Sometimes I close my eyes and imagine I’m in the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico—surrounded by dense tropical forests, the songs of wild parrots, and natural fresh water cenotes that sparkle like precious gems as the rays of the sun descend on them through the lush jungle canopy.
The Yucatan is nestled in southeastern Mexico, separating the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. It’s comprised of three nations: Yucatan, Quintana Roo and Campeche, even extending into the northern regions of Belize and Guatemala.
What is the Yucatan known for?
The Yucatan is most famous as being the land of the Mayan people and a popular tourist destination. Many people often make the pilgrimage to visit the ancient Mayan temples at Chichen Itza and Uxmal. With all of the majestic beauty, white sandy beaches surrounded by turquoise water, and perfect sun, it’s no wonder why the Yucatan is one of the most visited destinations in Mexico.
Despite the captivating views and perfect weather, the food may be the richest treasure of the Yucatan. It’s heavily influenced by Indigenous and European cultures and showcases some of the freshest and most unique ingredients.
What is food from the Yucatan like?
One of my favorite dishes is Tikin Xic (pronounced “teek-en-sheek”), or a Yucatan grilled fish. Tikin Xic means “dry fish,” but it is anything but that. Typically, it’s a whole fish like snapper or grouper marinated in a vibrant achiote paste made from crushed annatto seeds, giving it its iconic bright orange-red hue. It is loaded with warm spices like cumin, coriander and oregano.
Annatto has been used for centuries as medicine, a natural colorant for cheeses, and to dye clothes. The achiote paste is added to toasted and rehydrated guajillo chiles and the juice from bitter oranges for a life-changing marinade. The grilled fish with all the fixings is wrapped in banana leaves, and in ancient times, cooked in underground earthen ovens lined with volcanic rocks.
How do you cook the red snapper fillets for Tikin Xic?
My modern-day recipe uses grilled fish, specifically red snapper fillets (grouper or any rockfish can be substituted), that are individually wrapped in banana leaf packets and grilled over my Santa Maria charcoal grill. I like to add mesquite wood to my coals to impart more smoke and flavor into the grilled fish. The leaves ensure a perfectly moistened fish and are stunning for individual presentation. Serve them with a stack of fresh tortillas and your family, friends, and taco lovers will do the taco happy dance!
Remember, I’d rather fall into tacos than love…and honestly, I may be in love with these tacos. I hope you love them as much as me.
Peace, love, and tacos!!!
- 6 boneless red snapper fillets (grouper, rock fish, branzino), about 6 oz. each
- 2 guajillo chiles, seeds and stems removed.
- 1 cup freshly squeezed juice from bitter orange or ½ cup each orange juice and lime juice
- 2 tbsp. white vinegar
- 5 oz. achiote paste
- ¼ cup white onion, rough chopped
- 6 cloves garlic
- 1 tsp. coarse sea salt
- ¼ tsp. ground black pepper
- 4 whole cloves, stems removed
- ¼ tsp. ground allspice
- 1 tbsp. vegetable oil
- 2 large banana leaves thawed
- Flour or corn tortillas
- Place individual fillets in glass or non-stain dish. Season with Spanglish Asadero Bold Citrus (optional) or salt and pepper.
- On comal or frying pan, toast the guajillos on each side to release oils, making sure not to burn chiles. Cover with water and simmer over medium heat to soften and rehydrate chiles about 15 minutes.
- In blender add rehydrated chiles, 2 tbsp. of liquid from rehydrated chiles, orange and lime juice, vinegar, onion, achiote paste and spices. Blend until smooth.
- Cover the fish with marinade, making sure both surfaces of fish are completely covered. Cover with plastic and let marinade in refrigerator for one to 12 hours.
- Cut banana leaves into 12-inch squares and lay filet on the middle of the dull surface of the leaf. Fold up the bottom of the leaf, covering the fish. Then fold in both sides. Make one more fold on top to form your package.
- I like to secure the packets with butchers twine, but you can also tie them like tamales with banana leaf strips that have been cut with the grain into ½-inch strips.
- Preheat your grill to medium heat using a two-zone method (one side with no coals and other with coals, or if using gas, one side with burners off and other side with burners on).
- Cook the banana-wrapped fish directly over the heat until the leaves are charred on both sides (about 3 to 4 minutes each side). Transfer the fish to the indirect side and finish cooking until fish reaches 140 degrees internal temperature.
- Serve each packet individually or on a platter with a stack of warm tortillas so that each person can build their own tacos.
PRO TIP: I like to build my taco with fish, pickled onions, cilantro, and El Yucateco habanero salsa. A tropical mango or pineapple salsa would also make a wonderful accompaniment!
Want to try other recipes from Uncle Chico? Check these out!