A small fishing boat glides up the beach in front of the Four Seasons Punta Mita, just north of Puerto Vallarta on Mexico’s Pacific Coast.

A beach butler and one of the hotel’s lifeguards wade into the surf, waves crashing into their chests and faces, to greet the fishermen. Not much bigger than a dinghy, the boat holds only two fishermen, and it takes their combined strength to hoist a large insulated cooler over the edge. The heavy package splashes into the surf. The staff signal “OK” to the fishermen, grab the cooler and haul it to shore, running barefoot through the blazing-hot sand to the resort’s beachfront restaurant, Bahía.

Renowned chef Richard Sandoval oversees the restaurants at Four Seasons Punta Mita, and today he’s on property to check in on the team. He’s joined beachside by the hotel’s executive chef Philippe Piel to watch the daily catch come ashore.

When they pry open the cooler, it’s filled with what looks like a hundred pounds of fish: a gorgeous yellowfin tuna, a massive flounder, several red snappers, a whole family of pink snappers, plus grouper, mahi mahi, amberjack, bonita, octopus…

It’s a great day for fish tacos! Mere minutes after the fish arrive, Sandoval and Piel have already cleaned the pink snappers and are cooking them (whole, but boneless) over a wood-fired grill in the restaurant’s outdoor exhibition kitchen. Large flames lick up through the grates, caressing the fish, engulfing it. Minutes is all it takes before they’re done. The outer flesh is heavily charred, black as coal and crinkled around the edges. Overdone? Well, there is still a suggestion of pink underneath, and as I tear into it with my fork, the meat inside is pearly white and as juicy as the sea. The chef grabs a bottle of a citrus-based sauce and squirts it onto the snapper. He hands me a whole fish on a plate garnished with chayote slaw and avocado.

“How exactly do I eat this?” I ask. “Watch,” the chef says, and he grabs a hot tortilla. With the other hand he pulls off a large chunk of snapper and stuffs it into the wrapper. I think he’s done, but then he reaches for a handful of slaw. A slice of avocado. A big, hearty squeeze of lime. The delicate tortilla quivers under the weight. He pinches it together and takes a bite. Juice drips from the opposite end. I smile and reach for a tortilla as quickly as I can. See below for the recipe.

Bringing in the catch of the day at Four Seasons Punta Mita.

Chefs Philippe Piel and Richard Sandoval with a sampling of the catch of the day at Bahia.

Grilled pink snapper tacos at Bahia.

“Zarandeado” Style Whole Pink Snapper Tacos
1 whole snapper
¾ cup olive oil
Zarandeado marinade*
Chayote slaw**
Chipotle mayonnaise***
1 avocado, sliced
3 limes, quartered
12 flour tortillas
salt and pepper to taste

1. Clean the fish well. Remove the fins and bones and butterfly it.

2. Brush the fish with olive oil and season it with salt and pepper. Then brush the fish liberally with Zarandeado marinade.

3. Place the fish in a grill basket and grill over a wood fire until done, just a few minutes, making sure not to overcook.

4. Serve with the slaw, avocado slices, limes and tortillas. Garnish with chipotle mayo as desired.

*Zarandeado marinade
2 ancho chiles
2 guajillo chiles
2 pasilla chiles
1 liter orange juice
7 ounces achiote paste
olive oil as needed
4 garlic cloves
¼ cup white onion
1 liter tomato sauce
salt and pepper to taste

1. Remove the seeds and stems from the chiles. In a dry pan, toast the chiles until fragrant, then place them in a blender. Add the orange juice and and achiote paste and blend on high.

2. In a cooking pot, saute the garlic and onion in a little bit of oil until well caramelized. Add the chile paste and tomato sauce and cook for one hour to reduce. Transfer to a blender and puree until smooth. Strain and reserve, chilled.

**Chayote slaw
1 chayote squash, peeled, julienned
¼ white cabbage, julienned
1 carrot, peeled, julienned
1 lemon
¼ cup mayonnaise
salt and pepper to taste

1. Combine the julienned squash, cabbage and carrot. Add the juice of 1 lemon and toss well. Drain the excess juice and let the mixture sit for one hour.

2. Remove any additional juice, add the mayonnaise and season with salt and pepper.

***Chipotle mayonnaise
1. Combine 6 ounces mayonnaise, ½ ounce chipotle paste, 1½ teaspoon lime juice and a touch honey.


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