Fish Recipes


The Humboldt is a cold water current that runs towards the equator upwelling over 3000 foot sea mountains to 124 feet bringing with it  huge quantities of phyto and zoo plankton for larger filter and predatory fish to feed on. The current itself is home to schools of sardines, anchovies and mackerel and they in turn entice some 1000 species of fish, 1400 species of mollusks, 600 species of crustaceans and 30 species of whale and dolphins to the area in an ecosystem that includes birds and turtles. This current also prevents the air off the coast from cooling helping to stifle hurricanes and often making the coast of Chile, Peru and Ecuador quite arid. About 20% of the world’s fish tonnage is harvested from the current and this percentage doesn’t include the non marketed catch used for regional consumption. Although not directly in the Humboldt’s path the current pushes an astounding number of species towards Panama when they migrate to feed and some of the worlds largest examples have been caught in the waters around the republic. When you consider the added 205 varieties of fresh water fish in the streams, rivers and lakes it’s easy to understand why Panama means place of many fishes in a native dialect.

I recommend home-made stocks for all the recipes in this book which might be a step up from most dishes you’d experience in Panama but there are a number of easy alternatives. You’ll  see chicken or shrimp powder mentioned in several constructs and this refers to the granulated stock bases that are easily found at most Asian and Hispanic markets. You could also use clam juice, shrimp or fish paste, clam base or fish sauce as your base or embellish with shrimp powder.



Ceviche or Seviche probably originated in the kitchen of the Peruvian (Chile) embassy inspired by the Moorish cooks imported by the Spanish Viceroy and influenced by the locals. It is commonplace throughout Central and South America and has made major in roads in the lexicon of North American Menus. The word origin is thought to have come from the Latin cibus for food and the Spanish roots of cebu fodder or bait and cebiche fish stew. It may have its roots in Escabeche which is fried fish doused in a vinegary sauce that contained a variety of ingredients dependant on where it was being made in the old world. This European method of first cooking then dousing the fish was a means of preserving in the Middle Ages and certainly possessed a sweet and sour taste as most of the dishes of the rich did during the period.

The protein or flesh of the fish is pickled by the citrus and vinegar application and the process in called “denaturing” in food chemistry.  This process cooks the flesh without heat and is said to only take the time that is required to mix the ingredients although some older formulas call for up to three hours of marinating time.  As with all recipes what goes in depends on what you’ve got so the components can vary widely from one area to the next. Limes, lemons or bitter oranges can supply the citrus and ingredients like toasted corn kernels, onions, sweet potato, or seaweed can be added. Usually chilies and onions are added and virtually any fish can be used making adjustments for the protein structure of each. Celery, coriander, cilantro, avocado, parsley and tomatoes can also be used. Origin? Well one of the oldest recipes in the world is for a Chinese raw fish salad called Yukai from a cookbook written by the Imperial dietitian Hu Sihui around 1330 BCE so who knows?


Otoe is a Panamanian euphemism for American taro and you can substitute malanga if it’s available. This soup/stew is a very simple recipe but the use of coconut milk and taro and its leaves makes it one exotic for those of us who haven’t used them before. You can purchase frozen taro leaves in many Asian or Hispanic markets along with taro or malanga and you can always use sweet potato or cassava/yuca instead. You can also substitute cilantro for culantro and spice up the construct with a few chili slices and fresh spinach or other greens can stand in for the taro/otoe leaves. Typically you’d serve this recipe with rice, lentils and fried plantains.

