Juan de León and his fellow converts in Mexico used to break the fast with marinated fish, olives, cheese, bread, fruit, and wine, says David Gitlitz in his book “A Drizzle of Honey”, which delves into the Jewish cuisine of forced converts in Spain following the Inquisition. Salmon Masharo, whose Christian name was Juan de León, was born into a Jewish family but was baptized as an infant into Christianity in Livorno Italy. De León lived a stormy life: he was kidnapped as a teenager during a sea voyage by Algerian-Jewish pirates and returned home at the age of 20, after 4 years of captivity, only to find that his father had emigrated to South America (to the Spanish colonies), so de León decided to follow him.
Arriving in Mexico when he was twenty years old, he quickly became a leader in the Anusim community (which translates to “forced [ones]” or “coerced [ones]”) as during his years of captivity he became well versed in Jewish customs. In 1642, just three years after arriving in Mexico, he was arrested and imprisoned for 8 years, during which he was interrogated at length regarding his Jewish heritage. The preserved documents from his testimony include, among other things, how he asked to receive a portion of raw fish for his cell with which he broke the Yom Kippur fast. Gitlitz points out that the dish is influenced by the Mexican ceviche and is filled with ingredients that were not known in Europe at the time, such as tomato and avocado.
“Except for the oregano, this dish is very similar to the raw fish dishes that I serve at the restaurant,” says Chef Yehi Zino, who discovered that “the oregano, which I would never have thought to add to this dish, adds something almost spicy and very tasty. The original recipe, in the absence of refrigerators probably, soaks the fish in lime juice for a few hours before mixing it with the rest of the ingredients. The long soaking really cooks it and makes the meat hard and white. You can skip this long pickling and do just a few minutes in lime juice before mixing with the rest of the ingredients. Though you shouldn’t skimp on the hour and a half of rest before serving – during which all the flavors mesh together and balance each other out,” he explains.
Ingredients for Mexican Fish Escabeche
- 7 oz (200 grams) sole filets, fresh, or any lean white fish you prefer, skinless and cut into cubes of about ⅓-inch (1 cm)
For the Pickling:
- 1 cup lime juice fresh
For the Escabeche:
- 1 tomato large
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ¼ cup red onion finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons chili peppers green, seeded, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons cilantro chopped
- 2 tablespoons oregano leaves chopped
- 1 teaspoon Atlantic sea salt
- ½ cup Avocado peeled and cut into small cubes
- 2 teaspoons cilantro or parsley, finely chopped
- 3 tablespoons Avocado peeled and cut into small cubes
1. Soak the fish in lime juice in a covered bowl for a few minutes (or in the refrigerator for 5-8 hours, turning the fish at least twice).
2. About two hours before serving, peel a tomato with a sharp knife or blanch it for about 15 seconds in boiling water and then peel. Cut the tomato into quarters and discard the juice and seeds. Cut into small cubes (you should be left with about ½ cup of tomato cubes).
3. Transfer the tomato cubes to a bowl, add olive oil, red onion, chili pepper, coriander leaves, oregano leaves, fine sea salt and ½ cup of avocado cubes. Mix gently, pour over the fish and mix gently again. Put the mixture in the fridge for an hour and a half. Serve in small bowls or in the emptied avocado skins alongside the garnish.
This recipe is from the Meals from the Book Festival.