Palapa Mariscos Los Porteños

IMG_0868 Lots of changes these days amongst the palapas on the malecon. Many of the changes were precipitated by the storms during the summer of 2014 while other changes are just natural turnover and expansion. One of the more intriguing changes for us is the addition of Palapa Mariscos Los Porteños. Why is this intriguing to us? Well Los Porteños is one of the better known Bandas of Mazatlán (click here for video). It is an interesting concept to have the owner of a banda group open a palapa with the same name. One of the other welcome changes along the malecon is more banda music beyond the strolling musicians. More palapas are welcoming bandas to play at their restaurant, including of course, Mariscos Los Porteños. The day we ate there the band playing featured various members of local bandas. They were getting in practice time and played very well together. Their vocalist lacked a microphone, so he would sing at your table with the band remaining stationary at the end of the restaurant. A nice touch. Songs were 100 pesos each, but spread among 12 guys, that’s not a bad deal. We negotiated four for 300. IMG_0884 IMG_0908 We found Palapa Los Porteños to be excellent as far as palapas go. First, it is new, which means it is clean and a little more modern than others. It is larger than some as well with ample beach seating under umbrellas or seating under palapas. The kitchen is fast and efficient and the servers friendly and dedicated to your satisfaction. The palapa is well built with attractive supporting beams. The kitchen pick up area features a matching wood face that is unique to Mazatlán palapas. It has a very unique and deceiving floor which you can check out in the photos.

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We have long kept a tradition of dining at a palapa each Friday. Originally this was to celebrate Danny surviving another week of school, but now just a chance to remember why we live where we do and celebrate the end of a work week. We have kept a list of palapas in order north to south with our likes and dislikes and relevant comments, but it is sorely in need of updating. After the commotion of Semana Santa, I am committed to getting this done and will publish it for everyone to use and comment upon. Until then, take off your sandals, order a cold beer and some fish or shrimp and enjoy Mariscos Los Porteños. You will find more or less across from the Sands Hotel. Coming south from the acuario, it is the second palapa. Across the street are things like Qualitas Insurance and the Mara Gymnasium, Scorpio V and the road to the bus station. Provecho!

Update: The band contacted me and gave me the website for the restaurant.

Oyster Divers in Mazatlán/Los Ostioneros

VictorToday we had breakfast with Victor. He is an oyster diver here in Mazatlán, and has been for 33 years. His brother, Javier, has been diving for oysters for 28 years. Their father before them was an oyster diver for 52 years.

There were 12 divers late this morning on Playa Camarón, just off Valentino’s/Fiesta Land, and they were all family: brothers, uncles, nephews, cousins.

Victor told us there are at least ten locations or oyster reefs around town that are good for diving. He told us they start work about 8 or 8:30 each day, diving till 10:30 or 11. Each diver makes what he makes; they are not a cooperative. A normal haul — one fill of the net in one of their inner tubes — is about 50 kg. They pack the oysters into green mesh bags that weigh about 23 kg each. Those bags wholesale for about 400 pesos locally.

For our breakfast we were charged 30 pesos (about US$2) for five oysters shucked fresh from the water as we watched. Fresh limes and bottled salsa were available, as well as plastic stools on which to sit while we ate.

Victor explained to us that they throw the shucked oyster shells back into the ocean in order to increase the harvest: that the shells have larvae on them, and they will replant and grow. He also told us about how they have a forced holiday every summer, when the veda is in place — when it’s illegal to dive for oysters. That’s why September is so often called “Septi-hambre,” the hungry month, because it comes after they’ve had three months of no oyster income.

I asked Victor how long he stays under water when he dives. He said if the water is about three meters deep, they stay down about 40 seconds, hammering on the rock to get the oysters loose. If it’s deeper water, they may stay down as few as 20 seconds at a time. Based on my observations, I’d say he underestimates.

He told us that sometimes tourists like to come out diving with them. They bring underwater cameras, and ask the guys to teach them how to oyster. He thinks it’s cool that they want to take home with them such a souvenir: a new skill, a new experience.

Below is a slideshow with a few more photos. ¡Gracias, Victor y familia!

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Thank You for the Free Seafood!

If you read this blog, you know what a futbol/soccer fan I am (NOT!). Well, a few days ago I won a free mariscada (seafood platter) from AlAgua restaurant, because I was the first to correctly predict the final score of a soccer game. Who’da thunk, right? Soccer savant!

