There are endless versions of this classic seafood dish from the Gulf of Mexico, and just as much debate about which are the “authentic” ingredients. Here is my interpretation, simplified for home cooks. It is usually served with rice and refried beans, or with fried ripe plantains. You could also serve it with grilled asparagus, steamed green beans, or sautéed spinach.
This casserole is ideal for company as it can be assembled in advance and refrigerated, then baked right before serving.
- Four 8-ounce skinless red (or other) snapper fillets
- 2 limes, cut in half
- About 1 tablespoon salt
- 4 ripe large tomatoes (about 2 pounds)
- 1 large white onion, cut in half and then into very thin slices (about 3 cups)
- 6 bay leaves
- ½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
- 12 fresh sprigs thyme
- 3 Rosa’s Pickled Jalapeños or bottled pickled jalapeños, stemmed and coarsely chopped or sliced, plus 3 tablespoons of the pickling juices, plus (optional) chopped jalapeños for garnish
- 12 garlic cloves
- ½ cup pitted small Manzanilla (Spanish) olives
- 2 tablespoons tiny (nonpareil) capers
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
Put the fillets in a baking dish. Squeeze the juice from 1 of the limes over both sides of them, and season them generously with salt. Turn them once or twice in the seasonings. Marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes, or cover and refrigerate for up to 4 hours.
Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. Set a bowl of ice water near the stove. Core the tomatoes and cut an X in the opposite end. Slip the tomatoes into the boiling water and leave them just until the skin starts to peel away from the X. The time depends on the tomatoes: very ripe tomatoes will need 10 seconds or so; less ripe tomatoes will take longer. With a slotted spoon, transfer the tomatoes to the bowl of ice water. Let them stand until cool enough to handle, then slip off the skins. Drain and cut into ¾-inch slices.
Preheat the oven to 425°F.
Scatter half the onions over the bottom of a 13 by 9-inch baking dish or another dish in which the fillets will fit snugly with a little overlap. Arrange a little less than half the tomato slices over the onions. (If you plan to present the finished dish at the table, use the smaller end slices of tomato here and save the prettier center slices for the top.) Top with the bay leaves, then scatter half the cilantro, thyme sprigs, and chopped jalapeño over that. Season with at least 1 teaspoon salt. Tuck the garlic cloves into the vegetables around the edges of the dish. Squeeze the juice from the remaining lime over the vegetables and top with the seasoned fillets, spacing them evenly but overlapping a little if necessary. Scatter the olives and capers over the fillets, then make another layer of the remaining onions and tomatoes to cover the fish. Scatter the remaining cilantro, thyme sprigs, and chopped jalapeño over that. Season again with salt, then drizzle the olive oil and pickled jalapeño juice over everything. Cover tightly with aluminum foil. The casserole can be prepared ahead and refrigerated for up to 6 hours. Remove from the refrigerator 30 minutes before baking.
Bake the casserole for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake until the juices given off by the vegetables are bubbling and the fillets are cooked through, 10 to 15 minutes.
To serve, scrape the vegetables covering the fish to the sides of the dish. Gently lift up the fillets and transfer them to serving plates. Most likely they will break apart a little; that is fine. Pick out the garlic cloves, bay leaves, and thyme sprigs and discard. Mash the remaining ingredients coarsely into the juices with a fork to make a chunky sauce. Check for seasoning, and add salt if necessary. Spoon the sauce over the fillets and scatter some chopped pickled jalapeños over each if you like.