Friday, May 4, 2012

Go Fish

As a child, I didn't have much passion for food, save for a big bowl of Fruity Pebbles cereal. Dinner especially was not my favorite meal. I was picky. My poor mom. I applaud her for the "one dinner for all" approach to feeding a family and I certainly didn't go hungry. But the one meal I did get rather excited for was Taco Night. This was not too common of a dinner, but I would be so stoked when I'd see her pull out the lazy susan and start laying out tiny bowls of lettuce, chopped tomatoes, onions, cheese and so on. Next came the Old El Paso crispy taco shells and the unseasoned ground beef. Apparently, the Mexican seasoning was too much for our palates, which makes me laugh now because I often say if you can't taste your food why bother eating it — as a tear rolls down my face and my nose starts running from the hot peppers. I loved the fanfare of making a taco, even though I think mine just had cheese on it. 

Moving to California was a reeducation in tacos. On this coast, it's all about fish tacos. It's just what people do here after surfing or hanging out at the beach. You go and get fish tacos. They're arguably best in Baja Mexico, which is really just a hop and a skip away, but often too far to go to pick up fish tacos for supper. 

I was totally craving fish tacos a few weeks ago. And I was way too hungry to make it to Baja, so had to take matters into my own hands. Often they're made with mahi mahi, but the grocery store had a beautiful piece of Pacific halibut which I thought would do the trick. With fish like this, all you need is a little drizzle of olive oil and some lime zest. 

You can heat up a well-oiled grill or pan and just cook the fish for a few minutes on each side. You just need the fish to turn opaque. It will continue cooking for several minutes after you take it off the heat. And honestly overcooked fish is the pits. You want it to be juicy and fork tender. 

I could just pile on sour cream, avo and cheese and be a happy camper but do try to boost the nutritional value by adding some veggies. With tacos, you can't go wrong with a sauteed combo of onions, red bell pepper, garlic, black beans and some fresh corn off the cob. I add in a little cumin and salt and pepper and it's basically done. 

But for fish tacos to work, you need to add some cabbage. Why? That just seems to be "the law." It does add a fabulous crunch and some needed acidity via some lime juice. I often take the pre-shredded slaw mix and just add some fresh cilantro, lime juice, hot sauce and honey. It takes about 2 minutes to throw together this slaw that really does the crowning trick. 

Another thing I've learned out here: No boxed crispy taco shells. You use soft corn tortillas as your vessel. These are my current fave. 

They taste as if there is a little Mexican woman around the corner who is popping these out of a wood-burning oven. 

To assemble, I usually slather a little sour cream on the tortilla, then add the corn and bean mixture, followed by the fish, and then top with a handful of slaw and a few slices of avocado. Even as a finicky eater, I did love the fish-wich from McDonalds as a kid though. Plus I loved playing the card game Go Fish. I was the family champ. So maybe those were early signs I'd become a massive fish taco fan one day.  

Tomorrow is Cinco de Mayo. Whether you celebrate it or just enjoy Mexican food, I would encourage you to make these delicious fish tacos. You can even use the Old El Paso store-bought shells for a dose of nostalgia. It won't detract from their tastiness. Yes, they're that good. You know what would be a perfect pair? Either these or these. Salud!

Fabulous Fish Tacos

1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 jalapeño chile, seeded and finely chopped
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
1 small ear of corn, cut off the cob
1 can of black beans, rinsed
1 tsp cumin
Salt and pepper
3 Tbsp honey
2 Tbsp hot pepper sauce
Juice of 2 limes, plus 2 tsp zest
2 cups cabbage slaw mix
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
4 6-oz white fish filets (halibut, mahi mahi, etc)
8 corn tortillas
 cup sour cream
Avocado, sliced for garnish
Lime, sliced for garnish
1/2 cup salsa verde 

1. In a medium skillet, heat 1 Tbsp oil over medium heat. Add the jalapeño, onion, corn bell pepper, cumin and garlic to cook for about 5 minutes. Add the black bean and continue cooking for a few minutes until the vegetables are tender. Add salt and pepper to taste. 
2. In a large bowl, combine 2 Tbsp oil, honey, hot sauce, and lime juice (except for 1 tsp); season with salt and pepper. Add the slaw mixture and the cilantro and toss to coat. Mix in a tsp of lime juice with the sour cream and set aside.
3. Heat grill, grill pan or pan to medium. Coat the fish with the remaining 1 Tbsp oil and the lime peel. Lightly sprinkle some Mexican seasoning on top if desired. Cook for 2-4 minutes per side, depending on the thickness of the fish. I suggest removing it from the heat once it turns opaque. Wait a few minutes and flake the fish to create bite-sized pieces. 
4. Warm the tortillas on the grill, in the oven or directly over the stove top burner. Wrap in foil or in a towel to keep warm. 
5. To assemble, spread the sour cream on the tortilla. Add a spoonful of the bean and corn mixture and some pieces of fish. Top with a small handful of the slaw and a slice or two of avocado, a few spoonfuls of the salsa, as well as a squeeze of lime juice if desired.
Serves 4. 

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