I had several local friends who warned me: “Don’t get excited. You’ll go, and they’ll begrudingly serve you up a few morsels of food. Their goal was just to advertise and get you in the door.” Well, I am happy to report that was not at all the case. Al Agua served us up good, as you can see at left!

Thank you very much for your generosity, AlAgua! The oysters were to die for! My son wolfed the shrimp paté, and we all loved the huge prawns, the aguachile and the octopus.

Today was gorgeous, and we very much enjoyed the view from our table. Swimmers, boogie boarders, sailboats, horseback riders.

A band wandered by and offered us a few songs, to make sure our comida was complete. It was a terrific afternoon.

Cooking Class at Molika: Pesce in crosta di sale

I’m privileged to have a terrific group of lady friends who like to cook, and we get together to learn and to teach one another once a month or so. In addition to our Thai cooking classes, we’ve made timballo (Italian “drum” with pasta and eggplant), tortas ahogadas, rajas, chicken mole, macarones, and lemon cake, among some other wonderful things.

Well, my friend Magda got the wonderful idea to book us a series of classes with Héctor at Molika, downtown on Belisario Dominguez near the Plazuela. While I’ve known Héctor for several years — he’s a GREAT bread baker (sourdough and ciabatta plus other good loaves) and I am in love with his grilled vegetables (which we also frequently make at home) — I discovered that he also truly shines as a teacher!

He is funny, charismatic, and I LOVE that he teaches METHODS rather than recipes! In one two-hour class on cooking fish, he demonstrated SIX different methods of preparing the fish we commonly have available here in Mazatlán. For me who learned to cook fish while living in Japan, I learned a lot. For example, he taught us to cut off the fins (see video above) before cooking the fish (you’ll know that most Asians LOVE the crispy fins and would never think of removing them before cooking), saying that the fins have too strong a flavor.

My favorite? Well, by now you know me. I love something different, and especially something impressive. And Héctor delivered: Pesce in crosta di sale, or fish in a “tomb” of salt. I’ve eaten many fish baked in salt crust before, but nothing quite like this!

Rather than just salt with aromatics, Héctor made a salt dough with the 2 salt : 1 flour, eggs, fresh herbs and a bit of water.

He kneaded it (see video above),

Rolled it out,

Pressed two pieces (top and bottom) to the form of the corvina, sealing the dough with beaten egg, decorated it a bit,

Trimmed it to shape (video above), and then baked it for 45 minutes.

The fish of course turned out incredibly moist, aromatic and flavorful. He said he prefers to use robalo rather than corvina, but I was plenty happy with this.

He suggested that we cut the rock-hard crust in the kitchen (you can see above that’s pretty challenging), then take the encrusted fish to the table, where we open it in front of our guests. That way the room fills with the wonderfully aromatic scents.

Finally, unlike Japan where everyone knows how to eat fish on the bone, Héctor suggested we remove the flesh from the fish in front of our guests, serving it up on plates. He removed and discarded the skin, saying that baked/steamed fish skin doesn’t taste good. I can hear the shocked gasps of my Asian friends now, but it was nice for me to learn a more European approach. I will definitely give this gorgeous dish a try. I must admit that I preferred the taste of several of the other dishes he prepared! This one was just a presentational stunner, like my timballo (thanks, Allison, for teaching me!).

We made pescado en papillote, fish steamed in paper. We stuffed the fish with aromatics: lemon peel, garlic and fresh herbs (basil, parsley, rosemary, thyme), then garnished with sliced fresh celery, onion and carrot. It was interesting to me, again with my Asian influence, that Héctor taught us to peel the celery, removing the fibers. Definitely a finer dining touch than I’m used to.

Above you can see Héctor opening the papillón.

A third dish we made in this two-hour class was the dish I swore every single Japanese restaurant serves: sole meuniere (lenguado). Many of the ladies were very happy to have Héctor teach them how to filet. Cleaning and preparing fish is fortunately one of the many skills I learned well in Japan. One of the key points he pointed out is to filet fish when it’s cold, fresh from the icebox. That way it’s much firmer and easier to handle.

