The World of Fish Tacos
I first tried fish tacos many years ago on a surfing trip to Baja California and was immediately captivated. Lately, they evolved into a regular go-to menu item in my home. While they are made with many different fish (and shellfish if you want to extend the definition), there are only three basic forms: those that are fried, with and without batter, and those that are grilled.
The classic fish taco that has become a fast food favorite in California is the beer batter fried version popularized on the streets of Ensenada. Making these from scratch takes a bit of organization, but is well worth the effort. On the other hand, if you are in a hurry and use good tortillas, sauces, and garnishes, frozen beer-battered fish strips can be a reasonable substitute.
For a lighter fried taco, strips of fish can be deep fried without batter at between 350 – 375 degrees, the way the famous lobster from Puerto Nuevo is prepared. When cooked this way to medium-rare with ahi (yellow fin) tuna (about 1 minute ofthumb-size pieces), the result is crunchy on the outside and soft and juicy on the inside. In fact, they resemble the much more fatty pork carnitas but with an exceptionally healthy twist. If drained on paper towels, very little of the frying oil ends up in the taco! That technique also works well with scallops but not so well with shrimp, which quickly become tough.
Grilled fish tacos add a crunchy dash of smoke-kissed flavor and, if you discount the worries about carcinogens in grilled foods, an even healthier outcome. I make them with everything from catfish to salmon, but my favorite is the belly of ahi or albacore tuna, often called toro. Not far behind in the race for perfection is cobia, a delicious gulf fish that remains little known. Although not native to Mexico, salmon is also a great choice, especially when marinated in coconut milk blended with chipotle peppers. If you are grilling fish as an entrée, make a little extra, and carefully heat it up for fish tacos in a microwave set to half power
Regardless of the preparation method, fish tacos are usually garnished with shredded cabbage, pico de gallo, and sometimes guacamole and grated cheese, and served with a tartar sauce-like sauce and lime wedges. For the fish taco sauce, and especially for grilled tacos, I like to use a lemony aioli with capers and hot smoked paprika.
There are so many variations of this dish that you could have a different one each day of the week. I urge you to try the recipe for grilled fish tacos and consider putting these delicious and healthy morsels on your own menu!