This recipe has become my signature dish, but actually I adapted it from one of the dishes my mother found when everyone was passing recipes on to me in El Paso. It was originally done with crab, but here the cost would be prohibitive for what was originally a simple dish from a bar in Tampico, Tamaulipas state.
The story is this: My stepfather and my mother were in Tampico on a business trip. My Tío Chacha is a nosher. (We call him "tío" — uncle — because we have known him since we were children.) He would rather eat snacks than regular meals and always finds the bars that have the best botanas (snacks to accompany drinks, like the Spanish tapas). In this case he was directed to a place located in front of a cemetery and called "El Porvenir" (That Which Is to Come). The logo announced, "Se esta mejor aqui que en frente" — you rest better here than across the street — and another notice advised that neither women nor military personnel were allowed inside. So my stepfather had to go in and buy the botanas and beer, and they ate outside, sitting on the back of their pickup truck with a beautiful view of the cemetery.
1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter
6 large garlic cloves, finely minced
6 – 7 scallions, white and part of green tops, minced ( l cup)
3 medium-sized red ripe tomatoes, chopped (about 2½ cups)
½ cup cilantro, washed, thoroughly dried and chopped
3 fresh jalapeno or serrano chiles, tops trimmed but not seeded, finely chopped
l½ teaspoons ground true (Ceylon) cinnamon , preferably freshly ground in spice grinder
½ teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoons ground cumin
l teaspoon salt, or to taste
2½ pounds red snapper fillets, skinned, small bones removed with tweezers
Choose a heavy skillet (preferably nonstick) that will be large enough to hold fish in one layer. Melt half of the butter over medium heat. When foam subsides, add half of the minced garlic and saute l minute, stirring constantly. Add scallions and saute l minute longer, stirring often. Add tomatoes, chiles, cilantro, spices, and a little salt; stir well to combine. Cook, stirring often, until sauce is slightly concentrated, about 5 minutes.
Cut fish fillets into halves or several large pieces, depending on size. Place them in the pan in l layer. Adjust heat to maintain a low simmer. Poach the fish uncovered just until flesh begins to turn opaque, l minute. Carefully turn the fillets with a spatula and poach on the other side for about l minute more; flesh should still be slightly undercooked. Allow to cool in the sauce.
When fish is cool enough to handle, pull the flesh into shreds with your fingers. Carefully remove any bones that may be left. If sauce looks watery, drain a little of the juice.
In large skillet, heat remaining butter over medium heat until hot and bubbling. Add remaining garlic and saute for l minute, stirring. Add shredded fish and sauce; cook just until heated through.
Serve with freshly made corn tortillas or crisp-fried tortilla chips.
Serves 6-8 as first course, more as taco filling.