The Perfect Fish Taco (if I do say so myself)

Over the years, I have mentioned making fish tacos to Mr. Meat and Potatoes several times. And every time, he says "I'll just have ground beef, please." Fish, he thinks, does not belong in tacos.

In response, I have chosen to order fish tacos on every possible occasion since. First, because I don't make them at home for just me, I have to take the opportunity when it arises. Second, to prove to Mr. Meat and Potatoes that they are not only a good idea, they are ubiquitous and really not weird at all.

But I will say, I've had some fish tacos in my day that I regretted. Here's the thing. I just don't think I like 'em unless the fish is battered and fried. I know, I know. A fish taco could be a really healthy taco alternative, full of good veggies and light fish, if I'd skip the fryer. But really, I just can't get into it. I need that crispy texture, that extra kick of flavor.

Yesterday, at The Merc, local entrepreneur Michele Berendsen was handing out samples of this stuff, which inspired me. I was going to win over Mr. Meat and Potatoes. I was going to make a fish taco packed with spicy goodness that even the staunchest nay-sayer couldn't argue with. "If he loves sriracha," I thought, "he's gonna love this." And he loves sushi — which often comes draped in a sauce very similar to the Dynamite sauce. And I planned to fry the fish in a beer batter. BEER. I mean, what could he argue with?

I had four tilapia filets, which I marinated for several hours in olive oil, lime juice, salt, and a mix of equal parts cumin, chili powder, and white pepper. I also threw in a dash of red pepper flakes and some of the Chiliracha for fire power.

To start, I made a little slaw for topping the tacos. I thinly sliced about 2 cups of cabbage off the head and give it a rough chop. In a bowl, I poured on a tablespoon of Chiliracha and 2 tablespoons of Mexican crema (which is similar to sour cream, but runnier and less tangy). I threw in a dash of salt and pepper, the zest of one lime, and the juice of one lime. Then I put it in the fridge to chill.

Next, I cut the tilapia into large bite-sized hunks, and mixed up the batter. People, beer batter is my new bestie. I had no idea that it would make such a difference, but the beer makes a batter that is light, bubbly, tasty, and perfect. I'm never looking back.

I just used about a cup and a half of flour, a dash of salt and pepper and I poured in about 3/4 of a can of Budweiser. I mean, you can use any light-colored pilsner-ish beer you want, but since my husband works for the Bud folks, I really recommend you go with the King of Beers. I know where my bread and butter is. Plus, it made a really stinking good batter. Frothy beer = good batter.

The goal with the batter is to get it fairly thin and not lumpy, so keep adding beer in small increments and stirring with a fork until it's about the consistency of pancake batter.

I gave the fish one last sprinkle with kosher salt, and then dropped the hunks in the batter.

Next, I heated some canola in a saucepan. You need enough oil that your fish with be completely covered. If you have a deep fat fryer, of course, this is a good application for it, but I have no such appliance.

I probably poured two or three cups of oil into that pan and turned it on high. If you have a thermometer, stick it in there. Between 350 and 400 degrees is your ideal temperature. Remember that once you plop the first fish in there your oil will cool significantly.

With a fork, I lifted (don't stab) pieces of fish from the batter and dropped them in the hot oil. DO IT CAREFULLY. About six pieces at a time seemed to be the right number. I let them cook for about thirty seconds before I used a slotted spoon to turn them over and ensure even browning and cooking.

If your oil is hot, the fish should only take about two minutes at most to cook. When the batter is golden, remove and place on a plate lined with paper towels and do the next batch.

From there, it's a matter of assembly and taste. I chopped up a little bit of serrano pepper, an avocado, some red onion and a tomato. To me, the joy of this fish taco is to get all those good Carribean flavors without glopping it up with a bunch of heavy sauce or cheese.

The real show stopper of this meal was the Dynamite Sauce, which I spread on the bottom of a warmed flour tortilla, and then built the taco up from there.

On the fish, I plopped a little of the slaw, some tomato, serrano pepper, onion and avocado. But really, the choices here are limitless. I thought of cutting some fresh corn off the cob, or chopping up a mango, but I was getting out of control.

Mr. Meat and Potatoes likes things hotter than I do, so he added pickled jalapenos and some extra Chiliracha to the top of his. Next time, though, I think I'll go for a little sweet heat with some pineapple relish and pickled jalapenos. The world is my fish taco, so to speak.

I have to tell you, I think I won this one. Mr. Meat and Potatoes was duly impressed with this creation and we might be saying good-bye to ground beef, at least some of the time. He gave it rave reviews and I'll admit it was my favorite meal I've made in a good long while. I'm still thinking about it today, and kicking myself that I didn't bring some leftovers for lunch.


backyardwino 12 years ago

Dang. Sorry I wasn't there for that. That looks amazing.

mrjcg2 12 years ago

Those look tremendous! I've been using corn starch instead of flour for fish taco batters, also verrry good. Learned that from the Scarlet Orchid chef.

livinginlawrence 12 years ago

Sorry to be a bugger....but in the headline, I think you meant to say "if I MAY say so," not "if I DO say so."

backyardwino 12 years ago

As tongue-in-cheek as this blog is, I would hope that folks agree the popular idiom is acceptable. Sheesh.

livinginlawrence 12 years ago

Sorry to be a bugger....but in the headline, I think you meant to say "if I MAY say so," not "if I DO say so."

livinginlawrence 12 years ago

Alas, I've double-posted. How embarrassing.

Clovis Sangrail 12 years ago

"I had four tilapia filets . . . " Therein may lie the problem for Mr. Meat and P. Eating tilapia is kind of like eating the cichlids out of the aquarium.

" . . . which I marinated for several hours in olive oil, lime juice, salt, and a mix of equal parts cumin, chili powder, and white pepper. . . " Is several hours long enough so that it no longer tastes like tilapia?

maxcrabb 12 years ago

Where do you get your tilapia? I understand you may not like it, but it's one of the more popular fish to eat amongst my friends and restaurants I visit. Especially a blackened tilapia sandwich with slaw and a chipotle sauce on focacia... ok, now i'm hungry!

Clovis Sangrail 12 years ago

I don't get tilapia anywhere, but I did have some in a Mexican restaurant in Houston. It tasted like an aquarium filter smells.

And I am not alone -- . My favorite comment -- "Tastes like basement."

It is a trash fish that is easily and cheaply farmed, and we have been gulled into eating it by budget-conscious chefs who found that if they seasoned it enough, they could pass it off as exotic gourmet fare.

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