Grilled Baja Fish Torta

baja fish torta, swordfish sandwich
Grilled Baja Fish Torta

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.

baja fishing

Fishing in Baja California 1995. Dorado was the catch of that day.
(That’s not an Instagram)

grilled swordfish
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.

prickly pear cactus, opuntia, nopales

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.

cactus flower, glochids, prickly pear

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.

grilled cactus, nopalitos

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.

cactus sandwich
Spread caper cumin aioli on both sides of the bolillo. Trim a cactus paddle to fit the bolillo.

baja fish torta

After the cactus paddle layer the sandwich with grilled swordfish,
grilled pineapple, grilled avocado, pickled jalapeño, and fresh cilantro.

grilled baja fish torta, bolillo, swordfish
¡Torta Magnifica!
Oh, it’s filled all right. One sandwich is enough for two.
It’s filled with fresh grilled flavors and memories of Baja.

Please feel free to share your adventures in Baja, old or new.

38 thoughts on “Grilled Baja Fish Torta”

  1. Very nice! I keep regretting not having bought some nopalitos when I had the chance. And I have not had prickly pears in many many years. They remind me of Sicily and Malta.

  2. This looks fabulous! I love the photo of your fishing trip in ’95. I don’t know why I wasn’t doing this before, but I’m now following you with Google Follower.

    As always, your food and photos are a feast for the eyes…

  3. Beautiful! I just learned so much from this post – what lovely memories you have! This is one seriously delicious looking dish, and I would love to be able to have eaten some!

  4. What a gorgeous dish! And guess what, I think we have this cuctus in our backyard… Ours don’t have too many spiky needles (I think – never paid too much attention) but red fruit is very recognizable. I didn’t know we can eat this!!! Shocking! I always love your presentation of food.

  5. You make me wish we had prickly pear cactus in New Jersey. I’ve seen them growing in many places in Southern Italy and even occasionally in our supermarkets. But they always look so sad and old. Guess I’ll have to come to you to get a sandwich that looks and tastes this fresh and sensational.

  6. I suppose I shall resort to flatbread in lieu of prickly cactus which apparently doesn’t like MN weather. It is a beauty – and it’s fully-loaded – with health and flavor.

  7. What an inspiration! Love that pear cactus addition! And fresh catch? Sounds like the perfect meal. I feel like I’m on vacation already just from looking at your beautiful photos.

  8. Oh man this looks so good! I love tortas. And the prickly pears are an awesome addition – we have them in Israel and here they are called sabras. The Israeli people are also referred to as sabras because they like to say they are prickly on the outside but soft and sweet inside. Your photos are just gorgeous.

  9. Wow your photos and words have made me homesick for Mexico. I am not from the seaside but would love to be there right now. Nopales and fish for a torta sounds like a total winner to me. Thanks for sharing and making my mouth water.

    Also thank you for the kind comment you left me.

  10. My fiancee and I first came across basa at a local seafood shop in Pensacola, Florida, and couldn’t help but fall for it. It became a regular favorite, though now that we’ve moved to North Carolina, it’s all but impossible to come by. Most people haven’t even heard of it. As for the nopales, our years in Corpus Christi, Texas made us quite familiar, though mostly as filling along with egg in our breakfast tacos. Both being equally wonderful, I’m kicking myself that I can’t find either ingredient here to make that killer torta. Perhaps I’ll just do some serious substituting so we can have a poor-man’s knockoff.



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