Eating the World

Deciphering Fish Names on a Mexican Seafood Menu

Huachinalgo! Bagre! Mojarra! No, that Mexican seafood menu isn't trying to insult you, nor is it in the middle of an Adam West as Batman showdown with his villain du jour (Holy fishy huachinango, Batman! That punch sure sent the Penguin into cold storage!).

Ahem. Let's forget that terrible joke and move on to a handy Spanish-to-English guide to decipher those less-than-sweet-sounding fish names instead.

See also: The Hunt for Fresh Mexican Coconut in Metro Phoenix is Over.

Camarón: the common shrimp. It wouldn't be a Mexican seafood menu without a coctel de camarón (poached shrimp cocktail) served in a tomato-flavored broth, typically piled high in a thick-walled glass goblet and surrounded by saltines.

Huachinango: Red snapper. Commonly served as huachinango a la veracruzana, red snapper smothered in a red chile, tomato, and green olive sauce.

Mojarra: Tilapia. A versatile fish with a sadly sullied reputation due to less-than-clean-tasting farmed specimens. Find it in ceviche, a la plancha (sauteed), or empanizado (breaded).

Bagre: Catfish. Used frequently in fish soups as well as adobado style.

Callo de hacha: bay scallop. Callo de hacha is a specific type of mollusk, penshells, not found in the U.S., but the common bay scallop is a perfectly suitable substitute, and is served lightly marinated in spicy lime juice, with thinly shaved red onion, cucumber and avocado.

Also found are ostiones, almeja, caracol, pulpo and jaiba - oysters, clam, conch, octopus and crab, respectively -- frequently as part of a mixed seafood cocktail known as campechana. Additional fish are lenguado (sole), bacalao (cod), trucha (trout), robalo (flounder), and charales (smelt) and caballa (mackerel), not to be confused with caballo (horse).

The real prize of oddly named, and hard to find, seafood items: Pata de mula. This Pacific Ocean clam's name translates literally into "mule's foot" but is better-known as blood clam, due to the blood red color of the liquor surrounding the dark, dense and meaty flesh. It is thought that the non-seafood name comes from the sensation of eating something so rich as this clam is not unlike the sensation of a taking mule's kick to the chest. If a quadruped's kick left the mineral rich taste of the sea in my mouth, I would gladly order it by the dozen, on a bed of crushed ice.

As proprietor of Muñeca Mexicana handcrafted food, Minerva Orduno Rincon makes everything from mole poblano to goat milk caramel to spiced (not spicy) cocoa. She's taking a summer break from farmers markets, but she'll be back in the fall.

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Minerva Orduño Rincón