Saturday, May 16, 2009

Baja Fish Tacos

I have had fish tacos before. Growing up in California and traveling to its beach towns, there is always a local fish taco stand somewhere nearby. The typical taco consists of chunks of fish in a basic batter, fried in oil, and served in a corn tortilla topped with chopped green cabbage, a spicy red sauce, and a creamy white sauce. When the Huangs invited us over for fish tacos, this is what I was expecting. Boy, was I ever wrong. This was a unique twist to the simple recipe and by far, the best fish tacos that I have ever tasted.

The traditional fish for fish tacos is cod. You can use a variety of fish here including talapia, mahi mahi, even defrosted fish from your freezer. Rinse fish, pat dry with paper towels, and cut it into chunks.

To avoid clumping, the batter is started in two mixing bowls, then combined. The first bowl consists of the dry ingredients. Add a cup of flour, tablespoon of baking powder, and some salt and pepper and mix together.

The second mixing bowl is for the wet ingredients. Combine a cup of beer, an egg, a teaspoon of ground chipotle pepper, and some paprika for color. Once this is mixed together, fold in the dry ingredients and mix well.

Now is the time to start heating up the oil used to cook the fish with. An iron skillet works best here to keep the oil at a constant temperature. Heat a quart of vegetable oil over medium high until bubbles start to form.

While waiting for the oil to heat up, it is a good time to prepare the cabbage. This isn't the typical boring cabbage topping, but is an amazing contribution to this taco. Finely shred 1/2 head of green cabbage and put in a mixing bowl. Add to it 1/2 diced red onion, 1/2 cup chopped cilantro, a splash of olive oil, white cider vinegar, and lime juice. Finish it off with salt and pepper and mix it all together.

Check your oil. Still not ready, we can make the white sauce then. Again, this isn't the basic sour cream that you get at the chain Baja restaurant, but gives a distinctive flavor to this taco. Mix together 1/2 cup of sour cream, some chopped cilantro, lime juice, paprika, and salt.

The oil should be warmed up now. Put each of your corn tortillas into the oil for a few seconds, you should see bubbles appear around the entire tortilla confirming that the temperature of the oil is correct. Place tortillas on a paper towel covered plate upon removal from the oil.

Now it is time to fry the fish. Use a pair of tongs to bathe fish chunks in batter, then place into hot oil. Add only a few pieces at a time to the oil giving them enough space to expand. Turn over after a couple of minutes and cook back side. Once golden brown, remove from oil and place in container with paper towel liner.

Once all the fish is fried, it is time to serve. Garnish with avocado and lime wedges. Truly a righteous experience.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Fish a la Veracruzana

The combination of tomatoes, Kalamata olives, and capers gives this dish more of a Mediterranean appearance and flavor than Mexican. It shows the influence of the Hernan Cortes and the Spanish expedition had on the Gulf of Mexico region and and beyond.

Adapted from Rick Bayless "Mexico, One Plate At a Time" PBS series.

Fresh ingredients are the key to this dish. I was able to find some fresh whole red snapper, but you could use a variety of whole fish here. Sweet, ripe tomatoes are a key ingredient for a memorable sauce.

Have your fish cleaned, scaled, and washed. Remove fins from the side, top, and bottom. Put 3 slashes to the bone on both sides of the body to allow the marinate to penetrate the meat and encourage even cooking. Marinade each side of the fish with lime juice and salt. Cover with saran wrap and put in refrigerator for an hour.

In a frying pan, brown a thinly sliced onion and a few crushed garlic cloves. Add 4 cups of diced fresh tomatoes, a sprig of fresh marjorum, a few bay leaves, a handful of chopped flat leaf parsley, some mexican oregano, sliced kalamata olives, capers, and thin slices of canned jalepeno peppers. Once the tomatoes start reducing, stir in 1/2 cup of water and simmer for 15 minutes. Taste and season with salt as necessary.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Put the marinated fish in a baking dish large enough to hold the entire fish. Cover with the Veracruz sauce and place in the oven for around one hour, based on a 4 pound fish.

Once cooked, put the fish on a serving platter and cover in the Veracruz sauce. Put some sliced kalamata olives, capers, and sliced jalepeno peppers over the top of everything.