Virginal Zarandeado

P1280223You most probably love zarandeado—the barbecue fish that is so iconic here in Mazatlán—as much as we do. We’ve ordered it from our friends at Pili on Stone Island for at least l5 years, and in Costa Marinera and other restaurants here for about 30. It is generally cooked over an open wood fire, and it ROCKS!

We also love Pescadería del Mar in Playa Norte. We’ve visited the fishmongers there three times a week every week that we’ve lived here. In addition to fresh fish brought in from the fishermen across the street, they make fresh paté of marlin and tuna that’s the best in town, and only 50 pesos a pack. They also have some of the best fresh-smoked marlin and tuna around. They are so helpful to tell us what’s in season, what’s fresh, and even how to best prepare our different local fish. Of course, I also teach them a bit about how to prepare more international dishes, but that’s beside the point. NOTE: the photos below were not taken today, but on an earlier visit. Click on any photo to enlarge it or see a slideshow.

The point is that this morning we got to the fishmonger rather late. The only thing that looked good to us was fresh pargo, and it was huge for two people—over two kilograms. Perfect for a zarandeado! But what’s the catch? In all these years, we have never before prepared a large zarandeado at home, and we were, honestly, a bit intimidated.

You perhaps prepare this lovely dish at home all the time. With the low price of it in restaurants, there’s no real need to do so. But, our fishmongers gutted and split the pargo, all ready for us to take home and barbecue.

I washed it and sprinkled spices on top. Greg then put it in the fish-griller-thing-a-ma-jiggy that our friend gave us years ago, and put it on the grill.

It turned out perfect—juicy and succulent and oh-so-savory—and it couldn’t have been easier!

If you have by chance not yet tried to do zarandeado on your own, please, don’t worry. Greg tells me to be sure to heat the grill and the fish holder well before cooking, and remember to oil the fish holder. He warmed the grill on high heat and turned it down to medium to cook the fish. After about 20 minutes—oilá! It was magnificent. And we now have terrific fish for the next couple of days.

I made the rice like Spanish rice, with diced tomatoes, but today I added a few chipotles to the mix. The rice was incredible! Really, really good. Ashamedly, we haven’t gotten to go grocery shopping since our return from Las Vegas over the Easter break, so we didn’t have fresh veggies to put on top of the zarandeado. That’s why the raw carrots. 😉

Thank you, griller extraordinaire. It’s wonderful to have a “virginal” experience with you today. I know we will be barbecuing many more fish over the summer, thanks to this success!

The Smells of Mazatlán

Mazatlán is gorgeous, there is no doubt about it. The clear blue sky, ocean to the horizon, daily killer sunsets, long sandy beaches, mountains surrounding, estuaries filled with grasses and birds. Seeing Mazatlán is probably the most popular way to experience the place.

