I‘ve been chasing down the “perfect” chili since the first time I ever made it (which if you ask my fiancé he will gleefully tell you about how the first time I cooked it I thought I invented this “new recipe). I’m sure I don’t need to tell anybody how long and awful the weather has been this winter — we’ve all been outside having to deal with the cold and ice for months now, and if you live in a climate where that isn’t an issue I’m sure you’ve at least seen plenty of screen caps of the weather app on Instagram, and if that is the case be glad that you live someplace where it doesn’t take 20 minutes to scrape stubborn ice off your windshield before you get to leave your house.
It’s very easy to start daydreaming when it’s so crummy outside and my mind keeps wandering to my brother and his family in San Diego, which automatically makes me think about fish tacos. We went to visit in 2013 and my plan was to eat as many fish tacos as I could get my hands on. My plans for taco fulfillment sort of fell through when Luke came down what I can only assume is the plague the second day we were there. (I guess that’s what happens when you’re talking and a little kid decides to cough on your face?) Anyway, instead of tacos and drinks on the patio out in the sun with an ocean view, our vacation quickly turned into vaporizers and me checking on him constantly to make sure he was still alive — it was so bad I wasn’t sure if he was even going to be able to fly when the time came to go home. I didn’t get my fill of tacos but at least I got to see my brother and his family — which is okay because three’s always more vacations and there’s always more tacos.
I started to get a little obsessed with fish tacos after that and decided I wanted to try to make them at home, despite the apprehensions I had about having a giant pot of 350 degree pot of oil on my stove. Apparently the idea of crispy fish tacos outweighed my fear of possible third degree burns, so off to the internet I went to research what makes a good fish taco. I quickly learned that people have very strong opinions of what a fish taco should be — I get it though, it’s the same thing I see here in Buffalo when people talk about chicken wings. I wound up reading Slate’s article “You’re Doing It Wrong” (which that title alone means this is a column I should be regularly reading) about fish tacos and decided that that recipe was the way to go. I especially liked that this recipe suggested you do your own tortillas, since one of the few things I really am a stickler on is homemade tortillas — I’m always disappointed when I’m out for Mexican food and the tortillas are store bought, which is more often than not. A good taco can be made with a store bought tortillas, but there’s nothing like freshly pressed and I wish that more places around here did it. The one thing I decided to change was instead of the sauce recipe they had on Slate I decided to use Alton Brown’s crema recipe.
When Taco Saturday came (I know normally it’s Taco Tuesday but we like to live every day as if it’s Taco Tuesday) I used a very deep and comically large pot — I figured the more barrier between me and the oil was a good thing. If I had those giant industrial gloves that they clean fryers with I would have worn them. But everything came together quickly once the oil was brought up to temperature – cut fish, dip in the beer batter, set it gently in the oil with it going away from you — that last part was probably the reason why I didn’t wind up with any oil splatter burns and I really wish I remembered where I read it so I could thank that person for saving my arms, otherwise I probably would have went along with my idea of throwing battered fish into the pot from as far away as I could stand. My only annoyance was how the house smelled afterwards — I worked at Burger King in high school and it reminded me of that (not that that was a bad thing — high school job with lots of friends who worked there also, I have great memories of that place), but totally a sacrifice I’d make again!
As you can see from the photo I got the tortilla/fish ratio way off, but it didn’t matter, it still tasted balanced. I would make these every day if I could. The citrusy lime reminded me of the sun and the beach — exactly what I needed on a lousy March day when there’s still feet of snow surrounding me.
If you’ve never made corn tortillas at home, what are you waiting for? it’s one of those things that is a piece of cake once you get the hang of it. A tortilla press makes the job a breeze — this is the one I have and at only about $14 it’s worth it. Once the fish started frying things came together really quickly and there wouldn’t have been time to roll them by hand. I decided to use mahi mahi for the fish and it crackled and sputtered away in the oil until it was a nice golden brown until it was time to scoop it out, throw some salt on it and let it sit on paper towels to drain a bit. I was really glad I picked up one of these fryer baskets for $6 at the Asian market recently — my original plan was to use tongs since I don’t have a spoon that wouldn’t have melted away upon contact.
I kept the tacos very simple — finely shredded cabbage, a sprinkling of cilantro, crema and the corn tortillas, a squeeze of lime. I really think a recipe like this doesn’t need a million garnishes on it — I wanted it to be all about the crispy beer battered fish (which surprisingly didn’t get all soggy and gross).
They had a bit of smokiness from the chipotle pepper that was incorporated into the crema – I’d probably leave that out. I’m really not sure what I was thinking when I put it in as I’m really not a fan of smoky-type stuff. But everything else was so good that it didn’t even matter. On my second taco I threw some sliced avocado on and after that it complemented the smoky chipotle flavor nicely.
Sitting down to eat these all I could think about was San Diego and lazy vacation and the sun beating down on my face — the tacos were great no matter where i’d be eating them but having that added bonus of for a few minutes forgetting exactly where I was and what the weather was doing outside felt pretty terrific. The fish was crunchy and cooked perfectly — I was patting myself on the back for frying something without burning my face off (and now that I know how to do it my list of stuff I want to cook just grew by about 500 things.) I’d make this recipe again in the blink of an eye. At least it may keep me tied over until I actually get to San Diego again!