As the populations of lenguado (Pacific sole), corvina (seabass), and other primary species of fish destined for the table from the Pacific waters of Peru become increasingly depleted, chefs and restaurants in Lima seeking sustainability are broadening their options to help limit their impact. Pejesapo (Sicyases sanguineus), or frogfish, is one of those fish that has begun to appear in Peruvian gastronomy in the last few years.
Belonging to the Gobiesocidae family, like monkfish, the pejesapo is not a pretty fish. It looks like a frog crossed with a human baby crossed with a fish and features an oversized head and larger sucker mouth that allows it to hold on to rocks along the ocean floor. Its range extends from Valdivia in southern Chile to the southern half of Peru. In coastal villages within this range, men called pejesaperos catch them by using long poles with nets or hooks to pick the pejesapos from rock wall and tidal pools.
In terms of texture, the pejesapo has a meaty white flesh with a consistency similar to monkfish or even lobster. Typically, it has been cooked in a stew with tomatoes, onions, and other ingredients in Chile or Peru, in dishes like caldillo de pejesapo and chupín de pejesapo. In Lima, pejesapo is mostly served in chifas and Nikkei restaurants, as well as some cevicherias.
Sometimes called pejesapo al sillao, pejesapo al vapor is the most common preparation of pejesapo that you will see in Lima. The recipe steams the fish and serves it in a sauce made from soy, shiitake mushrooms, and mixed vegetables. Numerous Nikkei restaurants and chifas around the city, including Chifa Haita, Chifa Titi, Costanera 700, and Hanzo, prepare pejesapo this way.
Liked grilled lobster, pejesapo does quite well over an open flame. Traditionally, however, few restaurants in Lima have done it well. At Cebichería La Mar in Miraflores, where the wood-fired grill is turning out food reminiscent of San Sebastian’s Elkano, they have seemed to figure it out. Food writer Ignacio Medina wrote of La Mar’s version of pejesapo “it’s my ultimate culinary fetish. The gelatin that surrounds the body – skin, head, fins, tail – or the subtleness and intense aroma of its meats are ample arguments, but the grill elevates it to the category of discovery: greasiness and character, flavor and mildness in a love story forged on the grill. ”
There’s only one restaurant you can find this Nikkei version of pan con pescado (a fried fish sandwich) and that is Mitsuharu Tsumura’s Maido in Miraflores. Tsumura batters and fries a pejesapo filet tempura-style and plops it on a bao, topping it with salsa criolla (onion relish) and lettuce.