Grilled Fresh Swordfish with Grilled Nopalitos, Pineapple, and Avocado
Caper Cumin Aioli, Pickled Jalapeño, Cilantro
On a Bolillo (Crusty Mexican Oval-Shaped Roll)
Baja California Dreaming…years ago we would take road trips down to Mexico. Fishing was a must. So, naturally, were fish tacos. But our fish didn’t always end up in a tortilla with cabbage, salsa, crema, and a squeeze of lime – sometimes we enjoyed it on a special oval-shaped roll that was crusty outside with a dense yet soft interior. Serving grilled nopalitos recently made me nostalgic for Baja, the fresh-caught fish, and the endless cacti along Highway 1. Baja is home to more varieties of cactus, perhaps than anywhere else in the world, with many exclusive to the peninsula.
A torta can be filled with many things from meat, to eggs, to beans and vegetables, but the true signature of a torta is that it is FILLED! My grilled nopalitos with caper cumin aioli were a big hit, so here I incorporate those ingredients into a sandwich adding various flavors from my memories of Baja.
Fresh local fish of course, plus avocado, pineapple, jalapeño, cilantro, lime – and nopalitos on a bolillo, do indeed satisfy my nostalgia for Baja California…And since we were camping back then, the ingredients for this torta were grilled over an open fire.
Fishing in Baja California 1995. Dorado was the catch of that day.
(That’s not an Instagram)
If you can’t catch your own, California Swordfish is rated by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch as a “good alternative.” The best choice being fish caught by harpooning or on hook-and-line gear, but those methods are rarely used in commercial fishing. Off California, swordfish is caught with drift gillnets. The bycatch of marine mammals and other protected species is carefully managed in the process.
Mix two parts olive oil with one part lime juice, dried Mexican oregano, salt and pepper to taste. Coat fish with the marinade, let stand in marinade at room temperature for 20 minutes. Grill swordfish over medium-high heat, about 6 minutes per side. This method will keep the fish moist and juicy.
The prickly pear cactus, Opuntia, also known as nopales or paddle cactus is the genus that is made into nopalitos, this type of edible cactus, found all over the Southwest and down into Baja. It’s the young flat paddles and prickly pear fruit that are typically used in cooking.
Well armored, opuntia have two types of protection. In addition to the long spines on the paddles, the areole also have tiny hair-like prickles called glochids. Notice the tuft of glochids at the base of the flower bud in the photo (a little too close to my thumb for comfort). Beware of glochids if you intend to harvest your own cactus, they can cause skin irritation and become a major problem if ingested. The pretty pink-orange bloom will fade to yellow then eventually give way to red, fleshy fruit. Prickly pear fruit, called tuna in Spanish has a melon-like aroma and a sweet light flavor.
Choose young thin paddles that are about 6 to 8 inches in length.
GRILLING – In addition to the swordfish, all the other major components of this torta are grilled until lightly charred.
Nopalitos – Method on the previous post here.
Pineapple – Mix equal parts lime juice and sugar with black pepper to taste. Marinate pineapple rings in lime-sugar for 5 minutes.
Avocado – Slice in half, pit removed. Brush with a bit of olive oil and lime juice. Grill flesh side down.
Bolillo Rolls – Slice in half lengthwise, brush with olive oil.
Spread caper cumin aioli on both sides of the bolillo. Trim a cactus paddle to fit the bolillo.
After the cactus paddle layer the sandwich with grilled swordfish,
grilled pineapple, grilled avocado, pickled jalapeño, and fresh cilantro.
Please feel free to share your adventures in Baja, old or new.