CALIFORNIA'S ONLY SPORTSMAN'S NEWS SINCE 1953

Jonathan Roldan – BAJA BEAT

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Wednesday, May 09, 2018
Instead of that… check out this
Thursday, June 07, 2018
Adventures in driving


Cheeks, Beaks and Eyeballs?
Travelling and / or living in another country has a way of expanding one’s horizons on so many levels. It’s impossible to immerse yourself in another geography, climate, language or, in the case of Mexico, another culture and travel in a vacuum.

I’ve never been too picky about my food. I generally eat about everything. But still…everyone draws the line somewhere, right?


Do you ever watch the popular Food or Travel Channels on TV? And you watch the hosts travel the world eating (to us!) strange, bizarre and sometimes squeamish food?


Well, I’m here writing this week’s column. And just a few hours ago, I was hacking at a goat carcass with a butcher knife with perhaps more gusto than I would ever imagine.


Friends had gifted us a whole butchered goat and now here I was slicing ribs, loins and chops surrounded by my employees. Everyone was anticipating who was going to receive which piece. Like slicing birthday cake in front of kids!


The head, neck and eyeballs were especially prized for… Yes… Goathead soup and other parts would be headed towards delicious birria (goat stew). Or maybe to the grill or chopped for tacos! Everyone had a family recipe!


It sounds funky, but with the head in the boiling pot with garlic, cilantro, onions and other vegetables, it’s quite a treat. You’re living large down here when you dip a hot tortilla into it and shovel it into your mouth!


Twenty years ago, who woulda thought?


My agrarian family back home in the hills of Hawaii would have been proud to see their kid with couple of college degrees and who used to wear a suit and tie slicing and carving away. With some pretty good skill, if I say so myself!


But, there are a lot of things that I don’t think twice about anymore. Things that I would have rolled my eyes at years ago if they hit my plate, now get my hunger pangs off to the races.


Often, they’re things that make our tourist visitors wince!


For example, after fishing, we cut and clean fish for our clients and nicely pack their fillets to take home. But, the aftermath of heads and body parts is a shame.


My captains and I actually laugh and sometimes playfully argue over “dividing the spoils” left by the clients.


The entire heads of snapper, pargo, seabass (cabrilla) and others are highly prized for soup. The 10-pound head of a big dog-tooth snapper has lots of normally wasted meat.


Throw it on the barbecue or into the soup pot and it’ll feed a family and all the neighbors! Of course, the abuelo (grandfather) always gets the cheeks and eyeballs!


The same with the collars and bellies. Tuna and dorado “pechos” can’t be beat on the grill. I’m not talking about the stomach and innards.


I’m talking about the chest area of the fish and the long strip of flesh under the fish. It’s the sweetest part of the animal in the same way salmon collars in Alaska are highly treasured.


I will sometimes get a bunch of leftover collars and bellies and grill them at our Tailhunter Restaurant and serve them as free appetizers to our guests. It blows them away when they find out it’s the stuff they left on the beach that day!


Other examples of fish I usually see thrown away…


Bonito! Yes, that dark oily relative of the tuna family. Great sport, but a strong flavored meat that’s often released or used for bait. Try chilling it. Slice some loin very thin and make “Baja Sashimi.”


Drizzle some fresh lime juice on it. Splash it with some soy sauce. Mince some fresh jalapenos on it and let it chill in the fridge for 15 minutes. Serve it like you would any sashimi with ginger and wasabi. Or not! It’s pretty good as is!


Another is triggerfish. For years, I threw it back or gave it away. These pesky reef fish have an incredible hard jaw and their skin is almost like rawhide prompting locals to give it the name of “bootfish” because it’s so tough.


However, it yields a tasty flaky-white fillet that makes great ceviche and is one of my favorites when it’s battered and deep-fried golden. Perfect for fish tacos and you can feed a lot of folks with battered fish.


Sierra mackerel is another one of those fish I tossed away for years. How can anything that has “mackerel” attached to it be any good? I think of dark, oily strong-tasting meat.


But, actually, sierra meat is silky pink and white. It’s actually related to it’s cousin the much-sought-after wahoo. Sierra is the smaller cousin and, in season, you can catch ‘em by the load.


Cooked up, it is incredibly tender. A bowl of sierra ceviche with some crackers and tortilla chips will set you back 10 bucks in a restaurant down here.


And finally, let’s not forget the taco stands!


Anyone can serve up carne asada, chorizo or carnitas tacos.


But, a couple of my favorite stands down here serve grilled sizzling pork or cow cheeks. Or deep-fried cow knuckles and joints.


Ask around and you’ll also find the real “gourmet” stands that serve tongue and brain tacos as well. And they’re awfully popular.


It takes a bit to get used to, but I can chow with anyone now. Besides, here in Mexico, everything tastes good when washed down with an icy beer.


So, next time you’re down, don’t wince. Give it a try. Walk on the wild side!


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