on coals over a pit dug in the sand within minutes after it has been landed.
This was the inspiration for the dish that we run at Comal off of our wood grill, showing up on the menu most often during the summer months when we have our best local catch. It is accompanied by grilled vegetables and, like our other “Platos Fuertes”, it comes with rice, beans, tortillas and salsas.
For those who want to try making it at home, check out this recipe in Food & Wine that describes our take on this classic dish.