“You don’t need a silver fork to eat good food.” ~ Paul Prudhomme
Let me start by saying that I love tacos. Seriously. It’s a thing. I could eat tacos every day for a year and be satisfied. How could I do such a thing? you might ask. Easily. Tacos are one of the most versatile foods a person can eat and make. With the bevy of shells, meats, and topics, a taco can take you on a tour of the world in a matter of bites.
I make all kinds of tacos – from American tacos (hard shells & ground beef) to authentic tacos (corn tortillas and steak, chicken, chorizo or pastor…I do make an amazing pastor by the way, but that’s for another post) to riffs on tacos like jerk chicken tacos or orange glazed chicken tacos. However, THIS post is about fish tacos. Yes, I said FISH TACOS!
The first step to making a great fish taco is choosing the right piece of fish. Some pieces are firmer, while others are flakier. Some tend to be drier, while others stay moist. As a general rule, most people choose pieces like cod, mahi-mahi, or orange roughy. They are firmer pieces of fish and can withstand frying. However, I tend to not prefer them because – if cooked improperly – they can be very dry. Feel free to choose whatever fish you prefer. It could be my Southern roots or the fact that I grew up eating quite a bit of it, but I prefer catfish. Yep! Catfish! Catfish is a softer, flakier fish, but it retains its moisture when fried and can latch on to a myriad of batters.
The second step to making a great fish taco is the batter. Frying fish is a science all its own, and mixing the appropriate batter is no small feat. You can use cornmeal, flour, or a combination of the two. You can also use a wet batter made of flour and water. As for me, I love beer battered fish. The beer in the batter gives the fish extra flavor, while also helping the batter stick to the fish. If you’re really not a huge beer drinker, don’t invest too much money on one bottle of beer. Dark ales and stouts are best for beer batter. Guinness is a go-to brand that isn’t too costly. If you like to play around with other flavors, try an ale with expresso or chocolate notes for an extra touch of spice.
Before you make your beer batter, pour your oil into a large cast iron skillet and heat it over medium heat. Peanut oil is the best and adds flavor, but if allergic canola or vegetable oil works as well. To make the beer batter, you start with all-purpose flour. You want to make sure that you season the flour really well. Otherwise, your batter will be bland and ruin the fish. I like to use Old Bay seasoning, sea salt, black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and a touch of adobo seasoning. To the flour, you add the beer. You want to add enough for the batter to still be thick enough to coat the fish without being too thick.
One way to determine if your batter needs more beer – the drip test! Lift your whisk out of the batter, and if there’s an intermittent drip (a steady drip would mean the batter is too thin), then your batter is perfect. The batter should be a little thinner than the consistency of pancake batter. Even though you’ve seasoned your beer batter, you still want to season your fish. Sprinkle it lightly with sea salt, black pepper, and Old Bay seasoning. Then, dredge it in the batter and drop it into the hot oil. Fry the fish until it’s golden brown and set it to the side to drain on paper towels.
I generally like to make a fresh pico de gallo. It’s a rather quick process to make it yourself, and it tastes fresher than store-bought salsa. To make fresh pico de gallo, you don’t need many ingredients at all:
- Roma tomatoes (3 should be fine unless you’re making it for a household, then 5-6)
- Fresh garlic (Around 3 cloves)
- Red onion (Half of a large one; Use the entire onion if making a bigger batch)
- Fresh limes (2; Can be substituted with lime juice in a pinch)
- Jalapeno peppers (2 to 3; Remove the seeds unless you want it spicy)
- Sea salt
Chop all the veggies, mix it in a bowl, and sprinkle it with sea salt to taste. TADA! Fresh pico de gallo. Heat your corn tortillas and store them in a towel to keep them warm. Next up – the aioli!
Now, aioli is a fancy word for sure. Using the word aioli turns any regular recipe into a masterpiece, especially when it’s tasty! True aiolis are made by beating egg yolks and then seasoning them with a variety of herbs and spices, but a shortcut I like to use is mayonnaise. I’ll be the first to say that I absolutely HATE mayo-based salads. I mean cole slaw, potato salad, macaroni salad…pretty much anything with mayo as the base I dislike. However, when it comes to aiolis, they magnify the taste of fish and chicken immensely!
You can season and flavor aiolis with pretty much anything so long as you add an acid – lime, lemon, or orange juice, for example. For fish tacos, I like to play with fresh limes and either chili sauce or sriracha. This time, I used sriracha and lime. The ingredients needed for sriracha lime aioli are:
- Fresh limes (2)
- Fresh garlic (2 to 3 cloves)
- Sriracha sauce
- Sea salt
- Black pepper
- Onion powder
Chop the garlic finely and place into a small mixing bowl. Zest the limes and place the zest into the bowl with the garlic. Add at least one cup of mayonnaise, and then juice the limes into the bowl and stir. The amount of sriracha you use is to your taste. Sriracha is rather hot, so be mindful when adding. Taste often to make sure you don’t make it too hot for you or those you plan to feed. Season with onion powder, black pepper, and sea salt to taste.
Fish tacos aren’t complete without a slaw. You can cut up green and red cabbage and slice some carrots if you like, but you can always take a shortcut and buy the coleslaw mix at the grocery store. Pour the coleslaw into a bowl, and add enough aioli to coat the slaw. You want the slaw to be wet, but not overly so; not enough aioli and the slaw will be dry. You want it to be coated enough that the sauce will drip onto the fish and add loads of flavor.
Taco assembly time! I like to add some crumbled queso fresco on top of my tortillas first. Then, I follow with my pieces of fish (one per taco unless very small). Top your fish with the slaw and fresh pico, and it’s time to eat. I guarantee you that you’ll never want to eat another fish taco without aioli. Bon appetit!