All along Mexico's Pacific coast you'll find seafood stalls serving fresh catch: grilled whole, steamed until plump, pan-seared, raw or in one of many ceviche-like preparations. Marinating seafood in acid is a cooking technique used around the globe — and for good reason. It's fast, easy and almost unexpectedly toothsome. And, I think we should all be doing it more at home.
This recipe is the same idea as a ceviche — fish marinated in lots of lime juice, plus a few other seasonings — but it's easier and faster.
Tiritas de pescado hail from the area around Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo in the state of Guerrero, and like lots of famous fish dishes, they originated as a fishermen's snack. I first read about them on Mely Martinez's incredible blog, Mexico in My Kitchen.
To make them, white fish filets are sliced into ¼-inch strips across the grain of the flesh, and then cut into 2-inch-long pieces. These get marinated in lime juice, dried oregano, slices of red onion and salt for about 10 minutes. Unlike a lot of more complex ceviches, tiritas don't require an hourslong marinade because the strips are cut so thin, and because of the firm-but-tender types of fish that are used. According to Martinez, sailfish or marlin are commonly made into tiritas in Guerrero.
In this recipe, which is adapted from "The Food of Oaxaca," chef and author Alejandro Ruiz recommends sierra or mahi-mahi, which are caught off the coast of Puerto Escondido in Oaxaca. Ruiz includes slices of cucumber in his tiritas, for extra crunch, and a bit of olive oil, which brings out the silkiness of the fish. Served with tortilla chips, saltines or even yuca or plantain chips, I like to think of it as a fresh take on fish and chips.
If this is your first go at a ceviche-style dish, I recommend making the recipe exactly as written. It's helpful to watch how the fish transforms in acid, how it looks, feels and tastes once it's fully cooked. It's hard to explain this transformation in words. It's essential to use the freshest fish you can find. It should have virtually no scent — or should smell only of the clear blue sea — when you take it out of its paper or plastic wrapper.
If you can't find mahi-mahi or sierra, sea bass or scallops would work fine.
Lime juice is ideal here, but lemon juice would work just as well.
Mexican dried oregano adds a wispy earthiness, though I imagine dried mint or a pinch of crushed cumin seeds might be interesting, too.
I love the crunch and refreshing flavor the cucumber and red onion add. You could also use bell pepper, shallots, scallions, jicama or zucchini.
Tiritas de Pescado
- 7 or 8 ounces fresh, skinless white fish, preferably sierra or mahi-mahi, cut into 2-inch-long and ¼-inch thick strips
- ½ cup fresh lime juice (from about 4 limes), plus more to taste
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- ½ teaspoon fine sea salt or table salt, plus more to taste
- ½ cup thinly sliced cucumber, peeled and deseeded if peels and seeds are prominent
- ½ cup thinly sliced red onion
In a nonreactive (glass, stainless steel or ceramic) bowl, toss the fish with lime juice, olive oil, oregano and salt. Marinate at room temperature for 10 minutes, then add the cucumber and onion, and refrigerate for an additional 5 minutes. Taste, and season with additional salt and/or lime juice, if desired, and serve.
Makes 2 to 4 servings.
Recipe adapted from "The Food of Oaxaca: Recipes and Stories from Mexico's Culinary Capital" by Alejandro Ruiz and Carla Altesor (Knopf, 2021)