How to buy fish (and cook Paella) in Mexico
Friday, November 3, 2006
Earlier this year we went down to Todos Santos to visit our friend Joe who spends a couple of months every winter there. Joe’s new house was still being built, so we stayed at his friend Paolo, who has a spare studio that he sometimes rents to friends. The house is beautiful, just outside of town, and conveniently locates near Joe’s property
An Italian expat and a retired chef, Paolo is something of an aging Anthony Bourdain character. Chain-smoking and opinionated, especially when it comes to food, he even looks like Bourdain, or perhaps how Bourdain might look in ten years or so. Paolo moved with his Spanish Basque wife to Todos Santos over a decade prior to take over the chef position at the fancy Café Santa Fe in town. Like Bourdain, or perhaps like cooks everywhere, Paolo had a certain appreciation for fellow cooks and so got along famously with David.
We woke up in the mornings during our stay not only to find perfect coffee made in a proper Moka pot, but sometimes even some freshly made Rosquilla to accompany it. Joe told me that Paola -having spent a few years in Spain with his wife- makes a killer Paella. So we agreed to make it for our last dinner there.
On our last day, David went off to surf as usual. I remained at the house to help Paolo with the preparation for our Paella. Around three o’clock Paolo came around to fetch me. It’s time to go get some fish, he said.
No, it’s not a market we were heading out to. Instead, we took his jeep out to Punta Lobos, or wolf point, a beach not far from where David was surfing. There we found a few small boats huddled together on the beach. Paolo walked up to one of them and shared a friendly greeting with one of the fishermen.
The man looked more gangster than fisherman in his straw hat, dark sunglasses with a cigarette sticking out from a corner of his mouth. Standing in front of a blood soaked table with a large cleaver in his hand, he looked quite ready to chop more than just a fish head.
He showed us a bucket filled with red snappers, so fresh I swear some of them were still moving. We picked the three we wanted, and the man began cleaning them on the bloody table.
Paolo pointed out to a tiny object floating in the surf. That’s a fishing boat, he said. These small fishing boats wait just beyond the shore for a break in the surf, at the right moment, the boats come in to land right on the beach. Quite impressive, I’d say.
The only thing I wasn’t so keen on was the aggressive birds, seagulls and pelicans, that are so used to people they walked right up to you to pick up bits of fish. Not that I have anything against birds, mind you, I just like them better a bit farther away.
(to be continued)