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Dorado a La Paz


mahi mahi cooked Mexican style

Photo by Holly A. Heyser

Dorado a La Paz. I dedicate this recipe to the city of La Paz in Baja, Mexico, where I caught the fish I used when I first made this dish. Baja California Sur, more than 1,000 miles from the US border, is hot, dry, and loaded with cactus — and fish, in the nearby Sea of Cortez.

So this dish had to feature both. I had made some prickly pear syrup, which I use as the basis for the sauce here. I added to this a nopalitos salad — nopalitos is the Spanish word for the paddles of the opuntia cactus; we call it beaver tail cactus, and it grows all over the place.

The fish is mahi mahi, or dorado in Spanish. And since corn is king in Mexico, I fried it simply, in a cornmeal crust — but I fried it in avocado oil, a flavorful oil becoming increasingly popular. You can buy avocado oil online at Earthy Delights, or in some specialty stores.

You can substitute olive oil of course, and other good fish substitutes would be striped bass, white seabass, tilefish, cobia, snapper, grouper, a big black seabass or maybe a big largemouth bass.

Serves 4

  • 2 pounds mahi mahi or other fish fillets
  • Salt
  • Fine yellow cornmeal for dredging
  • 8 tablespoons avocado or olive oil
  • 1 avocado
  • 1 cup prickly pear syrup
  • 1-2 dried hot chiles
  • 2 cups cooked, chopped nopalitos
  • 1/2 red onion, chopped fine
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
  • 4 tablespoons lime juice (try to get key limes)
  • 1 small fresh chile, such as a rocoto (chile manzano in Mexican markets), or serrano, chopped fine
  • 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro


  1. Salt the dorado and set aside at room temperature.
  2. Make the nopalitos salad. If you have fresh nopalitos, don some stout gloves and get a sharp knife. Slice the outside part of the paddle off, removing all the bumps — they have nasty stickers in them. Most nopales you buy are already cleaned.
  3. Boil the nopales in salty water for 15 minutes, then submerge them in ice water to cool fast.
  4. Toss the nopalitos with the lime juice, the oregano, onion, rocoto chile, and about a teaspoon of salt. Add 3 tablespoons of the avocado oil and mix well. Set aside, covered, for an hour or two.
  5. To make the sauce, heat the prickly pear syrup over medium heat in a small pot, then add the dried chile(s). Let this warm gently to a simmer, then turn off the heat. Add some salt and taste: You want it sweet-sour-spicy-salty.
  6. Cut the avocado in half and slice out three thin slices per person. Coat them in lime juice and set aside. Any extra avocado you can put into the nopalitos salad.
  7. Dredge the fish in the cornmeal and saute in the remaining oil in a large pan set on medium-high heat. Dorado should need 4-5 minutes on the first side, then 2-3 on the other. You are looking for a golden brown.
  8. To assemble the dish, reheat the prickly pear sauce and pour a little on the plate. Mix the cilantro with the nopalito salad and put some in the center of the plate on top of the prickly pear sauce. Top with a piece of fish and arrange the three avocado slices on top. Serve at once.

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