Down Mexico Way

The Baja region of Mexico is known for its incredible scenery, crystal clear waters, white sand beaches, loads of sunshine, and an incredible array of sea food, including the legendary Baja fish taco. The Sea of Cortez is home to more than 800 varieties of fish, and when you add in all the marine life found on the Pacific side, the total comes to nearly 3,000.

Naturally, a Baja Mexico menu leans heavily toward seafood, with fish tacos as the centerpiece. Fish tacos can be found everywhere throughout the region and are served with large bowls of salsa, sour cream, chopped onions, tomatoes, cilantro, and shredded cabbage, which holds up in the Mexico heat much better than lettuce.

Ceviche is another very prevalent Baja dish, made with citrus-marinated shrimp or white fish, or a combination of the two.

Most countries serve some version of creme caramel, whether it’s panna cotta in Italy or creme brulee in France. In Mexico and South America, it’s flan. Mexican Flan is richer and denser version of creme caramel, typically flavored with vanilla – toss some fresh raspberries on top prior to serving a colorful touch and delicious tang.

Because of its Baja Mexico theme, this menu is best served alfresco. Decorate your outdoor dining area with red, green, and white streamers – the colors of the Mexican flag – and use red, green, and white stoneware for serving. Fill a tub with ice, Mexican beers, Sangrita, tequila, and bottled water near the dining table for easy access.

  • Beverages: Sangrita and Mexican Beer
  • Appetizers: Avocado Salsa and Salsa Verde with Blue Corn Tortilla Chips
  • First Course: Baja Ceviche
  • Second Course: Baja Fish Tacos
  • Side Dish: Corn-in-a-cup
  • Dessert: Mexican Flan with Raspberries

Sangrita

Sangrita is a tangy, refreshing drink made with fresh tomato, orange, and lime juices, with a kink of chilies or hot sauce. In Mexico, sangrita (“little blood”) is the traditional chaser for shots of high-quality tequila. When drinking a “completo” of tequila and sangrita, sip each glass slowly to savor the flavors.

Prep Time: 15 minutes; Chill Time: 20 minutes; Serves: 4

2            medium cucumbers, each about 1 1/2 inches in diameter
2            cups tomato juice
1             cup orange juice
1/4        cup lime juice
2            teaspoons hot sauce
2            teaspoons onion, minced
2           teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
             celery salt to taste
             cracked black pepper to taste

Cut two 3 1/2-inch lengths from each of the cucumbers to use as cups. Peel the pieces, leaving a 1 1/2-inch band of peel at one end of each. Using a melon baller, scoop out the seeds, stopping just before reaching the bottom. Refrigerate the cups for at least 10 munites

Shake remaining ingredients together and strain. Season the sangrita with salt and pepper and chill for 20 minutes. Pour the sangrita into the cucumber cups and serve.

Chef’s Tip: The sangrita can be made the night before and refrigerated.

Tequila Twist: You can also mix a tequila and sangrita cocktail by using 4 parts sangrita to 1 part tequila. Serve well-chilled or on the rocks.

Avocado Salsa

Many of the small stands in Baja have avocado salso on the condiment table. It nicely complements both beef and fish tacos and is of course great with tortilla chips.

Prep Time: 15 minutes; Serves: 4

2            medium avocados, pitted and peeled
3            serrano chilies, stems and seeds removed, chopped
1/4        cup onion, chopped
2            tablespoons fresh lime juice
              salt to taste
              fresh cilantro, chopped

Put all the ingredients except cilantro into a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Pour mixture into a bowl, garnish with cilantro, and serve with tortilla chips as a condiment for tacos.

Chef’s Tip: Prepare and refrigerate the night before for stronger flavors.

Salsa Verde

Tomatillos, also called green tomatoes, aren’t really tomatoes at all. They have a tangy, citrus-like taste that makes a nice contrast to the heat of the serrano chilies. This salsa is great on tacos and burritos or can be served with chips.

Prep Time: 15 minutes; Cook Time: 10 minutes; Serves: 4

1            pound tomatillos, husks removed, chopped, or substitute one 11-ounce can tomatillos, drained
1/2       cup white onion, diced
2           cloves garlic, minced
3           serrano chilies, stems and seeds removed, minced
             sugar to taste
             salt to taste
1/4      cup fresh cilantro, chopped

Combine the tomatillos, onion, garlic, and chilies in a small, heavy saucepan and heat over medium heat until the tomatillos start to soften. Reduce heat to low and shimmer the mixture for a couple of minutes until the tomatillos are soft but still colorful. Adjust the seasonings.

Put the mixture in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Pour the sauce into a bowl, stir in the cilantro, and serve.

Chef’s Tip: Prepare and refrigerate the night before for stronger flavors.

Baja Ceviche

Feel free to use whatever type of fish you like, as long as it’s super fish – mahi mahi, ahi tuna, halibut, and grouper all work well. You also may substitute fresh scallops.

