Chillo con Salsa Criolla

I figured the best way to introduce my new and improved blog is to share one of my favorite recipes from the very start of my food blogging days. It’s a traditional dish often served back home in Puerto Rico: seafood topped with salsa criolla, a savory tomato-based sauce.

Anything drenched in criolla sauce is my favorite way to eat food back home. Mofongo, chicken, shrimp, and particularly chillo, also known as red snapper. Typically, the red snapper fish is deep fried whole and then topped with the sauce, but this day at the store, I saw some beautiful snapper filets on sale that I just couldn’t pass up.

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Salsa criolla starts out like the majority of my Puerto Rican dishes, with sofrito. If you’ve made my beans, rices, or picadillo filling, you’re going to feel right at home making this. If not, don’t fret. This is an excellent sauce that’s pretty forgiving since it’s a one-pot deal. And it goes great with practically anything. It also freezes well, so if you have quite a bit left, just pop it into a plastic container and freeze it for another day (when reheating, add a little bit water and heat all the way through). Oh! Another way to enjoy the sauce? Spoon it over plain white rice with a fried egg on top. Dunk some plantains in there and add a slice of avocado and whew! You’ve got a solid vegetarian dinner in a pinch.

Keep in mind, there are two parts to this recipe: making the sauce and cooking the fish. I find that starting the sauce first is best; that allows the flavors to come together while you’re searing off the fish. Just a little low-key multitasking at its finest. No biggie!

So, here we are, y’all. I think this a perfect way to come full circle. I hope you enjoy the updated site and this updated recipe. Let’s get started!

Chillo con Salsa Criolla (Red Snapper with Creole Sauce)

Cook time: 40 minutes

Serves: 4-6

2 tbsp coconut oil

1 large yellow sweet onion, julienned

Kosher salt

Black pepper

3 tbsp Simple Sofrito

2 tsp capers 

2 tsp manzanilla olives

1 large 28oz can crushed tomatoes 

2 small bay leaves 

2 tbsp Homemade Sazón (or 2 packets Goya Sazón con Achiote)

2 tsp dried oregano

1 tbsp granulated garlic 

2 tsp paprika

2 cups water 

1 to 1 1/2lb fresh red snapper filets, cut into slices

Vegetable oil for searing

Steamed white rice, for serving

Tostones or maduros, for serving

Start by preheating your oven to 365ºF.

In a large saucepan, add the coconut oil and heat over medium heat. Once melted, add the julienned onion and stir. Liberally season with kosher salt and black pepper. Sauté the onions until they begin to become translucent, about 5-7 minutes.

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Next, add the Simple Sofrito, capers, and olives. Stir well and let the flavors meld for about 5 minutes.

 One of my favorite smells in the whole world.

One of my favorite smells in the whole world.

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Up next, add the crushed tomatoes, bay leaves, sazón, dried oregano, granulated garlic, and paprika. Let the ingredients hang out, get happy, and cook for about 5 minutes. Then gradually add the water and stir. Your sauce should look like this below.

 Almost done!

Almost done!

Turn the heat down to low, cover with a lid, and let it simmer for at least 15 minutes or until you’re ready to serve it with the fish.

Next up, the chillo!

This process of searing fish in a stainless steel pan can seem a little intimidating. Oil splatters? Sticking to the pan? Falling apart? It’s awful. One word of advice, regardless of what kind of pan you use to cook the fish, leave it alone once you add it to the pan. I can’t stress this enough.

There’s nothing worse than your gorgeous fish filet falling to pieces while trying to cook it. Let it be. If you try to move the fish and it doesn’t budge, that means that it’s not ready to be flipped over (the proteins in the meat haven’t released from sticking to the pan yet). Trust your gut. If it doesn’t want to lift a little to peek under and see if it’s crispy yet? Don’t jam your spatula all up in there and mess up your dinner. No.

Once you learn and crush this method though? It’s foolproof. Sear the fish on one side, flip it onto a lined sheet pan, finish cooking it through in the oven for up to 10 minutes. Perfect, juicy, flaky fish every single time. I promise.

 Gorgeous, right? Red snapper, kosher salt, freshly cracked black pepper.

Gorgeous, right? Red snapper, kosher salt, freshly cracked black pepper.

In a medium to large frying pan, add just enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Over medium heat, let it come to temperature. Pat the fish as dry as you can with a paper towel and don’t season your fish until you’re ready to sear it. Too much salt that sits brings out excess moisture!

Next up, add the fish filets skin-side down first and leave room for them to cook. Overcrowding the pan will result in steaming. And we don’t want that here. Remember, leave them alone. It’s okay to press down on the fish with a spatula to ensure the skin is keeping contact with the pan and the fish isn’t curling up (depending on the slices, some of them might).

 When the fish starts to turn white around the edges and the skin underneath starts to get golden in color, this is when you want to check and see if they are ready to be flipped over.

When the fish starts to turn white around the edges and the skin underneath starts to get golden in color, this is when you want to check and see if they are ready to be flipped over.

After about 4-5 minutes of a constant sear, remove the fish from the pan and flip them flesh side down onto a lined sheet pan. Pop them in the oven and cook for up 10 minutes or until the fish flakes with a fork. I would check them at the 6 minute mark depending on the thickness of the filets.

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 Golden, crispy deliciousness.

Golden, crispy deliciousness.

Once your fish are all done and rested from the oven. Serve them up and top with the salsa criolla. Pair the fish with steamed white rice, tostones or maduros, and a slice of avocado if you have it. Hit it with some hot sauce and you’ve got yourself a dinner worthy of a long day spent on a Puerto Rican beach.

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¡Buen provecho!