On the second day in Puerto Vallarta, we drove south on Carretera a Mismaloya, a coastal road that follows the contours of the bay and then turned onto a rutted mountain track which wound its way through the jungle along the Mismaloya River. It was at the summit here, in an area known as El Eden, that Arnold Schwarzenegger filmed the movie “Predator.”
But even before Arnold arrived, this pretty spot was popular because of its large smooth boulders where the river spills over creating a natural water slide. The water collects into deep pools of cool water perfect for swimming.
For more than 30 years, people visiting El Eden could eat at the thatched topped restaurant that edges the river and many of the people working here, including the man playing accordion have been here almost since the restaurant first opened. Now there are also zip line tours above the jungle canopy and for those not afraid of heights, the sights include remains from the movie set including a large metal predator and a helicopter. Remote as this place is, Arnold was not the only movie star to visit. Eric Roberts was here recently filming “Sharktopus.”
But my interest is the food and El Eden’s specialty is fresh seafood prepared in the large open air kitchen filled with busy cooks including a woman making corn tortillas by patting balls of masa into flat rounds and then placing them on a hot comal or griddle.
The restaurant’s long time menu items now have names from the movie including their specialties – large shrimp stuffed with cheese and wrapped with bacon called Camarones Depredator or Predator Shrimp and La Mariscada del Depredator -- huge platters of grilled red snapper, lobster, shrimp, beef, crabs and skewered chicken. The fish seasoning is a traditional one typically found along the coast here and we tasted it again when eating the red snapper dish called Pescado Zarandeado at Mariscos Tinos Puerto Vallarta. This second floor restaurant in the city’s Centro or Central district near the water so impressed Mexican food authority and restaurateur Rick Bayless that he featured their recipe on his TV food show “One Plate at a Time.”
Tino’s Pescado Zarandeado as adapted by Rick Bayless
4 ancho chiles or 8 guajillo chiles, stemmed, seeded and torn into flat pieces
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
2 garlic cloves, peeled
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons Worcestershire
1 3-pound fish (round fish like snapper, grouper or striped bass work really well)—ask to have it filleted
Oil for brushing or spraying the basket and fish
12 warm corn tortillas
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced, for serving
2 limes, cut into wedges, for serving
Chinese toasted chiles in oil (or your favorite salsa or hot sauce), for serving (optional)
In a dry skillet over medium heat, toast the chile pieces a few at a time, pressing them firmly against the hot surface with a metal spatula until they are aromatic, about 10 seconds per side. In a bowl, rehydrate the chiles for 20 minutes in hot tap water to cover; place a plate on top to keep them submerged.
Use a pair of tongs to transfer the rehydrated chiles to a food processor or blender. Add 1⁄2 cup of the soaking liquid, along with the tomato sauce, garlic, soy and Worcestershire. Blend to a smooth puree. Press through a medium-mesh sieve into a bowl. Taste and season highly with salt, usually about 2 teaspoons.
Cut 1⁄2-inch-deep diagonal slashes along the flesh side of the fish (to promote even cooking and aide in marinade penetration). Sprinkle with both sides with salt. Spread or brush about 3 tablespoons of the marinade over both sides of the fish. You’ll probably have marinade leftover for another round of fish which will keep for a couple of weeks in the refrigerator.
Grill and serve. Turn on a gas grill to medium or light a charcoal fire and let it burn to until the coals are covered with white ash. Lay a grill basket over the fire. When quite hot, brush or spray the basket generously with oil. Spray or lightly brush the fish with oil, then lay the oiled-side down on the basket; spray or brush the other side. Close the basket and cook lay over the fire. Cook, turning every 3 or 4 minutes until the fish is cooked through but still juicy. A 3-pound snapper typically takes 10 to 15 minutes.
Gently and carefully open the basket and remove the fish to a platter. Serve with warm tortillas, red onion, lime and toasted chiles for making very tasty soft tacos.