~ Beer-Batter-Dipped, Deep-Fried, Cod-Fish Tacos ~
Excuse me, I'm just going to go ahead and eat this fish taco while you all argue over what constitutes a perfect fish taco and its toppings -- deep-fried vs. pan-fried (sometimes grilled), corn tortilla vs. flour tortilla, green slaw vs. red slaw, pico de gallo vs. salsa, and, crema vs. sour cream. My favorite fish taco, as long as it is well-balanced in both flavor and texture, is the one that is in front of me, and, the first one I ever ate was so good I've declined to debate this issue with anyone -- if you bring it up, I'll just hit the mute button. It was 1986, and, there was a day trip from San Diego, CA to Tijuana, Mexico on our agenda. As I recall, the trip took about an hour and I'd ordered a "Baja Fish Taco" at a taco stand, which I ate en route -- I wish I'd ordered two.
I ordered the batter-dipped option (you only live once), and, it came topped with a tangy and sweet green cabbage slaw, a drizzle of Sriracha-infused crema, and, a small container of pico de gallo in the corner of the red and white paper food tray. Their deep-fried fish tacos were served on warm flour tortillas -- their "other" fish tacos were served on corn tortillas. This made sense to me -- the texture of the crunchy fish next to the soft, steamy flour tortilla was perfection. At first glance, it looked like there was a "whole lot going on" but I was wrong. Each component was seriously simple and straightforward, and, they all played together in perfect harmony.
Avoid versions of fish tacos that embellish the components with outlandish stuff like: tequila marinade, blackened seasoning, smoked sea salt, and (gag), guacamole -- KISS (keep it simple stupid)!
As I later came to find out, because of the abundance of fish in the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Ocean around the Baja, Mexico region, it was the inhabitants of the region who invented fresh, catch-of-the-day fish tacos. That said, a US college student named Ralph Rubio, who was visiting San Felipe on Spring break back in 1974, fell in love with a particular fish taco made by a vendor named Carlos. Rubio tried to talk Carlos into opening a stand in San Diego.
Carlos declined because he didn't want to leave Mexico, but, he did give Rubio a "sort of" recipe -- an ingredients list with no specific amounts. Thanks to a $70,000 investment from his dad, Rubio introduced his Baja fish taco to San Diego in 1983, in an old, failed hamburger stand near Mission Bay. Its popularity was almost instant, and, nowadays, San Diego is the place to go, and the unofficial home of, the fish taco (and Rubio's is a multi-million dollar company).
When it comes to versions of fish tacos made with grilled or pan-fried fish, you can pretty much make them with the fish you like best -- any type of fish can be put into a grilled or pan-fried fish taco. That is not so for the batter-dipped, deep-fried fish taco -- thin filets and/or delicate fish will not hold up to the rigors of deep-fat-frying. For me, cod is the best. I'm not alone. It's the #1 choice amongst all of us fearless fryers. It's thickness and firm texture can't be beat. If I had to make a substitution, I'd most likely go with grouper or mahi mahi, or sea bass, but, because cod is so readily available, even here in Central PA, I've never had to make a substitution.
4 cups store-bought coleslaw mix, a mixture of green cabbage and matchstick carrots
3/4 cup each: thinly-sliced green onions, white and light green part only, and, minced cilantro
2 tablespoons finely-diced jalapeno pepper, 2 tablespoons after removing seeds and ribs
2 tablespoons each: fresh lime juice and honey
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
~Step 1. In a large bowl, whisk the lime juice, honey and salt. Using a rubber spatula, stir in the onions, cilantro and jalapenos. Fold in the slaw mix. When mixture is thoroughly combined, refrigerate 4-6 hours, or overnight, stopping to stir every now and then, until serving chilled.
2 cups 1/2" diced plum or cherry tomatoes, or a combination
3/4 cup each: diced yellow onion and minced, fresh cilantro
2 garlic cloves, pressed
2 tablespoons finely-diced jalapeno pepper, 2 tablespoons after removing all seeds and ribs
1 1/2-2 tablespoons lime juice
1/2-3/4 teaspoon sea salt, to taste
~ Step 2. Add and stir in the finely-diced serrano chiles or jalapeno peppers, followed by the cilantro and the tomatoes. Set aside at room temperature for 10 minutes, then, stir and taste. Add the additional salt and/or lime juice if you feel the mixture needs it -- I added no salt and additional lime juice today. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour, and up to 6 hours, to allow flavors to marry, prior to serving chilled or at room temperature. While the pico de gallo is marinating, stir it occasionally throughout this time, whenever it's convenient.
1/2 cup Mexican crema, or American sour cream
1/4 cup Sriracha hot sauce, more or less to taste
~ Step 1. In a small bowl combine crema and Sriracha. If you have a squirt bottle, the kind used to dispense salad dressings, transfer the mixture to it. This type of bottle will make topping the fish tacos easy and mess free.
3 whole cod fillets, about 2 1/2 total pounds
2 total cups pancake mix
1 cup beer
~ Step 1. Place filets on a large cutting board. Using a large chef's knife, trim about 2" off the thin narrow end of each one, then, cut each one in half to form two long pieces of fish. Cut each long piece into thirds, to form 18 pieces. This will be enough to fill 9, 6"-round, warmed flour tortillas.
It's finally time to batter dip & deep-fry some fish sticks!
One shallow 2-cup bowl containing 1 cup dry pancake mix.
One shallow 2-cup bowl containing 1 cup pancake mix whisked with 1 cup beer.
Deep-fryer w/peanut oil heated to 350 degrees according to manufacturer's specifications.
Sea salt grinder.
Misc: 3-minute timer, whisk, fork, tongs, baking pan w/parchment paper & cooling rack.
~Step 3. Use a fork to dredge 3 "fish sticks" in the dry pancake mix, then dip them in the wet beer batter. Remove them from the batter, allowing all of the excess batter to drizzle back down into the bowl.
~ Step 4. Fry 3 at a time for 3- 3 1/2 minutes. Using tongs, transfer from fryer to a large baking pan that has been lined with parchment and fitted with a cooling rack. Grind sea salt on them the moment you put them on the cooling rack. Repeat process until all the fish is fried.
Place 2 "fish sticks" side-side-by side, hot-dog-style, on each warm flour tortilla. Top each with about 1/3 cup of Southwestern Slaw and a drizzle of Sriracha Crema and a generous tablespoon of pico de gallo to the side.
Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; small whisk; large rubber spatula; garlic press; fork; 2, shallow 2-cup size bowls; deep-fryer; 3-minute timer; fork; tongs; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; cooling rack
Cook's Note: If you think getting your children to try a fish taco is "a tough sell" (which I do not because kids like fish sticks), click into Categories 2, 13, 19, 20 or 22 to get my recipe for ~ Kid's Stuff: Jesse's Favorite Tex-Mex Beef Tacos ~.
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2015)