Whitefish and cilantro: they seem to have been made for one another, and this dish is proof. The cream, onions, garlic, and lime juice all contribute to a tasty mixture that bathes the fish in a fresh, attractive, bright green sauce.
This recipe is a little unusual for a Mexican dish; baked foods are not all that common in that country (ovens tend to be used only on special occasions), and the cilantro here is cooked, which is rare. The herb loses a lot of the intensity of its flavor and aroma with high heat, but in this case, there is more than enough cilantro in the dish to make up for that. Contrary to what many people think, cilantro stems are just as tasty as the plant’s leaves—and we use both in this dish.
- 1 large bunch of cilantro
- 1 small onion
- 3 cloves of fresh garlic
- 3 tablespoons of real butter
- 2 cups (1/2 liter) of Mexican crema or sour cream
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 4 tablespoons freshly-squeezed Mexican lime juice
- 2 1/2 pounds (a little over 1 kilo) whitefish filets (tilapia, grouper, sole, swai, etc.)
Turn your oven on to 375F / 190C so that it can preheat while you are preparing the ingredients.
Wash the cilantro; chop off and discard the roots. Shake cilantro vigorously (or run it through a salad spinner) to eliminate as much water as possible. Chop it, both stems and leaves together. Set aside some whole leaves to use as a garnish on the finished dish, if you like. Chop the onion and garlic. Dice a little of the onion, if you wish, and place it with the reserved cilantro for garnish.
Melt the butter in a medium-sized skillet. Sauté the chopped onion and garlic in the butter for about 5 minutes, stirring often, until the onion is translucent, but not browned.
Place the sautéed onions and garlic, the cream, the salt, the lime juice, and the chopped cilantro into a blender. Process until you have a soft green sauce.
Lightly grease a glass or metal baking dish. Place the white fish fillets in the dish in a single layer. Pour the sauce over the filets. Move each filet slightly so that some of the sauce gets in under the fish, between the filet and the baking dish. Bake, uncovered, for about 25 minutes. Baking time will vary according to the thickness of the filets; watch your dish closely so that the fish does not overcook. Fish is done when it can be easily flaked with a fork.
Take your delicious fish in cilantro sauce out of the oven and use a spatula to dish it on to individual plates. Adorn each serving with a little of the reserved cilantro and onion, if you like. Serve your fish with white or red rice or boiled potatoes.
Use Caution When Blending Hot Ingredients
Steam expands quickly in a blender, and can cause ingredients to splatter everywhere or cause burns. To prevent this, fill the blender only one-third of the way up, vent the top, and cover with a folded kitchen towel while blending.