While visiting Mérida, celebrity Eva Longoria met Regina Escalante, who runs the popular Restaurante Merci, and sampled the chef’s grilled fish with sour orange, prepared beachside.
It’s a segment in CNN’s “Eva Longoria: Searching for Mexico,” which debuts this spring. Longoria explored Mérida in April, and also was spotted in Taquería La Lupita at Mercado Santiago.
Merci’s chef uses one of the region’s most beloved ingredients from the pink salt flats of Celestún.
Escalante’s grilled sea bass is stuffed with garlic, rosemary, thyme, sour orange and, of course, a generous dose of salt.
“This is my idea of food heaven. Truly, I’d have this as my last meal on Earth,” Longoria said in the docuseries while enjoying the beachside dish. “The contrast of the crunchy salt and the soft, sweet fish is just sublime.”
“You don’t understand how excited I am to finally eat fish on a beach in the Yucatán,” said the “Desperate Housewives” star.
Escalante picked a simple recipe so Longoria could appreciate the flavor and quality of the local salt.
“With delicious ingredients, we can make delicious recipes,” the Merci chef said.
Here’s how simple it is:
Grilled Whole Fish With Sour Orange
Suitable for tacos layered with avocado, grilled mango and pickled onion.
- 1 white onion
- 1 garlic bulb left whole for roasting plus cloves from ½ garlic bulb, peeled and crushed for stuffing the fish
- 1½ C olive oil, divided
- 3⅓ to 4½ pounds whole fish, such as sea bass, branzino or red snapper
- 1.8 oz. fresh thyme sprigs, divided
- 1.8 oz. fresh rosemary sprigs, divided
- 1.8 oz. flat-leaf parsley sprigs, divided
- 7 sour or Seville oranges
- 2½ teaspoons coarse Himalayan pink sea salt or gray sea salt, plus more to taste
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper plus more to taste
- 1 medium red onion, sliced
- 2 mangoes
- 4 key limes
- 3.5 ounces fresh cilantro leaves, divided
- 2 avocados
- 12 corn tortillas
Light the grill. When the grill is hot, halve the white onion. Stick 1 onion half on the end of a grilling fork (reserve the other half for another use) and scrub the grates, cut side down, to clean them. Trim about ½ inch off the top of 1 whole garlic bulb, exposing the individual cloves. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of olive oil over it, and then wrap the bulb in aluminum foil. Roast the garlic bulb over indirect heat until soft, about 40 minutes.
When the garlic is nearly halfway through roasting, clean and scale the fish, and let stand at room temperature for 20 minutes.
Remove the roasted garlic bulb from the grill and let cool. While it cools, make a bouquet with half of the thyme, rosemary and parsley and secure it with kitchen twine.
Stuff the fish with 2 slices from 1 sour orange (reserve the remaining sour orange for another use), crushed cloves from the remaining half of a raw garlic bulb, and the remaining thyme, rosemary and parsley. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of salt inside the cavity.
Squeeze the cloves out of the roasted garlic bulb into a bowl with a scant 1 cup olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper and mash with a wooden spoon to combine. Squeeze the juice from 3 sour oranges and mix them together.
Season fish with salt, place on grill over moderately high heat and drizzle with 4 tablespoons (or 60 milliliters) olive oil. Grill, using the herb bouquet, to brush the fish constantly with the garlic puree until golden and crispy, about 10 minutes on each side (depending on the type and size of fish).
Transfer the grilled fish to a serving platter. Let stand for 10 minutes.
For the toppings
Meanwhile, combine the red onion and juice from 3 sour oranges. Let stand in a bowl for about 10 minutes.
Slice each mango lengthwise into 4 skin-on, flat pieces. Taking care not to pierce the skin, so it remains attached, score the flesh in a ½-inch crosshatch pattern. Grill the mango slices over medium heat until charred, 3 to 4 minutes. Using tongs, remove from grill and let cool. For each slice, invert the skin and slice it off; transfer the mango cubes to a bowl.
Combine mangoes with zest and juice from 1 lime, half of the cilantro, the remaining ¼ cup olive oil and ½ teaspoon salt.
In a separate bowl, mash the avocados and season with juice of 1 lime, salt and pepper to taste.
Sprinkle the tortillas with water and place them on the grill over indirect heat until the bottom of each is browned in spots, about 45 seconds. Flip with tongs and heat the other side for about 45 seconds.
Build the tacos by filling each tortilla with avocado, then layer the fish, onion and mango. Sprinkle with remaining cilantro and finish with salt. Serve with wedges cut from the remaining 2 limes.