Editor’s Note: The CNN Original Series “Eva Longoria: Searching for Mexico” journeys across the country’s vibrant regions to reveal its colorful cuisines. The series airs at 9 p.m. ET/PT Sundays.
Eva Longoria can’t get enough of this salty dish.
While visiting the sun-soaked city of Mérida on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, she met Regina Escalante, who runs the wildly popular restaurant Merci, and sampled the chef’s grilled fish with sour orange, prepared beachside for flavorful tacos.
In her cooking, Escalante uses one of the region’s most beloved ingredients — salt.
It comes from the fishing village of Celestún, where salt flats produce many forms of the mineral, including the purest, flor de sal. The briny seawater combines with warm rain, slowly evaporating in the tropical heat, and it leaves behind this prized pinkish crystal.
To showcase the flaky salt, Escalante made Longoria grilled sea bass served with avocado and grilled mango in an episode of the CNN Original Series “Eva Longoria: Searching for Mexico.” The fish is stuffed with garlic, rosemary, thyme, sour orange and, of course, a generous dose of salt.
To ramp up the flavor, the chef turned to her secret weapon: an herb brush.
Escalante made the brush by bundling fresh parsley, rosemary and thyme together and used it to lather the fish with a garlic puree made with juice from sour oranges.
“This is my idea of food heaven. Truly, I’d have this as my last meal on Earth,” Longoria said in the docuseries while enjoying the beachside dish.
“The contrast of the crunchy salt and the soft, sweet fish is just sublime.”
Escalante has a simple formula. “With delicious ingredients, we can make delicious recipes,” she said.
Chef Regina Escalante prepares this flavorful fish for tacos that are layered with fresh avocado, grilled mango and onion pickled in sour orange juice. She uses Yucatecan flor de sal, but you can use a more readily available substitute, such as coarse Himalayan pink sea salt or gray sea salt.
Makes 4 servings
1 white onion
1 garlic bulb (2 ounces or 60 grams) left whole for roasting plus cloves from ½ garlic bulb (1 ounce or 30 grams), separated, peeled and crushed for stuffing the fish
Scant 1½ cups | 335 milliliters olive oil, divided
3⅓ to 4½ pounds | 1.5-2 kilograms whole fish, such as sea bass, branzino or red snapper
1.8 ounces | 50 grams fresh thyme sprigs, divided
1.8 ounces | 50 grams fresh rosemary sprigs, divided
1.8 ounces | 50 grams fresh flat-leaf parsley sprigs, divided
7 sour oranges (also known as bitter or Seville oranges)
2½ teaspoons | 10 grams coarse Himalayan pink sea salt or gray sea salt, plus more to taste
½ teaspoon (or 2⅓ grams) freshly ground black pepper plus more to taste
1 medium red onion, sliced (7 ounces or 200 grams)
4 key limes
3.5 ounces | 100 grams fresh cilantro leaves, divided
12 corn tortillas
1. Light the grill. When the grill is hot, halve the white onion. Stick 1 onion half on the end of a grilling fork (reserve the other half for another use) and scrub the grates, cut side down, to clean them. Trim about ½ inch (or 1¼ centimeters) off the top of 1 whole garlic bulb, exposing the individual cloves. Drizzle 1 tablespoon (or 15 milliliters) olive oil over and then wrap the bulb in aluminum foil. Roast the garlic bulb over indirect heat until soft, about 40 minutes.
2. When the garlic is nearly halfway through roasting, clean and scale the fish, and let stand at room temperature for 20 minutes.
3. Remove the roasted garlic bulb from the grill and let cool. While it cools, make a bouquet with half of the thyme, rosemary and parsley and secure it with kitchen twine.
4. Stuff the fish with 2 slices from 1 sour orange (reserve the remaining sour orange for another use), crushed cloves from the remaining half of a raw garlic bulb, and the remaining thyme, rosemary and parsley. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon (or 4 grams) salt inside the cavity.
5. Squeeze the cloves out of the roasted garlic bulb into a bowl with a scant 1 cup (or 200 milliliters) oil, 1 teaspoon (or 4 grams) salt and ½ teaspoon (or 2⅓ grams) pepper and mash with a wooden spoon to combine. Squeeze the juice from 3 sour oranges (about 1 cup or 237 milliliters) and mix together.
6. Season fish with salt, place on grill over moderately high heat and drizzle with 4 tablespoons (or 60 milliliters) olive oil. Grill, using the herb bouquet to brush the fish constantly with the garlic puree, until golden and crispy, about 10 minutes on each side (depending on the type and size of fish).
7. Transfer the grilled fish to a serving platter. Let stand for 10 minutes.
For the toppings
1. Meanwhile, combine the red onion and juice from 3 sour oranges in a bowl. Let stand for about 10 minutes.
2. Slice each mango lengthwise for a total of 4 skin-on, flat pieces. Taking care not to pierce the skin so it remains attached, score the flesh in a ½-inch (or 1¼-centimeter) crosshatch pattern. Grill the mango slices over medium heat until charred, 3 to 4 minutes. Using tongs, remove from grill and let cool. For each slice, invert the skin and slice it off; transfer the mango cubes to a bowl.
3. Combine mangoes with zest and juice from 1 lime, half of the cilantro, remaining ¼ cup (60 milliliters) olive oil and ½ teaspoon (or 2 grams) salt.
4. In a separate bowl, mash the avocados and season with juice of 1 lime, salt and pepper to taste.
5. Sprinkle the tortillas with water and place them on the grill over indirect heat until the bottom of each is browned in spots, about 45 seconds. Flip with tongs and heat the other side, about 45 seconds.
6. Build the tacos by filling each tortilla first with avocado, then layer the fish, onion and mango. Sprinkle with remaining cilantro and finish with salt. Serve with wedges cut from the remaining 2 limes.
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