On The Range is a weekly exploration of the history and lore of Texas menu items.
Puerto de Veracruz is a bustling metropolis of half-a-million located on the Gulf of Mexico. Its rich history stretches back to Pre-Columbian times, and it is sometimes called The Four Times Heroic City after resisting two invasions from the United States and two from France.
One of the French invasions is known today as The Pastry War--what else would the French fight over?--and occurred when a French chef had his shop looted by Mexican officers. French diplomats demanded 600,000 pesos from the Mexican government as recompense. When payment from President Anastasio Bustamante was not forthcoming, the French Navy sortied to blockade all Mexican ports and to seize the city of Veracruz.
Eventually, Mexico capitulated and ordered payment of the pesos.
Veracruz is a seaport. And like American ports Boston, Seattle, and San Francisco, it is of course known for fresh seafood. In bygone days, it was very difficult for inland cities such as Dallas to get really good seafood. In fact, a famous Big D saying way back when something like: "The good seafood aint cheap, and the cheap seafood aint good."
Luckily, modern shipping techniques allow us to sample this taste of Veracruz.
Writing in The Latin American Kitchen, Elisabeth Luard notes that red snapper is a medium-size, flat-bodied whole fish similar to bream, porgy, and dorado (otherwise known as mahi mahi). Oddly enough, she also says that red snapper is "sometimes known as redfish," which is hard to imagine, as redfish or red drum is much larger and from a different family--although, some people probably do refer to snapper by that name.
In any case, she does add that a major advantage of the snapper is its shape, "even the largest can be poached, steamed, baked, or fried in no more than 10 minutes."
Since red snapper is a Gulf fish, it comes as no surprise that two Dallas titans of Southwestern cuisine feature their own unique recipes in their cookbooks. Dean Fearing's version in Southwest Cuisine calls for wood-grilled snapper with mango black bean sauce and tomatillo rice, while Stephan Pyles rendition in The New Texas Cuisine features pecan crusted snapper with potato goat-cheese casserole and fennel-orange sauce. Pyles proudly adds he served his version to then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev when he visited Minneapolis in 1990.
How very decadent. But then again, the commies were on the verge of collapse anyway.
To enjoy Snapper Veracruz in Dallas, merely head to Oak Cliff and La Calle Doce. Here you can try Huachinango a la Veracruzana. Rather than serving it with a tomato sauce as suggested by Diana Kennedy, La Calle Doce's chefs merely sautee the fish with green and red bell peppers, onions, tomato, and cilantro. Served with rice and accompanied by a cup of fish soup and chips with two kinds of salsa, La Calle Doce's version will make you glad the French and Americans failed to capture...um, hold on--that's not right.
Well, Mexican cuisine does draw influences from Europe and the Americas.