25 YEARS AGO ON AMBERGRIS CAYE BY ANGEL NUÑEZ
When you go to a restaurant today and you think of ordering a delicious fish plate, you would probably think of fried fish fillet or steamed fish in some particular sauce. Not so twenty five years ago when fish was the main source of the diet and moms or the chefs had to be very versatile in preparing a variety of menus from fish. There must have been some twenty ways to prepare fish and here are some of the main ones.
Whole Fried Fish: Once scraped and cleaned, salt was added and fried in deep oil until golden brown and crispy. This went well with rice and beans or tortillas.
Fish Fillet: This was prepared in an egg batter and covered with flour and fried until golden brown. This was mostly used when the fish was large, so it was cut to smaller portions and used mostly in the evenings for supper.
Fish Row & Eggs: This was fried intact if small or in chunks if a large row like the barracuda eggs. Another menu was to boil row and then break it up and fry with eggs.
Hashed Fish: First the fish was smoked or boiled. It was hashed to small pieces and fried with onions, green peppers, salt and black pepper and served over white rice with beans. Tarpons, bony fish, manta rays, and trigger fish was preferred hashed. Fried plantains make a good complement to this dish.
Baked Fish: A large fat snapper was usually opened, seasoned with black pepper, salt and recado and then folded. It could be wrapped in banana leaves or baked over the fire like a barbecue today. Baked fish was considered a special menu like for Sundays.
Chechac: This is understood is a Mayan word for red soup. A chechac was usually prepared with snappers in a recado soup with a lot of tomatoes and coconut milk. . It was served over white rice. The best part of a good chechac was the head of the fish.
Chemchac: This is a fish soup as well but not prepared with the red recado. It is a simple white soup but served with olive oil and a lime and onion sauce was added. Chemchac is a very sour dish for those who love limes.
Fish in Escabeche: This is very similar to the chicken escabeche with the vinegar and lots of onions. However, the fish was fried and served in the vinegar soup and always accompanied by hot tortillas.
Smoked Fish: Fish that was salted and dried was put to smoke and cook right over the charcoals in the fire hearth. This was very salty and dry. Was usually eaten when there was a scarcity of fresh fish so you pulled those corned fish that were a month old in the box.
Fish in Chirmole: Do you like the chicken chirmole prepared with the black recado giving you a deep black soup? Well fish can be done in exactly the same manner. First the large chunk of fish like tarpon or jack is smoked. Large chunks of this smoked fish is then put into the chirmole soup. A Sunday dish that goes with tortillas and a plenty of lime.
Sudado: The grouper and jewfish is particularly delicious in a good sudado. Usually the chest parts and portions of the cheeks of the head are used. It is prepared like a stew with some gravy and served with hot tortillas. Sudar means to sweat. This dish is allowed to simmer until lips and cheeks of fish are soft and jelly-like. Was thought to serve as an aphrodisiac for men.
Tortas de Macabi: After the bony fish is smoked or barbecued with no seasoning, it is hashed. You add salt and pepper and one or two eggs and you then form fish balls which you fry. The fried fish meat balls are then prepared into a soup using recado and onions and tomatoes. You may add potatoes, yams, macaroni etc. to the soup. Up until today I consider that a delicacy suitable for a Sunday dinner. If given a choice, I would request for Tortas de Macabi at a wedding.