Prep Time: 30 minutes; Chill Time: 2 hours; Serves: 4

1/2       pound fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2       pound fresh white fish fillets, cut into 1-inch pieces
1           cup lime juice
1           red onion, diced
2          serrano chilies, stems and seeds removed, minced
1           cup cilantro, chopped
2          tomatoes, chopped
2          avocados, chopped

Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil. Add the shrimp and cook for 1 minute. Remove shrimp with slotted spoon and place into a bowl of ice water to stop cooking. Drain the shrimp. Cut each piece of shrimp in half, or into inch-long pieces. Place shrimp and fish in a glass or ceramic bowl and cover completely with lime juice. Mix onion, serrano chilies, and cilantro together and layer over the top of the seafood. Cover and refrigerate for a minimum of two hours or overnight.

When the seafood is ready, mix the chopped tomatoes and avocado together and spread out on a large serving platter. Mix the marinated seafood with he onion, chilies, and cilantro, and pile on top of tomato and avocado mixture.

Surround the ceviche with high-quality tortilla chips and serve with hot sauce on the side. If you want to make the presentation a bit more formal, serve in individual martini glasses rather than one large serving platter.

Baja Fish Tacos

You will find hundreds of food stands and carts offering fish tacos in Mexico’s Baja region. Use tilapia; cod is another popular choice. Grouper and shark also work well. Serve two tacos with salsa, sour cream, diced onions, tomatoes, cilantro, and shredded cabbage.

Prep Time: 20 minutes; Cook Time: 10 minutes; Serves: 4

1             large lime
1             pound white fish fillets, cut into 1-inch pieces
2            eggs
1             cup flour
               salt
              vegetable oil for frying
12          white corn tortillas
 
Toppings:
1             cup fresh cilantro, chopped
2            tomatoes, chopped
1             onion, diced
               salsa
               sour cream
               shredded cabbage

Cut the lime in half and squeeze the juice over the fish. Allow the fish to marinate while preparing the batter.

To make the batter, break the eggs in a bowl and whisk. While mixing with a fork, gradually add only enough flour to form a thin batter. Season with salt.

Pour the oil to a depth of 1 to 2 inches, depending on the thickness of the fish, in a heavy skillet or wok. Heat the oil over medium-high heat. Dip the fish in the batter and let the excess drip off. Carefully slide the fish into the oil and fry until the fish is done, about 3 minutes, and the batter is golden brown, turning once. Remove and drain on paper towels.

Wrap the tortillas in a towel and microwave on high for 30 seconds. Place the fish in the tortillas and serve with toppings on the side, allowing guests to create their own combination.

Corn-in-a-Cup

This sweet snack is popular in Mexico and some border towns in Texas, New Mexico, and California.

Prep Time: 20 minutes; Grill Time: 10 minutes; Serves: 4

4            ears of corn, husks and silk removed
2            tablespoons butter, melted
1/4        cup Parmesan cheese
2            teaspoons New Mexican chili powder
1             tablespoon fresh lime juice
              cilantro to garnish

Grill the corn on the cob over medium-high heat, turning often, until corn begins to brown just slightly. Use a knife to slice the corn kernels off the cobs into a medium bowl. Add the remaining ingredients to the corn and mix well. Serve in individual cups and garnish with a sprinkle of chili powder and a sprig of cilantro.

Mexican Flan with Raspberries

Flan is made with a layer of custard paired with the sweetness of a light caramel sauce. When chilled and then inverted to unmold, the sauce pours over the custard and is served as is. Flan is sometimes prepared in a souffle dish or ring mold – you can also use individual 5- or 6-ounce ramekins, as is done in Mexico.

Prep Time: 15 minutes; Bake Time: 1 hour; Chill Time: 3 hours; Serves: 8

1/2        cup granulated sugar
1            14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1            cup milk
3            large eggs
3            large egg yolks
1/2        teaspoon almond extract
1            teaspoon vanilla extract
1            pint raspberries

In a small saucepan, melt sugar over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until sugar is a dark, caramel-colored liquid. Remove from heat and pour into 8 individual ramekins. Quickly turn ramekins to coat bottom and sides with the caramel. Let cool so caramel hardens.

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Put the condensed milk, milk, eggs, egg yolks, and extracts into blender. Cover and blend to mix well. Pour mixture into ramekins and bake for 1 hour. Remove from oven, cool, and then refrigerate for 3 hours, or up to 2 days.

To serve, cover each ramekin with an inverted serving plate. Hold ramekin and plate together and turn them over. Lift off ramekin. Caramel will fall as a liquid sauce over the custard. Garnish with fresh raspberries.

Chef’s Tip: You may also use a 4-cup metal ring mold instead of the individual ramekins.

 

*Article written by Kim A. Fuqua