1 pound peeled otoe or malanga, cubed and boiled and drained

1 cup whites of leek

2 cups, firmly packed, taro leaves

1 can coconut milk

1 cup fish stock, clam juice or shrimp base fortified water

1 pound peeled prawns or cubed corvina-sea bass-snapper

To taste white pepper and shrimp powder or fish sauce

To taste chopped culantro

  1. Saute the leeks and taro greens till soft
  2. Add the coconut milk and stock, juice or water then simmer 5 minutes
  3. Add the otoe or other tuber and bring to a simmer
  4. Add the fish and simmer until just cooked
  5. Finish to taste with pepper, shrimp powder and culantro


Choose any fish you wish for this recipe and, as with other recipes in this book, you can find most of these ingredients at your local Asian or Hispanic market. If using fresh banana leaves remember to cut the rib out of the center and briefly roast them over an open burner to make them pliable. To prevent sticking you should also lightly oil or pan spray the leaves before you place the fish and the vegetable in them. If grilling move the fish occasionally to prevent burning the banana leafs and cook the fish until it just feels firm when prodded with your finger. Don’t marinate the fish too long or the citrus juice will “cook” it like ceviche. Serve the slit pouches with one of the condiments from the earlier chapter along with a large portion Pinto Gallo rice and beans.

                4 half pound fish filets

                4 tablespoons achiote paste or powder

                4 ounces naranja agria, bitter or Seville orange or 4 ounces lime juice

                2 tablespoons each, capers, garlic and green pepper corns

                4 ounces pimento stuffed green olives

                2 tablespoons minced fresh oregano

                1 bunch smooth culantro leaves

                2 each medium roasted red and Ortega chilies, julienned

                4 large eucalyptus or bay leaves

                As needed, processed and oiled banana leaves

  1. Mix the achiote and bitter orange juice into a paste
  2. Coat the fish filets with the paste, refrigerate for two hours
  3. Coarsely process the capers, garlic, pepper corns, oregano, and culantro
  4. Place the marinated filets on the oiled or pan sprayed banana leaves
  5. Top each filet with an equal portion of the processed puree
  6. Season each filet with shrimp powder, paste or a few drops of fish sauce
  7. Distribute the Julienne peppers and eucalyptus/bay leaves on each filet
  8. Securely wrap the filets with the banana leaves.
  9. Grill on the Barbie or bake in the oven at 350


Another sancocho in another guise, there are many more, constructed with what’s available … you could easily use canned clams, mussels, sardines, tuna or octopus to fortify your soup. The usual starch components that can include name/yam, cassava/yuca. otoe/taro, malanga, sweet or regular potato, plantain green or ripe, or calabaza it’s your call. The use of coconut milk is another example of African or Indian influences in the cuisines of Central America.  Some cooks, my self included, prefer making the soup base and then sautéing the fish filets of prawns right before service and then adding it or them to the soup.  This construct also uses  the common Recaito/Recato base that is ubiquitous through Latin America crossing all boarders and usually sweated down with some lard, olive oil, or bacon fat. A recipe for this must have condiment appears in an earlier chapter and here in Panama you can buy the ingredients bundled in a “convenience” pack. This sort of salad in a bag contains green onions, parsley and culantro that you take home, chop up and then sweat down with a couple of  finely diced strips of bacon as a base for soups and stews. If you live near a Hispanic market you may be able to buy the vegetable portion in bottles and use it with a couple of chopped and rendered bacon strips and fat. As with most of the recipes in this book the amount of protein would be much smaller and the amount of starch much larger were it to be prepared in the average Panamanian home. Also remember to soak the yucca, otoe, name and plantains in a little salted water before you add them to the pot.

pound firm white fish, cubed

8  ounces prawns, scallops or even surimi

2  ounce each bitter/Seville orange and lime juice

1  teaspoon each granulated garlic, cumin, and achoite powder

4 ounces each diced onion, and your choice of fresh or jarred chili pepper

4 ounces of your own or store bought recaito/culantro condiment

1 can peeled plum tomatoes and their juice

8 ounce each peeled and cubed yuca, otoe/taro or malanga and name/yam

1 or 2 ears of fresh corn cut into rounds

1 quart fish stock or base fortified water

1 can coconut milk

To taste white pepper, shrimp powder and chopped culantro or cilantro


  1. Season the fish with the juice, garlic, cumin and achiote powder
  2. Refrigerate and marinate the fish for no more than 2 hours
  3. Saute the onion, chilies and recaito for 5 minutes
  4. Add the tomatoes, yuca, otoe, name and corn rounds
  5. Add the fish stock and coconut milk bring to a simmer
  6. Cook covered until the tubers are soft 30 minutes +
  7. Adjust the seasoning with pepper, shrimp powder and culantro, reserve
  8. Saute the marinated fish
  9. Divide the soup into bowls and top with the sautéed fish


