The sea is important to the physical and cultural identity of most South and Central American countries. There’s a lot of water out there, and as such, fish has always been an important part of the traditional diet, which has since undergone modern development and enhancement to present one of the most refined, tasty collection of pescatarian dishes in the world.
Touring a fish market in a coastal Latin American city is a sight to behold, and one that carries inspiration that will translate directly into your kitchen. These five dishes are cherry picked from all over the continent to present the best recipes that any home cook can replicate.
These dishes are inspired by the places in which they were invented, taking notes from local ingredients, practices, celebrations, and flavors. They come from the sea in the same way they come from the people who’ve passed down the knowledge from generation to generation. And now, they are being passed down to you.
1 | Peruvian Ceviche
It’s appropriate to start with the fish-centric dish that has spawned countless varieties throughout Latin America. Almost every country that touches the coast has some unique version of ceviche, which in its most basic form is some sort of fish cured in salt and lemon juice. No matter the specific recipe you happen to indulge in, your experience will be bright, refreshing, and perfect for white beaches and tiny umbrellas in sugary cocktails.
In Peru, ceviche is commonly made with lime juice or bitter orange juice in replace of lemon juice, and accompanied by potatoes, red onion, and chili pepper. The spice from the chili helps balance the sourness of the lime for one of the most well-regarded flavors of ceviche in the world.
2 | Pescado Encocado
This Ecuadorian dish features fish seasoned with citrus and spices, then cooked in a brothy coconut sauce until light, flaky, and delicious. The sauce traditionally contains bell peppers, onion, cilantro, and tomato, making for a hearty meal when served next to a spoonful of white rice.
Ecuador’s food culture revolves around fish – especially sea bass – which is the most commonly used white fish in pescado encocado. However, there are also versions of this dish featuring shrimp, clams, crab, or squid. If it swims, throw it in.
3 | Fish in Adobo (Marinated)
Adobo’s origins come from all the way across the Atlantic Ocean in Spain and Portugal. And like most Iberian influenced dishes in Latin America, adobo takes on a whole new character depending on which country you have it in. It also doesn’t always feature fish as protein, but for the sake of this article it’s the perfect complement to what, at its heart, is an unforgettable chili sauce.
The sauce is made with roasted ancho chilis, garlic, ginger, cumin, and salt, cooked down then blended to a smooth, buttery consistency. Once the sauce has come to a simmer, add a sturdy salt water treat such as shrimp or lobster.
4 | Cazuela de Mariscos
Cazuela is the quintessential home cooked meal. They are brothy soups and stews that warm the soul as much as they warm your bones after a long day of work. They are part of the Latin spirit and culinary tradition that can be made with a variety of different kinds of protein.
Cazuela de mariscos features an assortment of fish, including shrimp, clams and oysters. The stew contains a base of garlic, onion, paprika and oregano with a healthy serving of seasonal vegetables. For the best results, wait to add the fish until the very end of cooking time after the other flavors have had a proper chance to melt together in simmering harmony.
5 | Enchilada de Camarones
If you’re looking for down-and-dirty, authentic Cuban seafood, look no further than enchilada de camarones. We’ve all had enchiladas, but few versions of the popular baked and heavily ‘cheese’d’ Mexican staple are packed with as much nuance and flavor as these, which center around the inclusion of creole-inspired shrimp.
In fact, this version of enchilada ditches the tortillas all together in favor of a steaming bed of white rice. Because, you know, you can’t have Cuban food without white rice. The shrimp is cooked in a tomato-based sauce that is poured over the rice and enjoyed with a side of crispy tostones (twice-fried plantains).