As a kid, my primary exposure to fish was in frozen stick form. Fortunately, I've since been exposed to many other types of fish and tasty ways of preparing them and have learned to appreciate seafood. But, as they say, old habits die hard and, even now, fish is rarely the first thing I order at a restaurant. I've included this little piece of my personal history here only because it is the sole explanation I can offer for the sad fact that, up until Sunday night, I had NEVER eaten a fish taco.
A few months ago, I ran across a recipe for fish tacos in some magazine article about quick dinners. Something about the fact that the tacos are served with shredded cabbage intrigued me so I clipped the recipe. Then the sous-chef (my husband) came home all excited about the yummy fish tacos he'd eaten for lunch at Picante a few weeks ago. My interest was definitely piqued... But the final straw was this great piece about Baja-style fish tacos on NPR's Kitchen Window by Susan Russo. Her great pictures and recipes had me drooling. The time had clearly come to make these suckers!
So I bought limes, beer, tilapia, red cabbage, cilantro, avocado, and red onion and called my brother and sister-in-law and cousin up to invite them to dinner and ask them to make salsa. For the most part, I followed Susan's recipe (see below) although I omitted the chile sauce since I am wimpy about spicy foods, and I also added a topping of thinly sliced red onions.
The end result was a totally delicious combination of salty, crunchy, smooth, rich, and fresh. The beautiful mix of colors is an added aesthetic bonus. Here's one of the tasty little beauties.
The cabbage lends a substantial crispness, the beer-battered fried fish is salty and crunchy and satisfying, the avocado sauce is silky and cilantro-flavored, the mayonesa sauce adds a tangy flavor, the onion gives the whole combo some sweetness and bite, and the salsa lends a light, fresh taste. I know mayo is not the most glamorous condiment but please do not understimate the importance of the mayonesa sauce, I think it's even more key than the avocado sauce.
- 1 ripe avocado, peeled
- Pinch of salt
- Juice of 1 lime
- 1 to 2 tablespoons water or milk
- 1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves
Place the avocado, salt and lime juice in a small food processor. Add 1 tablespoon water or milk (for a slightly creamier consistency) and pulse. Add more liquid as necessary until sauce is the consistency of thick cream. Add the cilantro and pulse until just blended.
Mayonesa Secret Sauce
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 1 teaspoon white vinegar
- 1 1/2 tablespoon water or milk
Place the mayonnaise in a small bowl and slowly stir in vinegar. Add water or milk until the sauce is thick and creamy.
Serves 4-6 people
- 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic
- Pinch of cayenne
- 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
- 1/2 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano, rubbed to a powder (I did not have this so I used regular oregano and threw in some ground coriander)
- Kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 8 ounces cold beer, plus more to thin the batter if necessary
- 1-1/2 pounds firm, meaty white fish (halibut or tilapia will both work well)
- Juice of 1 lime
- Canola oil, for frying
- 6-inch corn tortillas, warmed (you can substitute flour tortillas, but the corn imparts a more authentic flavor)
- Avocado sauce
- Lime wedges
- Mayonesa secret sauce
- Salsa of your choice (tomato, tomatillo, or mango would all be good)
- Finely shredded red cabbage
- Cilantro leaves
1. For the batter, whisk together the flour, baking powder, garlic, cayenne, mustard, oregano and salt and pepper in a large bowl until well blended. Stir in the beer until there are no lumps. (The batter can be made several hours ahead and refrigerated.)
2. Cut fish into strips the size and shape of your index finger. Sprinkle with some lime juice and salt.
3. Pour oil into a deep, wide pan to the depth of 2 inches and heat over medium-heat to 350 degrees (if you have a deep-fry thermometer). Otherwise, test the heat by dropping a little bit of the batter into the oil. It should quickly bounce to the surface and be surrounded by tiny bubbles.
4. Pat the fish dry with paper towel. Check the thickness of the batter by dipping a piece of fish in it; it should be the consistency of medium-thick pancake batter, coating the fish easily and dripping very little. Add a little beer or water if it seems too thick.
5. Add a few pieces of fish to the batter. Using tongs, lightly swish each piece until thoroughly coated. Remove fish, letting excess batter drip into the bowl before gently placing in the hot oil. Cook a few pieces at a time until they float and the batter is set but still light in color, about 2 to 3 minutes.
6. Remove the fish to a wire rack to drain.
7. To serve, place the fried fish, warmed tortillas and condiments on a table so guests can make their own tacos. To assemble tacos, hold a tortilla in your hand, and spread a spoonful of avocado sauce on it. Place a piece of fried fish on top and sprinkle with a little lime juice. Drizzle with some mayonesa sauce, and top with shredded cabbage, fresh cilantro, onion, and salsa.