You can use almost any fish for this old Spanish classic even the oily types like mackerel, salmon, herring and kingfish and the technique is easily applied to fowl, meat, vegetables and fruits. A version exists in many cultures and the phrase ‘en escabeche” can also just mean in vinegar like nacho chilies in cans although citrus is  often used in  many constructs. The fish, or meat can be fried, baked, grilled or poached and then the hot vinaigrette poured over it  to macerate and cool. This technique was one of mans early attempt to preserve food along with salting, smoking, sealing in fat or covering with honey. The Persians had similar dishes and the style was introduced by the Moors when they invaded Iberia although at the time it probably had sweet aspects as well as sour by making use of raisins, dates or sugar. So just as there are a myriad number of vinaigrette’s … the different types of escabeche are left only to the creativity of the cook and you could easily use our recipe for encurito or chimichurri for your escabeche as long as you don’t incorporate too much citrus. The dish didn’t exist in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica where  there was no vinegar, citrus or cooking oils before the Spanish. When frying some cooks flour or even bread the fish others just quickly sear it  and then cover with  the hot vinaigrette and let macerate overnight or for a few days.  For thought; when the recipe was born there was no refrigeration so the product was left out at room temperature and you were your actually preserving it by pickling.

                2 pounds snapper, perch, cod, halibut or other substantial fish filets

                1 cup red onion or whites of leeks chopped

                2 roasted red peppers, the jarred variety, julienned

                2 tablespoons pickling spice

                4 ounces olive oil

                2 tablespoons each minced garlic and green peppercorns

                1 tablespoon fresh broad leaf oregano, minced

                2 ounces parsley, chopped

                ½ teaspoon chipotle chili paste

                6 ounces  cider, rice or white vinegar

                Juice from one lime, lemon or Seville orange

                To taste shrimp powder, black pepper

  1. Coat the fish in seasoned flour and sear each side for one minute, remove from pan
  2. In the same pan  add the olive oil, onions, peppers and pickling spice, saute till soft
  3. Add the minced garlic, peppercorns and oregano simmer 5 minutes
  4. Add the parsley, vinegar, citrus juice and chipotle paste, bring to a simmer
  5. Adjust seasonings with shrimp powder
  6. Pour hot marinade over the fish and refrigerate overnight or longer


Much of the fish eaten in Central America wouldn’t make it to the market in the USA and would be tossed as “trash” fish but that’s not how it’s done in the Lower Americas where you eat what you have. The recipes in this section are perfectly suitable for virtually any fish sold in North American markets and many wild caught game fishes perhaps the only caveat to remember is the bigger the fish the more toxins it’s likely to be carrying. This recipe’s perfect for flying fish, barracuda, mahi mahi, shark or pompano and it’s a particular favorite of the Caribbean side being a little more spicy them most Panamanian constructs.