Héctor studied and cooked in London before returning to his native Mazatlán, and he uses lots of olive oil and sea salt, as you’ve already seen (way more than I’m used to, though I will start putting a bit more olive oil on for taste at the end), and for this dish he used a whole lot of butter as well. Nobody said good cooking isn’t fattening! He did caution us to check the ingredients on the butter we buy, as ideally it should be made from milk, and not contain emulifiers and a bunch of chemicals. I do think that’s part of the baking challenge I’ve had since I moved here — gotta buy better butter.

And here we have the finished lenguado/sole, covered with sauce from the pan and garnished with a bit of parsley.

I had been craving salmon and asparagus, and just that morning bought both to make for lunch, so was fascinated to see Héctor make this as part of our repertoire for the day. He of course used clarified butter as it withstands higher heat, to get the nice crispiness on the salmon. Note: he removed the skin before cooking. I guess this is also either a European way or alta cocina, because personally I love the crispy skin. I was sooooo gratified to see him cook it the way I feel it should be. Héctor told us that salmon, tuna and swordfish should always be left rare in the center, and I heartily agree. People here in Mazatlán always seem to overcook fish.

The fifth dish he made was swordfish. He cubed the fish, sauteed it with fresh herbs, cherry tomatoes, capers and olives. In addition to the lemon (yellow lemon) rind he added to most all these dishes, he also added a bit of lemon pulp. This concoction he poured over his famously to-die-for ciabatta, and oh my!!!! The bread somehow soaked up and enhanced the lemon flavor of the sauce, and it was soooooo delicious!

I’ve left my favorite dish for last. Fortunately, it was also probably the easiest to cook: pescado en la bolsa, fish in a bag. He used the same ingredients as most of the other dishes — fresh herbs, cherry tomatoes, olives, capers, sea salt, extra virgin olive oil. The wonderful part, besides the incredible taste?

He put all the ingredients in a ziploc bag and cooked it in near-boiling water on the stove! It took just a few minutes and there was nothing except the serving dish to clean up! My son is in Scouts, and they cook just like this on their campouts. Maybe not quite the gourmet ingredients as this, but still very tasty nonetheless.

Thank you, Magda, for setting this up for us! Thank you, Héctor, for a marvelous class! We are very much looking forward to our next one.

Anyone wanting to arrange a class for a group of friends, please give Molika a call: 669-981-1577. Héctor’s English and Spanish are flawless, and his kitchen skills are a gift to Mazatlán.

Pescadería del Mar/Our Fishmongers

One of the best aspects about living here in Mazatlán is the fresh fish we are able to buy every morning. Okay, well, we don’t go on Mondays, because there’s not been a lot of fishing on Sunday, but any day Tuesday through Saturday, you can bet we are happy campers.

We take our daily walk down the malecón and, in Playa Norte just across from the pangas, is our favorite spot: Pescadería del Mar.By now these guys know us and they’ve helped us to learn a lot about fish and fishing here in town: what’s seasonal, how fish are stored (on ice, frozen, salted) from the time they’re caught till they’re brought in to shore, and how to cook what’s available locally.

At 7 am when we’re there we usually have a terrific selection. Of course, depending on the season and the weather, we may have more or less fish to choose from. As you can see in this photo, though, there’s usually quite a variety.

The fishmongers will scale and clean any fish we choose, so I can cook it whole, or they’ll fillet (de-bone) and cut up anything we’d like, however we’d like it. They also get fresh shrimp, which I love, because they are deep water shrimp that have NOT been stored in salt, so they’re sweet rather than pungent. They get quite a bit of squid, also, which I love to saute with garlic and herbs. We can occasionally get fresh scallops, too. Our favorite is corvina, a nice firm fish that is sooooo savory! We can at least a couple of times a week get smoked marlin (usually still warm from the smoker and sooooooo aromatic!), and escabecheon Fridays.

It’s fun to watch either the fishermen fresh off their pangas across the street, or a dealer/go-between (usually on a scooter or motorcycle) come to deliver the fish to the fishmongers and make a deal. They have an outdoor scale to weigh what’s brought in, and an indoor scale to weigh what you purchase before it’s trimmed to order.

Having lived so many years in Japan, I am also very happy when they get sushi-quality tuna, though I do believe most of the fresh fish they have is sushi/sashimi quality. Chirashi has never been so delicious and affordable!

If you are a carnivore/omnivore, and do not take advantage of our local fresh fish, please do! You are missing some really flavorful and healthy, and easy and quick to cook, local delicacies!