Mazatlán is rich, diverse, and complex, however; definitely a multi-sensory experience. Our sense of smell also plays a major in our experience of this paradise. When we came here as tourists, I must admit we didn’t notice the olfactory input so much as we do now that we live here. Back then we were no doubt overwhelmed by the visual beauty and thought the smells were intermittent, a side dish. Once you live here, smells play a much more important role.
I’ll keep adding to this list, but I do want to record some of the important smells of life in Mazatlán, for better and for worse:
  • TUNA. There are mornings we wake up to a permeating, cooked-fishy sort of smell. Greg, Danny and I all look at each other and grimace. It’s the tuna smell. Mazatlán has a huge tuna business. The Mazatún factory is just outside of town. We don’t know if it’s the way the wind blows, the days they happen to cook or can, or what, but there are certain days when you can’t escape it: it’s tuna time!
  • Zarandeado. The smell of barbecue emanating from the palapas along the beach. You walk the beach, or the malecon. You’re not hungry when you start. But boy, smell that fish on the barbie, and you will be!
  • Sewer gas. One of the greatest joys of life in Mazatlán is the malecon, the oceanside promenade. Walking down it towards the Fisherman’s Monument is gorgeous: the world’s biggest gymnasium, we like to call it. But oftentimes near that very monument, where most parades in town gather before starting, the sewer smells are overwhelming; you actually have to cover your nose and mouth. The city recently did drainage work down there, and the smell appears to have abated somewhat. We can only hope. But there are areas throughout town where you’d swear you were in a bathroom. In the historic downtown, for example. Gorgeous architecture, millions of pesos invested into updating and converting these homes into glory, but once you step outside…..
  • Chile and lime. This favorite seasoning combination teases the nostrils at nearly every fiesta, and there are daily fiestas. Put chile and lime and potato chips or corn chips. Put it on kernels of corn in a cup, or corn on the cob. Put the taste combo on the fruit cup you buy from the vendor on the beach. On your ceviche or fish. Nearly anywhere you wander in Mazatlán, you’ll get a whiff of this winning combination.
  • Salt. As in the fresh salt air, the ocean breeze, the sticky thick liquid that gets stuck on the screens of the sliding doors to the terrace, or in the corners of the tile floor and requires much scrubbing to remove. Salt also as in added taste for beer and margaritas, in combination with lime, of course. Salt is definitely a key smell of those with “las patas saladas.”
  • Tortillas. This is true for many places in Latin America, but/and including Mazatlán. There is no smell so wonderful as fresh tortillas being baked. Who can pass by the tortillería without grabbing a few? Especially when the government subsidizes their cost and you can get a kilo of fresh corn tortillas for less than a dollar.
  • Garbage burning. Don’t ask me why. We recycle. There are families that live at the dump and scavenge all the recyclable items to sell them and make a living. There is regular garbage collection city-wide. But burning of garbage is a fact of daily life here. There appear to be no regulations against it, or at least none that seem to be observed. So, when coming to Mazatlán, be prepared to see plumes of dark smoke from various locations around town, and the charming smell of garbage being incinerated.
  • The honey wagon. Yes, one of my favorite euphemisms for the truck that pumps the waste out of the port-a-potties on the beach. Mazatlán has beautiful, permanent concrete bathrooms built along the malecón. But use them? Agh, why use such a resource? Better to have citizens and tourists alike use the port-a-potties that the palapa restaurants have installed, and have those palapa restaurants pay to have the honey wagon pump them clean every day or two or three. The hoses are a hazard as you walk the malecón in the morning, but worse is the smell the put off. Definitely carry a wash cloth or be prepared to put your shirt over your nose as you pass by.
  • Coffee. Cafe Marino, our local brew, is some of the best-tasting coffee you’ll find. Reasonably priced, locally grown and roasted, it is a frequent component of the gift packages we send overseas. And, again, depending on the air currents and whether the roasteries is roasting or not, the wonderful smell of coffee fills the air of our port city.
  • Diesel. Ok, of course if you’re near the international highway you smell the diesel of the semi trucks, but even in the heart of Mazatlán city proper, the smell of diesel can overwhelm you at times. Those city buses, in addition to being driven by kamikazes, emit thick black smoke that will choke you if you’re not careful. Definitely not the best air to breathe while you are jogging or biking, but a fact of life in Mazatlán. Thank God for the ocean breeze.
  • Fish. Yes, one of the biggest advantages of living in Mazatlán is the fresh fish and the visits to the fishermen and their boats. But, in addition to the terrific taste of the fish and the pleasant sight of the weathered, friendly fishermen and their colorful pangas, we must admit that the smells of fresh, as well as rotting, fish and its entrails definitely fills playa norte.
  • The Market. El mercado is sensory overload and está lleno de holores: raw meat, fresh fruits and vegies, leather…

Favorite Things in Mazatlán

Fresh seafood, of course! Life here means waking up, getting Danny off to school, and walking or biking the malecón (oceanside promenade) with a cooler. We may decide to visit the pescaderos (fishermen) at their pangas (boats) in Playa Norte, or one of the two little pescaderías right across the street, to buy pargo (seabream), lenguado (sole), huachinango (snapper), or maybe sierra (saw fish) for a good ceviche. We can buy enough fish for two meals for US$3.50, or pay a bit more for swordfish or dorado, and significantly less for octopus (sometimes US$1 per kilo!) or squid. We might buy a kilo of fresh prawns for 40 pesos (US$4), or oysters from the ostioneros as they come to shore with their inner tubes and netting (US$4/dozen). We have some great conversation, beautiful views, shop for lunch, and exercise, all at an easy pace and before beginning our work day.

Zarandeado (bbq), al mojo de ajo (garlic sauce), a la parilla (roasted), in ceviche (marinated in lime juice), or raw, Mazatlán’s seafood and seafood sellers have me singing “el gran orgullo de ser de Mazatlán!” (the great pride of being from Mazatlán)

The Green Man. Yes, he is one of my favorite things here in Mazatlán, along with dozens of other really cool and unique vehicles of all descriptions. The first time we saw him, he was also dressed up all in green and wearing a green helmet with horns, like a Jolly Green Giant version of a Viking. These days he’s added the cart to the back of his bike, and he always has his dog with him.