                4 eight ounce fish filets or steaks

                4 ounces lime, or Seville orange juice

                1 teaspoon each ground cumin and chipotle chili paste

                2 ounces culantro/cilantro chopped

                2 tablespoons curry powder

   1 red onion

                1 tablespoon each minced garlic and ginger

                1 can peeled pear tomatoes with juice

                1 can coconut milk

                To taste shrimp powder, paste or fish sauce

  1. Marinate the filets in the citrus, cumin, chipotle and culantro 
  2. Dry saute the curry powder/garam masala till fragrant
  3. Add oil to the pan and sauté the onion, ginger and garlic till soft
  4. Add the marinated filets or steaks
  5. Add the tomatoes and coconut milk simmer till fish flakes
  6. Adjust seasoning with shrimp powder and perhaps a little water to thin



A Caribbean gumbo that includes some form of “greens” meaning taro, amaranth-Chinese spinach, mustard, or kale leaves that are traditionally sautéed in rendered pork fat often with the addition of a smoked pigs tail, fat back, or sausage. You can use spinach or even some type of canned or frozen greens if the exotic or fresh varieties aren’t available. It’s also one of those inclusive dishes that’s happy to accept anything you throw in; salted cod, lobster, prawns, calamari, oysters or clams.  Very African in its roots with okra, greens and coconut milk all components well used in the old country and the finished product is very green if not over cooked.

                2 pounds fresh greens or 1 can cooked or 2 packages frozen

                8 ounces fresh or frozen okra rounds, or 1 can with juice

                1 quart fish stock or shrimp base fortified water

                4 ounces smoked bacon or salt pork finely diced

                1 cup whites of leek or red onion chopped

                1 bunch green onions chopped

                1 tablespoon minced garlic

                1 teaspoon chipotle chili paste or more

                8 ounces coconut milk

                1 tablespoon fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried

                1 pound crabmeat, prawns or conch

                To taste shrimp powder and white pepper

  1. If using fresh greens and okra light saute to wilt
  2. Cover the greens and okra with stock
  3. Bring to a boil, remove and drain saving stock
  4. Cool the green to room temperature then process smooth
  5. Render the bacon or salt pork
  6. Add the leeks, green onions, garlic and chipotle paste, saute 5 minutes
  7. Add the processed greens and reserved stock
  8. Add coconut milk and thyme simmer 5 minutes
  9. Add selected crab or seafood
  10. Adjust seasonings with white pepper and shrimp powder


You can use corn, plantain, cassava or a combination as your envelope and either bake, steam or shallow/deep fry all depending on what results you’re looking for. The shrimp can be replaced by tilapia, canned sardines, tuna. octopus or even smoked oysters … and a little chilled butter or a touch of olive oil helps to further gentrify this construct.

1 cup diced onion or leek

1 tablespoon minced garlic

4 ounces peppers fresh or jarred, wax, pepperoncini or “Ortega”

1 teaspoon achiote powder or a pinch dried saffron

2 tablespoons processed culantro/cilantro

1 can or 1 cup blanched fresh hearts of palm, sliced

12 hard cooked quail eggs or 4 hens’ eggs coarsely chopped

1 pound peeled and cleaned shrimp, coarsely chopped

1 package queso blanco, brie, goat/feta or Monterey Jack cheese etc.

To taste granulated shrimp base and white pepper


1. Sauté leek, garlic, chilies/peppers, saffron and culantro till soft

2. Chill to room temperature

3. Add palm hearts, eggs, shrimp, and queso blanco, mix well

4. Adjust seasonings with granulated shrimp base and white pepper

5. Use to fill the empanada dough of choice

As you probably surmised you can put almost anything into an empanada and you can enclose any of these fillings in a variety of starches so let’s examine a few of these envelopes.  Purist may suggest that these examples are not really empanadas because of their shape but basically even if you call them arepas, bollas or carimanolas they’re still just some form of filled pastry or stuffed starch croquette/fritter.  This is peasant food and that means you can mix and match any of the combinations we briefly discussed with out fear or criticism … so create, experiment and evolve.

CRAB ALCAPURRIAS, Deep Fried Plantain & Taro Root Croquettes

European croquettes are usual sauce laden shapes that are breaded then fried. TheLatin American models use starch to bind the components and are usually not breaded unless coconut is utilized as in some desserts. This recipe calls for plantains but you could use firm green bananas in a pinch and there’s no reason why you couldn’t substitute some other form of starch for either the taro/yautia or the plantains.  You can also stuff or combine almost anything into the product and the ingredients all depend on what you’ve got on hand … we’re concerned with technique not recipe so be creative.

