The port of Veracruz, on the Gulf of Mexico, was one of the first places where the Spanish initially settled, which explains the strong Mediterranean elements in this very Mexican sauce. One of the area´s iconic dishes is Huachinango a la Veracruzana, Red Snapper Veracruz Style, which consists of a whole fish cooked with these same flavors. (See instructions below.) The sauce is just as delicious, however, with much more simply-prepared proteins such as grilled chicken or fillets of white fish.
Veracruz Sauce is not intended to be very spicy; a small amount of mild chile güero or jalapeño pepper called for, more for flavor than for piquancy. The use of jalapeños in the recipe is doubly appropriate given that its name is derived from Jalapa, the capital of Veracruz State.
- 1/4 cup of olive oil
- 5 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
- 2 cups of seeded and diced tomatoes
- 1 medium-sized onion, sliced
- 4 pickled jalapeño peppers (canned or jarred), chopped
- 5 green olives, coarsely chopped
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 1 tablespoon capers
- 1/4 cup water
Warm the oil in a medium saucepan. Saute the garlic briefly to release its flavor.
Add the tomatoes and onions and cook over low heat until the tomatoes soften, about 20 minutes.
Add the jalapeño pepper, olives, oregano, capers, water, and salt to taste. Simmer for an additional 20 minutes.
Serve your delicious Veracruz Sauce over grilled or pan fried white fish or chicken breast. Accompany this with white rice, if you like.
Variations on Veracruz Sauce
This is a pretty laid-back sauce that is made in many ways according to regional and personal preferences, so don’t be afraid to tweak it to taste. Here are some possibilities:
Substitute chicken or fish broth for the water for even more flavor.
Add a little bell pepper, diced or cut in long strips. Saute it together with the onions and garlic.
Vary your olives: use black olives instead of green—or a few of each. Leave olives whole (with or without seeds), halve them, or cut them into slices.
Simmer a bay leaf or two in your sauce; remove before serving.
If you don’t have fresh tomatoes on hand, use canned ones. If all you have is tomato sauce (puree) or paste, use that instead of diced tomatoes.
Control the heat in this dish: remove the seeds from the jalapeño peppers if you prefer a milder dish. Leave the seeds—and even add more peppers—if you want to increase the piquancy.
For an added touch of acidity, add 2 or 3 tablespoons of vinegar to the sauce together with the water.
How to Make Huachinango a la Veracruzana
Use one whole red snapper of about 3 pounds, or two pounds of snapper filets. If using the whole snapper, clean it and remove the scales, but leave the head and tail on for presentation.
Prick the fish with a fork on both sides.
Lay the fish (or the filets) in a single layer in a shallow baking dish. Whisk together 2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lime juice, a pinch of salt, a pinch of pepper, a pinch of nutmeg, and 2 cloves (diced) of garlic. Pour this marinade over the snapper and refrigerate for about an hour.
Make Veracruz Sauce (above), but reduce garlic to only 2 or 3 cloves. Simmer sauce for only about 5 minutes after adding jalapeños and other ingredients, as it will finish cooking in the oven.
Cover the fish with the sauce and bake in a 300 F (150 C) oven for about 30 minutes, turning once. Serves 3-4.
Edited by Robin Grose