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Recipe: Baja-Style Fish Tacos

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Recipe: Baja-Style Fish Tacos
Dave Scantland
This recipe is time-consuming, but I think the results are well worth the effort. It's a great dish to make if you and your partner like to cook together -- one cook can concentrate on the fish and the other can make the slaw and avocado cream. The batter is incredibly light from the club soda and baking soda and makes wonderfully crisp fish. (This article gives a detailed explanation of the science behind the method.) If you prefer, you can use the breading method from this recipe for panko-fried shrimp instead of the batter; in fact, these tacos are also great made with shrimp instead of fish.

Yield: 2 servings

Ingredients:

  • 8-12 ounces firm white fish such as grouper, cod, or tilapia
  • Kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup white rice flour, plus a couple tablespoons for dusting
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1/2 cup vodka
  • 1/2 cup club soda or mild beer
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • Slaw

  • 1 cup shredded red or white cabbage
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 scallion, minced
  • 1 small hot red chile such as Fresno chile or red jalapeno, seeded and cut into half moons (see notes)
  • 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped cilantro
  • Juice of 1/2 lime (about 1 tablespoon)
  • Avocado Cream

  • 1/2 medium ripe Hass avocado, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 1/3 cup sour cream
  • 1/4 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves
  • 2 tablespoons medium green salsa (I use Herdez brand)
  • Juice of half a lime (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
  • To assemble

  • 4-6 small corn or flour tortillas (see notes)

Preparation:

1. Preheat the oven to 200F.

2. Cut the fish into pieces about 3 inches long and 1 inch across. Sprinkle with salt on both sides and dust with rice flour. Set aside.

3. Pour about three inches of oil into a heavy pot and heat to 375 degrees.

4. While the oil is heating, mix together the 3/4 cup rice flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder and fine salt in a large bowl. Set aside.

5. For the slaw, place the cabbage in a small colander. Sprinkle with the salt and toss to coat. Place a bowl over the cabbage and weight it down with a can or something heavy. Let sit for 20 minutes or so, until cabbage has given up some of its water and has collapsed slightly. Rinse and pat dry. (This step makes for a better texture but is optional. If you skip it, add about 1/4 teaspoon of kosher salt to the slaw.) Toss the cabbage with the scallion, chile and cilantro. Add the lime juice and toss to coat. Adjust seasoning, adding extra lime juice or salt as necessary.

6. For the avocado cream, place all the ingredients in a small food processor and pulse to blend thoroughly. If you don't have a food processor, mince the cilantro and blend all the ingredients together with a large fork or small potato masher.

7. Heat a small non-stick skillet over medium heat. Have a large piece of foil nearby. One at a time, heat the tortillas on both sides until they puff slightly and place on the foil. When they're all heated, seal the foil over the tortillas and place in the oven to keep warm. (If you like, you can simply stack the tortillas on the foil, wrap and heat in the oven.)

8. When the oil is hot, mix the vodka into the dry ingredients from step 4. Stir in the club soda or beer. Dip the fish pieces into the batter and then carefully place in the oil. Cook for 3-4 minutes, until golden brown (if the oil is not deep enough to cover the fish, turn the pieces over about halfway through cooking so both sides cook evenly). Work in batches if necessary -- don't crowd the oil. If you have to fry in batches, place the cooked fish on a rack over a small sheet pan and place in the warm oven. Let the oil come back up to temperature before frying the second batch.

9. To assemble, place a couple of pieces of fish on a tortilla. Top with a spoonful of slaw and drizzle with the avocado cream.

Notes:

  • If you prefer a milder slaw, replace the Fresno chile with a couple tablespoons of diced red bell pepper.
  • You'll probably have avocado cream left over, but it makes a great dressing (thin with a little extra lime juice) or dip for tortilla chips.
  • While corn tortillas are traditional for fish tacos, we prefer flour tortillas. Whatever you use, get the smallest ones available.

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