1 pound of turning plantains or green bananas peeled

1 pound of taro/yautia peeled

2 tablespoons finely crushed dried shrimp or base

1 teaspoon baking powder if you like airy croquettes

½ cup flour

2 cups stock, or water with stock base or half coconut milk & half stock

4 ounces jarred roasted red, Anaheim or was peppers minced

4 ounces diced whites of leek or onion

1 small can Italian pear tomato or 2 fresh seeded and chopped

1 tablespoon each fresh oregano, and culantro/cilantro

1 teaspoon processed chipotle peppers and minced garlic

1 10 ounce canned crab meat, salmon, tuna, herring or octopus


  1. Grate the plantains and the taro/yautia/otoe by hand or processor
  2. Add the flour and the stock mixing well, reserve
  3. Sauté the leeks and peppers in olive oil till soft
  4. Add the tomato, oregano, culantro, chipotle and garlic simmer 5 minutes, cool
  5. When room temperature adjust seasonings with base and pepper
  6. Fold in selected seafood reserve
  7. Shape a portion of masa into an oval, place a portion of filling on top of the oval
  8. Cover the just placed picadillo with more masa and roll into cigar shape
  9. Place the cigar on an oiled or sprayed sheet pan until ready to cook
  10. Sauté in canola oil till golden and cooked through



Salt cod may have been one of the major reasons Europeans began venturing across the Atlantic about a millennia before Columbus. It took on a huge roll in the European diet and therefore that of the Americas where as an industry it brought the Atlantic states fame and fortune. Originally corned/salted beef was the sole amendment of the slave diet, but it was soon replaced by the cheapest grades of Bacalao while the better cuts found their way to Portugal, England and Spain. Corned beef or tasajo retained it cachet for centuries and still is, along with salted cod, a Panamanian standard.

A pound of salted fish or meat was often doled out on Sundays to augment the barely survivable diet of the Caribbean plantation slave.  It’s not hard to understand what this protein would have meant to anyone living on a diet of yuca, name, banana and breadfruit or how it was combined in miniscule portions with those foundation carbohydrates to create archetypical recipes.  As the slave population grew so did the demand for cod and when the expanding British Navy adopted it, and American Rum as daily rations, the market for both skyrocketed. Europe’s poor were happy to share in a little salt cod when available and the Portuguese are said to have three bacalao recipes for every day of the year. And recently salt cod in its many pricey permutations has reemerged on trendy restaurant menus in the US accompanied by prerequisite oohs and aahs from the local foodies. Just remember to SOAK the cod in several waters at least a day before you use it.

8 ounces dry salted cod

Milk, cream, or coconut milk OR WATER to cover

2 peeled plantains or green bananas

10 ounces, peeled name, sweet potato, cassava or prepared instant mashed  

4 ounces diced onion or leek

1 egg well beaten

2 ounces mayonnaise, sour cream or yogurt

4 tablespoons minced culantro

4 tablespoons fresh oregano

To taste white pepper and shrimp base


  1. Soak the salt cod in several changes of water, the last overnight in the refrigerator
  2. On the day of service, poach the drained cod, in milk, coconut or water
  3. Drain the poached cod, remove and bones and skin, flake and reserve
  4. Boil the peeled plantains and other selected starch along with the leeks until soft
  5. Drain the starches, mash with a fork, add the cod, egg, and mayonnaise
  6. Add the culantro and oregano
  7. Adjust to taste with shrimp base and white pepper
  8. Shape the mass into balls, cigars {CARIMANOLAS} or empanadas
  9. Saute till browned or coat with bread crumbs and deep fry

 In French cuisine you’d bind this mixture with a bechamel sauce, shape and then bread to make croquettes. Another guise would be crab, tuna or salmon cakes.             


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