by Brittany Avila
In an effort to broaden our culinary horizons in relationship to our historical work, I have decided to produce a cooking series to share with blog readers. I offer myself as the inexperienced chef, and will attempt to cook traditional recipes from Early California in my modern kitchen. I will strive to be as historically accurate to the recipe as possible through research and use of exact ingredients from the original recipe, but my use of ovens and non-stick cookware will bring us back to the 21st century. Nonetheless, if you follow my series you will get the opportunity to taste the flavors of Early Spanish California!
I found this delightful recipe in the book California Mission Recipes, and mainly chose it for its simplicity, which I felt needed to be a necessary quality for my first Spanish colonial cooking venture. But I also decided on this recipe because I liked the idea of cooking fish, as this was such an important resource in the Santa Barbara area. The fish, as well as the other ingredients, are a fantastic representation of the food prepared in our region.
½ cup of olive oil
2 teaspoons onion juice
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 bay leaf
½ garlic clove, crushed
4 whole peppercorns
dash of grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
2 pounds filet of fish (I used tilapia, but any white fish will do)
butter (left up to your discretion)
1 cup white wine
1 sprig parsley, minced
Although Early Californians often cooked in adobe cookhouses, which were typically separate from the main house, your kitchen (which I assume is in your main house) will do and I simply advise that it’s equipped with a chopping board and stove top.
Make a sauce by blending the first 8 ingredients in a bowl. Because I could not find onion juice at the store and (you may run into this problem as well), I simply improvised by adding about a quarter of an onion, chopped.
Cut the filets into serving portions, if they are not already cut so.
Please note that I used tilapia for this recipe, and although it’s not historically accurate it was the only fresh fish available to me at the time!
Dip each piece of fish in the sauce, and then place in a bowl and pour the remaining sauce over them. Let this marinate for 2 to 3 hours. I marinated mine for 2 hours, and felt this was long enough. Remove the fish and wipe dry (with a paper towel or napkin). Strain the sauce that remains and put aside.
Place butter in a heavy skillet, set at med/high temperature. I used about half a cup, because in my own and Paula Dean’s opinions you can never have too much butter.
Place fish on the skillet and fry until a golden brown color. Remove from the pan and let cool.
While frying the fish, add wine to the remaining sauce. (I used a cheapo bottle of wine ($3.00) since it is only for cooking and the variance in taste will not be as noticeable.)
Heat the sauce over the stovetop in a small pot. When finished pour over the fried fish.
Garnish with parsley (this is not just for looks, I believe it adds a hint of taste too).
If you don’t consider yourself a wine snob, pour yourself a glass of your leftover cheapo wine, pair with some rice (it went well with my meal) and enjoy!
Cleveland, Bess Anderson. “Fish and Poultry.” California Mission Recipes. Rutland, VT: C.E. Tuttle, 1965.
Kimbro, Edna E. “Early California Kitchen and Hearths.” July 23, 1992. MS Presidio Research Center .
Brittany Avila is SBTHP’s Office Manager and is enjoying pursuing her dream to be a maestro de la cocina