Despite my love of this compact sea food treasure, I don’t know much about fish taco history or its origins. I’ve enjoyed many a fish taco in Los Angeles, at taco trucks, mexican food stands and restaurants (most frequently at Senor Fish in Eagle Rock outside of Occidental College), but in Wisconsin of all places, a chicana once checked me at a festival for wanting to grub on some “made up Mexican food” at the fish taco stand. Apparently she believes that this form of taco merits poser status, created only to please gringo sensibilities? Detracts nothing from its deliciousness to me…Although I have a rather uninformed understanding that tacos and burritos originated on the border, other sources say that fish tacos come from the Baja region of Mexico for salt-water fish or from the lakes that once completely surrounded Mexico City during pre-colonization times for fresh water fish.
In my unapologetic food adventure from last Friday night, all this matters not. I did not follow a recipe – I just made this up.
First Steps: Lots of Chopping, Mixing and Blending
Because the fish and tortillas must be hot when served, they come last – first, the salsa and other toppings are prepared while drinking a good lager. My drink of choice while preparing this meal: Brooklyn Lager. Bought three cases of it at ridiculously low cost so that’s actually all I’ve been drinking lately…nothing special about it tonight.
I always prepare salsa first since I believe that the longer it marinades, the better. In a food processor too small for any of my needs, I threw in:
3/4 inch of a serrano pepper (could have used more though)
1 1/2 tomato
1/4 cup red onion
1/4 bunch of cilantro
Juice from 1 lemon
Lots of salt
All of the above should be altered to your taste – I like a lot of lemon and salt, but that’s just because I’ve been eating raw, whole lemons with salt on them since I was 5 years old. I’ve not only scorched my taste buds into needed these ingredients in excess, but I’m sure I’ve eaten away most of the enamel off my teeth. Refridgerate mixture until ready to serve.
Next, shred some cabbage. You better have some alternative plan for your left over cabbage (e.g. cold slaw, sauerkraut, solyanka), since a little shredding goes a long way. I don’t peel off the leaves – instead I cut into the cabbage head and slice off maybe a quarter of it, leaving it rounded. I put it on its flat side and make 1/8 inch semicircles good for taco stuffing. Then I wash it.
Now, although you have a good salsa at this point, I always like a little creamy sauce to go with it. A little more fat isn’t going to hurt you right? It’s fish taco night. Let loose. Mix together:
Juice from 1/2 a lemon or lime (at least! maybe more…)
2 tbsp sour cream
1 tbsp mayonnaise
Big pinch of cayenne pepper
Couple pinches of cumin
A little salt maybe…excuse my obsession.
Whisk away until combined and not too viscous. You want it a little runny so it can be somewhat drizzled over a taco. If you like it thicker like I sometimes do, you can put it on the taco first when assembling so that the following ingredients stick to the tortilla well. Mmmmm…so what I’m saying is add lemon as necessary.
Now if you have some extra lime or lemon, you can chop an avocado up next. Sprinkle some lemon juice (and salt, if blood pressure isn’t a concern…) over it to prevent browning and oxidation while you prepare the fish and tortillas. If no lemon, do it last. Go ahead and get the radishes washed and sliced up too while you are at it. I don’t really care for them unless pickled, but some folks (ahem…my partner…) do.
Business Time: Battering and Frying the Fish, Heating the Tortillas
I’ve fried up fish several ways, and often times the delicate meat of this aquatic animal is too prone to flaking and sticking to the pan to produce any decent outcome. However, I’ve worked through a battering method that has proven to strengthen the cuts of fish I’ve used, in addition to adding flavor. Although I’ve heard tilapia has a tendency to come out a little fishy, that’s what I most often use since I can get it cheap and in bulk, frozen packs at Aldis. I haven’t had a problem with fishiness yet. One day, I’m sure I will be able to afford to purchase my goods at a bougie fishmonger who can help me select the animal most suited for my needs. Until then, frozen tilapia it is. Ok, fish batter includes:
1 cup flower
1 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp oregano
2 tsp cayenne pepper
Side note: all proportions above are an estimation on my part.
In one dish large enough to lay one filet flat, crack and beat the egg until mixed well. In another dish of similar size, combine the rest of the dry ingredients. After the oil (canola) is hot in your pan (on medium to medium low heat), get both sides of a couple fillets drenched in the egg and hold them upright over the dish to let excess egg drip off before coating both sides of the fillets in the flour mixture. Place in oil and check on them in 3-4 minutes. At some point in the frying, you may have to reduce the temperature depending on your pan and how it distributes heat. While that first side is browning, get two other fillets ready and coated in egg and then the flour-spice mixture.
When the first side is golden brown or colored to your liking, gently flip your fish and cook the other side. Again, check on that in another 3-4 minutes and when it is golden brown, remove from pan and fry up you other fillets, placing cooked fillets on a plate with a couple sheets of paper towel and tented with foil to keep warm. Repeat all these steps for frying until all your fillers have had a go in the pan. You will probably have to add more oil the more you fry since the fish and batter mixture absorb a good amount of the oil.
If you have time in between frying you can start warming up your corn tortillas. I like to heat them up directly on the stove top, no pan, no oil, over low heat for 1-2 minutes each side, but there are other options. If I am short on stove top space, I sometimes roll them up in a moistened paper towel and microwave them for 10-15 seconds. The paper towel keeps them moist and you can do more than one at a time. Excellent time saver. Place them in foil or a tortilla warmer so that they keep toasty.
Taco Assembly: Do what you feel
Here is where you can just go crazy. Lay out your spread (as illustrated in the photo at the top of this entry), and get your goods in your tortilla! Aside from the radishes, I put it all in. Oh, and did I mention more lime on top of it all?