Exploring the flavors of San Antonio
We’ve just returned from San Antonio, where I (more or less) achieved my goal of eating only local cuisine during our stay. The “less” had to do with breakfast, which contained standard egg and bread products found in kitchen nooks everywhere. Lunch and dinner, however, gave me the chance to try a range of signature Tex-Mex foods.
One of the surprises of a densely populated tourist destination was the freshness of ingredients compared to the just-opened-can quality I’ve encountered in many busy restaurants. Instead of the usual dense paste of refried beans, we were served side dishes of well-seasoned pintos or black beans that still looked (and tasted) like beans.
Unlike the Sussex County style of fish tacos where the shell has been deep-fried into a puff and filled with heavily breaded fish, we found handmade corn tortillas spread with chipotle-infused sauce and filled with shredded cabbage and delicate flakes of grilled fish filets.
On the theme of fresh ingredients, we were delighted by the tableside preparation of guacamole at a Riverwalk restaurant called Boudro’s (for those of you looking for the “ux” at the end of their name, they dropped the letters to convert their image from New Orleans style into San Antonio chic.)
When you order this appetizer, a rolling cart is wheeled to your table and the server assembles a bowl of chunky guacamole from the colorful array of prepped ingredients. A few unusual additions include roasted peppers and tomatoes as well as a squeeze of fresh orange juice. Their recipe (below) is featured prominently on their website.
Before we started our trip, we’d asked a Texan friend for restaurant recommendations. He advised making reservations at a place called La Fonda on Main, slightly north of the downtown area. Our server was surprised to learn we’d never been there before; almost all his customers were regulars, and their families had been coming for decades.
Always leery of oversweet margaritas, I asked if they had anything less sugary. We were warned about the pucker factor, but thoroughly enjoyed the mixture of lime juice and tequila with a splash of triple sec. My entrée was the highlight meal of the entire trip: Mahi Mahi Veracruzana. Sometimes called Veracruz, after the Mexican city of its reputed origin, this dish can also be made with any firm white fish cut into one-inch-thick filets.
The fish is sprinkled with sea salt and marinated in lime juice while the sauce is sautéed in a skillet. A spicy combination of tomato, jalapeño and onion is cooked with capers and sliced green olives. Once the sauce is reduced, the fish is grilled and served beneath a generous ladle of richly flavored sauce. Alternatively, you can place the marinated fish filet into the pan of sauce and bake until the fish is cooked through.
What gave the dish such a fresh twist was the addition of thinly sliced squash and the absence of thickened tomato sauce found in other versions of Veracruz sauce. You can find recipes that call for cumin or chile powder, but we found the jalapeño added enough heat without the heavy smokiness those spices would contribute. Between the tart cocktail that showcased the unique flavor of tequila and the bright sauce that perfectly complemented the mahi mahi filet, we were delighted with the tastes of San Antonio.
Juice of 1/4 orange
Juice of 1/2 lime
2 T diced, roasted Roma tomatoes
1 roasted Serrano pepper, seeded and diced
1 T diced red onion
1 t chopped cilantro
coarsely ground sea salt, to taste
Squeeze juices into bowl. Remove the seed and scoop avocado flesh into the bowl; coarsely chop. Fold in onions, roasted tomato, Serrano and cilantro. Add salt, to taste, and serve with tortilla chips. Yield: 2 to 3 servings.
Mahi Mahi Veracruzana*
salt, to taste
2 5-oz mahi fillets
1 t olive oil
1 diced onion
2 minced garlic cloves
1/4 C thinly sliced squash
2 diced tomatoes
2 T minced fresh cilantro
1 T capers
2 T sliced green olives
1 T minced jalapeño pepper
1/2 C chicken broth
salt and pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 375 F. Place fish filets in a shallow dish. Sprinkle with salt on both sides and pour lime juice over the fish. Set aside to marinate for 20 minutes. Heat olive oil in an ovenproof skillet. Add onions and sauté until translucent. Add garlic and cook an additional minute. Stir in squash, tomatoes, cilantro, capers, olives, jalapeño and broth. Cover and cook over medium low, stirring often, until slightly thickened, about 15 minutes. Lift fish from marinade and add to skillet. Bake, uncovered, until the fish is flaky, about 15 minutes. Garnish with cilantro sprigs and serve with rice. Yield: 2 to 3 servings.
*adapted from La Fonda on Main.
San Antonio Rice
1 C uncooked jasmine rice
12-oz jar salsa
1 C corn kernels
1/2 t ground cumin
1/2 t salt
1/4 t black pepper
1 C chicken broth water
Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Immediately reduce heat and cover. Simmer until rice is tender, about 15 minutes.