Yucatan Style Grilled Red Snapper

Grilled red snapper on ti leaves

Judd Pilossof/Getty Images

Prep: 2 hrs 10 mins
Cook: 15 mins
Total: 2 hrs 25 mins
Servings: 2 to 3 servings

Mexico's Yucatan is home to a number of excellent seafood dishes, and this one is a take on a classic found in Diana Kennedy's "Cuisines of Mexico." Grilling is one of the best ways to cook red snapper, and the spicy rub you give the fish adds a lot of depth to an otherwise mild fish. If you can't find snapper, try any of the following: Pacific rockfish, striped bass, any seabass, catfish, walleye, haddock or yellowtail. Make sure you have fillets with the skin left on for this recipe.


  • 1 pound skin-on snapper fillets

  • 1 to 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice, from 1 lime

  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, from 1 lemon

  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 dried cayenne pepper, or 1 teaspoon cayenne powder

  • 1 tablespoon coriander seed

  • 2 tablespoons achiote seeds

  • 1 tablespoon dried Mexican oregano

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

  • 1 tablespoon paprika

  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder

  • 2 tablespoons canola oil, or other vegetable oil

Steps to Make It

  1. There are two ways to do this spice mixture: With whole seeds, which you then grind, or with powdered spices.

  2. If you have whole spices, toast the coriander, the cayenne pepper, black peppercorns, achiote seeds, and oregano in a dry pan over medium-high heat until you can smell them, shaking the pan often. This should take about 2 to 3 minutes. Skip this step if you are using powders because toasting them is tricky—they burn easily. Incidentally, toasting makes the spices smell better in the finished dish.

  3. Achiote seeds, which look like little red nuggets, are a key to this dish. But if you cannot find them, you can substitute more paprika. It will not be the same but is an OK alteration.

  4. If you are toasting and using whole spices, grind them into a powder in a spice grinder.

  5. Mix all the dry ingredients together in a bowl. In a plastic container or plastic bag, add the oil and the lemon and lime juice.

  6. Put the fish fillets in the juice-filled container and move around to coat. Now sprinkle the spice mixture over the meat side of each fillet. Don't bother to spice the skin side.

  7. Lay the fillets skin side down in the container or bag, then let this marinate in the fridge for 2 to 4 hours.

  8. After the fish marinates, remove it and pat the skin side dry with a paper towel. Coat it with a bit more oil and lay the fillets down on a well-oiled, preheated grill.

  9. To cook this dish, you will need an "open" space on your grill with no heat—either one section of burners turned off, or a spot where there's no charcoal underneath. This is where you lay your fish down. If you cannot do this for some reason, wait until the fire is subsiding or turn the burner to its lowest setting.

  10. Grill the fish for 10 to 15 minutes, depending on thickness. Do not flip. If you do, the fillet will fall to pieces. That's why you leave the skin on.

  11. Once the meat flakes near the head end of the fillet, carefully remove the fish and set it on a platter to cool for a minute or two.

  12. Serve with flavored rice, as a sandwich filling, or break it into pieces and use it for fish tacos; this is my favorite use for this dish.