My friend likes to joke how on my last day in Cartagena I slowly walked into the ocean to bid the beautiful, Caribbean seaside city farewell. That last morning I tried to capture all the sights, smells, tastes and sounds and bottle it up the way one might bottle up sand from a beach they wish to carry with them.
Now back in New York, I miss those sun soaked mornings of strolling through Bocagrande, buying fresh Pandebono from street vendors and listening to Spanish music playing off in the distance. Although my city surroundings have replaced palm trees and leisurely strolls with sky scrapers and rushed crowds; I can still take my self back to those relaxed days in Cartagena by recreating some of my favorite dishes from the Colombian coast—in particular Pan-Fried Red Snapper with Coconut Rice.
Since returning to New York, I have fended off my Cartagena withdrawals with Pandebonos, Arequipe and other Colombian treats easily found throughout the city. Yet, I have been craving Pescado Rojo, a dish that first delighted my palate at an ocean side restaurant in the fishing village of La Boquilla. The unpresuming neighbor of Cartagena, La Boquilla is 10-20 minutes away and is a stark contrast from the beautiful, Spanish colonial setting of the Old City. Most tourists wouldn’t look twice at the seaside village but as the old adage proves: Never judge a book by its cover because La Boquilla is home to some delicious, fresh seafood.
Sitting at a table planted right on the beach of La Boquilla, our group was given the choice between two freshly caught fish only to have them returned to us fried to perfection. No fork and knife needed at this small, ocean side restaurant of Donde Angel where eating Pescado Rojo is a lot like Colombia—no frills, no fuss; just simple pleasure.
Fast forward to today. I have made the choice to embark on a mini culinary adventure and attempt to re-create this Caribbean staple of pan-friend Red Snapper with Coconut Rice. Surprisingly the ingredients are simple but the overtly large fish that I had purchased was daunting to say the least. The coconut rice was easy enough to whip up but the snapper, oh that snapper, was like my own personal obstacle course proving a bit tricker to flip and fry like the well-versed Colombian pros. In the end, my meal turned out exactly as hoped; it offered a trip down memory lane and a temporary release from the constant grind of New York to sit back and re-visit Cartagena.
Coconut Rice Recipe
- 1 cup long grain rice or 1 cup jasmine rice
- 2 cups unsweetened coconut milk
- 1/2 cup finely shredded unsweetened coconut
- 1/2 inch peeled fresh ginger
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- chopped fresh cilantro (optional)
1) Bring the coconut milk to a boil in a medium sized pot.
2) Add the rice, ginger and salt.
3) Stir and bring to a boil.
4) Reduce heat to low and then cover and simmer for 20 minutes.
5) While waiting, heat the shredded coconut in a skillet, toasting it lightly.
6) Remove from heat and set aside.
7) When the rice has cooked for 20 minutes, fluff it with a fork and throw out the ginger root.
8) Toss with toasted coconut.
9) Garnish with chopped cilantro just before serving.
South American Style Pan Fried Red Snapper
- 2 lbs red snapper (whole or fillets)
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 2 lemons
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 bell pepper, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 cups chicken broth
- fresh oregano, chopped for garnish (handful)
- fresh cilantro, chopped for garnish (handful)
1) If using whole snapper (cleaned) cut about 4 slits through skin on each side.
2) Season, inside and out with salt and lemon juice; cover and refrigerate 20 minutes.
3) Meanwhile heat olive oil in a large skillet (large enough to fit the fish) over medium heat and sauté onion, pepper, and garlic until softened, about 10 minutes.
4) Add chicken broth to skillet and stir.
5) Remove fish from refrigerator and rinse thoroughly under cold water and pat dry.
6) Nestle the fish in the skillet and cover.
7) Let cook 15 minutes, then carefully turn and cook an additional 10 - 15 minutes.
8) Transfer to serving platter, spoon veggies on top, pour sauce all around, and sprinkle with oregano and add chopped onions, garlic and pepper to olive oil in a skillet