Monday, June 20, 2011

Fish Tacos

Do you have a best food memory? One that you simply cannot forget and you can recall like it was yesterday? Mine is from Mexico. When I was young my grandfather lived in Ensenada, where we would go visit him for spring break. It was tradition, we went down quite a few times. We would go to the beach, walk the fish markets, see the gysers, it was all good fun. But the one bit that will always stand out to me is when I had my first fish taco. It was a food truck, on a bustling corner in town. My mom was freaked out because she thought we would get food poisoning, my grandfather insisted these women made some of the best food ever.
The truck was simple, small, and contained three women serving two things, tacos and sodas. One was cutting up shark, dipping it in a beer batter, and frying it. The second was taking the fried fish, placing a piece in a corn tortilla, topping it with crema, a squeeze of lime, and cabbage before handing it to customers. The third was collecting money and handing out bottled sodas (the good kind in glass bottles with real sugar). There were small stone mortars that contained both red and green salsa for you to add as you like, but be warned, the green was only for the truly adventurous in spicy food.

It was the best thing I have ever eaten. I think I ate 4 or 5, I know my dad had a dozen. We all left, stuffed beyond what anyone thought possible, but also elated at what had just transpired. If I ever go back again, I will wander downtown in hopes of finding three women still serving some of the best food around.

Fast forward to the present: My friend Matt (who directs my cooking show) is also shooting a commercial for a local fish monger, North Shore Seafoods. I promise I will write more on that at some point, but take my word for it; it’s well worth a visit. Matt, who is allergic to fish (!) received some uber-fresh halibut and it was requested we turn it into tacos. Please, twist my arm. We made a feast, tacos, rice, beans, salsa, it was amazing, just as I remembered. We sat outside (I made steak tacos for Matt) and loved every second of it. It was so good I made it again for Emily's parents when we recently went back to visit. I hope you all find this recipe as memorable as I have.

Fish Tacos
Serves 6-8

Fish
2 pounds fresh white fish (cod, shark, halibut, etc.), trimmed of skin, cut into ¾" strips (cut so they will fit into a tortilla)
2 cups flour
2 tablespoons salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2-3 cups beer
1 quart peanut oil

Crèma
½ cup sour cream
¼ cup mayo
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon cumin
Juice from half of a lime
1 head cabbage, finely shredded
2 limes, cut into wedges
Fresh salsa or pico de gallo
Guacamole or avocado slices (optional)
2 dozen fresh corn tortillas (buy at a local Mexican grocer)

To make the crèma combine all ingredients in a small bowl, season to taste with additional cumin. Refrigerate for 30 minutes or up to 1 day. Warm the tortillas in a toaster oven wrapped in foil

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Use a fry or candy thermometer to maintain the oil temperature at 375°F. Meanwhile, whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, and cornstarch in a bowl. Add 2 cups of the beer and whisk until smooth. If batter is too thick, add more beer until thin but not extremely watery.

Dredge 1 filet of fish in batter, letting excess drip off, and place in hot oil. Depending on the size of the pot you can fry 3-4 pieces at a time. Do not fry more at a time as the oil temperature will drop significantly. Fry fish, turning occasionally, until brown and crisp, 4-5 minutes. Transfer to wire rack covered with paper towel to drain. Return oil to temperature and repeat with remaining fish.

To serve, spread a small amount of crèma on a tortilla followed by a piece of fish, a squeeze of lime, cabbage, and pico de gallo. Enjoy!