I had a preview of the 2019 Punta Mita Gourmet and Golf Classic happening in mid-November when Chef Jorge Gonzales invited me to meet in his kitchen. But the directions weren’t what I expected. I was told to walk through restaurant Aramara, down the stairs next to the lush tropical garden, past the turquoise-blue swimming pool, across the white sand beach with chaise lounges and umbrellas to a small shack on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
A smiling Gonzales welcomed me with a sharp knife in one hand and a large whole red snapper in the other. Why were we meeting outside? Because Gonzales didn’t need a stove to show me how to fillet a fish. How much better to prepare ceviche outdoors where we could feel the breeze off the water and smell the salt in the air.
The ‘Catch of the Day,’ he told me proudly, comes from the waters within sight of the Four Seasons Punta Mita where he is the executive chef. From the appropriately named Shack on Las Cuevas Beach, we had a view of the resort’s two beaches Las Cuevas and Las Manzillas.
Assisted by chef Itzel Zepeda, he wanted to show me how to make his version of Tiradito, a Peruvian ceviche. Healthy and easy-to-prepare, the dish can be an appetizer or a main course, an ideal dish to enjoy watching a game or hanging out with friends.
As he talked, he deftly moved the fish across his cutting board, his sharp knife making quick, efficient cuts into the firm flesh. Gonzales has an easy, friendly manner. He loves what he does.
For him, the pleasure of cooking begins with the best ingredients. He works with several local fishermen who give him a first look at their catch. Since he never knows what they will bring him, the ‘Catch of the Day’ is as much a mystery to him as it is to the fisherman. Sometimes guests and his staff will go out for a day of fishing and they bring back what they catch.
Gonzales also looks for ways to enliven the familiar. Adding his own special touch, he seasoned the Tiradito with flakes grated off a brined and dried, hard-as-a-rock Persian lime.
“Here, taste,” as we scooped up a slice of snapper coated with sauce and dotted with the black flakes. That bite was complete in so many ways. The lime juice and tartness of the soy sauce cut across the fat of the fish. The flakes from the Persian black lime added a delicate, unique salty heat.
We sipped ice cold Pacifico beers and ate as we talked. We heard the voices of children playing on the beach and the constant rhythm of waves breaking on the white sand beaches. A perfectly wonderful afternoon.
Ceviche Tiradito Punta Mita Style
Key to the success of the dish is the quality and freshness of the fish. Ideally, a fish monger can supply a freshly caught whole fish like the red snapper Gonzales used. If not, buying sushi grade fish fillets at a fish market or Japanese market is a good way to experience the recipe, which works well with many kinds of fish as varied as tuna, yellow tail and, of course, red snapper.
Nothing goes to waste in his kitchen. Gonzales uses every part of the fish. He saves the bones and head to make fish soup.
To slice the fish requires a sharp knife.
Unlike ceviche, the fish is sliced thin and is not marinated, so it is flavored by the sauce not “cooked” by the acid of the lime. The lime juice, cilantro, Serrano chiles, soy sauce and extra virgin olive oil compliment the richness of the snapper. Gonzales calls this a “five minute” sauce, quick to prepare and added just before serving.
The sauce should have spiciness. Use all or a few chile slices of one pepper depending on how much you enjoy heat. Gonzales uses a Serrano pepper. For the spiciest sauce, use a Habanero pepper.
Making the brined and dried Persian limes is an added step, so make several. They will keep preserved in an air-tight container for many months.
Brined and Dried Persian Limes
1 dozen, firm, unblemished limes
Dissolve sea salt in half a gallon of water and bring to boil. Add limes. Blanch for two minutes. Drain and chill in a bowl of ice. Dry with a towel.
Place on a baking sheet covered with a Silpat sheet or piece of aluminum foil. Place in the oven and bake about 6 hours or until they are blackened and firm.
Remove and allow to rest at room temperature until they are cool. They should be rock hard and can be stored in an air tight jar for up to 9 months.
If using sushi grade fish, 15 minutes
If filleting a whole fish, 45 minutes
1 pound sushi grade fillet or a 3 pound whole fish, wash, pat dry.
4 ounces soy sauce, preferably Yamasa brand
½ ounce extra virgin olive oil
1 lime or lemon, juiced, seeds removed
1 piece Serrano chile, shaved paper thin, or the spicier Habanero pepper
1 teaspoon zest, “Persian Lime”
1 tablespoon cilantro sprouts or leaves or dried oregano
To fillet a whole fish use a sharp knife to cut around the head and tail, slice down the backbone to separate the flesh from the bones until the fillet comes off, remove any bones and peel off the skin. Cut the flesh into belly and upper fillets.
If using sushi grade fish that is already filleted with the skin removed, check for bones and remove. Wash and pat dry.
Mix together soy sauce, lime juice and serrano chile. Mash the chiles to release the oils. Set aside.
Just before serving, slice the fillet sashimi style.
When platted, spoon the sauce over the slices. Do not include the chiles.
Top with cilantro sprouts or cilantro leaves and dust with black lime zest and serve with ice cold beer or a crisp, white wine.