Pescado Embarazado (Grilled Fish Skewers)

Along the beaches of Nayarit, vendors sell these citrusy, achiote-tinted seafood skewers.

  • Serves

    serves 4

  • Cook

    50 minutes


By Esther Sanchez

Updated on August 26, 2022

Spanish for “pregnant fish,” pescado embarazado is a mishearing of this dish’s actual name, pescado en vara asado, or grilled fish on a stick. It’s one of the most popular dishes to eat at the beach in Nayarit, Mexico. In this version adapted from chef Esther Sanchez, the marinade is made with achiote paste, citrus, tomato, and cumin. Reserve some of the flavorful sauce and serve it on the side as a zesty condiment.


  • 1¾ cups freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 1¼ cups canned tomato purée
  • ½ cup achiote paste
  • 4 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped (2 Tbsp.)
  • 2 tsp. cumin seeds
  • 1½ tsp. finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1½ tsp. finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1½ tsp. finely chopped fresh thyme
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Four 1-lb. whole mackerel or branzino, gutted and cleaned (or substitute 2½ lb. dogfish or mahi mahi fillets, cut into 2-inch cubes)
  • Canola oil, for the grill
  • Hot sauce and lime wedges, for serving


Step 1

Make the marinade: To a blender, add the orange juice, tomato purée, achiote paste, garlic, cumin, parsley, rosemary, and thyme. Blend until completely smooth, then transfer to a small pot.

Step 2

Bring the marinade to a boil over medium-high, then turn down the heat to maintain a strong simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching, until the marinade is slightly thickened and the garlic no longer tastes raw, 15–20 minutes. Season with salt and black pepper to taste, then transfer to a heatproof bowl and let cool to room temperature. Use immediately, or transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 1 week.

Step 3

If using whole fish, use a sharp knife to score the fish crosswise on each side, being careful not to cut through to the bone. Place the fish in a large baking dish and rub 1½ cups of the marinade all over the exterior and inside the slits. (If using cubes, in a large bowl toss the fish with 1½ cups of the marinade.) Let marinate at room temperature while you preheat the grill, for at least 15 and up to 40 minutes.

Step 4

Heat a grill or grill pan over high heat. Once the grill is hot, liberally oil the grates. Thread the fish onto four 10-inch metal or (thoroughly soaked) bamboo skewers, shaking off any excess water before using. Grill, turning occasionally, until the fish is charred in places and cooked through, 14–16 minutes for whole fish, 5–6 minutes for cubed fish. Transfer to a platter and serve with lime wedges, hot sauce, and the remaining marinade.

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