Friday, May 20, 2011

Making Baja-Style Fish Tacos

I wake up one morning and see that my mom has sent me an early text message. In a nutshell, it’s reminding me that I have a bag of avocados in the kitchen and I should do something (anything!) with them before they go bad. These avocados came from a very fertile tree in the family compound in Antipolo where my sisters and I grew up.

Now that I am living in a concrete jungle, I miss those days when we could get fresh fruits from our own (and our neighbors’… Tee hee.) backyard. Fruit trees were abundant- Santol, Kaimito, Mango, Kasuy, Macopa, Guava, Kamias- and all we had to do was have the gardener bring out his stylized fruit-picking stick and tug away at whatever fruit was in season. Luckily, an uncle who still lives there makes sure that everyone in the family gets their share of the season’s harvests. And, luckily, there were enough avocados during the last harvest to go around.

So, what does a Mexican food lover do when life gives her a bag of avocados? She makes guacamole, of course! And, after weighing the different levels of difficulty of my favorite Mexican dishes in my head, I decide that I would attempt to make my favorite taco of the moment- Baja-style Fish Tacos.

Baja is on the coast of Southern California and very close to the San Diego-Mexico border. I’ve never been, but I’m pretty sure its proximity to the border makes it a hot-spot for good Mexican grub. The first time I tried this dish was in Baja Mexican Cantina in Greenbelt 3, and I immediately fell in love with the crispy, beer-battered crust, the pungent sauce, and the textural element of the sliced cabbage.

As I did my research for what should be authentic Baja fish tacos, I discovered that the ones at Baja Mexican Cantina are pretty spot on. But, as any popular dish goes, there are a few variations here and there. The standard recipe is pretty straight-forward and composed of four components from the bottom, up- 1) soft flour or corn tortilla, 2) battered and fried fish, 3)white sauce, and 4)fresh sliced cabbage. Some cooks who prefer a more subtle flavor for the fish opt for a cornmeal crust, but I personally like beer-battered food so I decide to roll with it. (For a lighter beer taste, I decided to use San Mig Light) A popular addition to the standard recipe is either a topper of fresh pico de gallo salsa or guacamole. And, if you are a master of the obvious, you would know what I decided to include in my recipe.

So, as you can see, there are no hard rules on how to make YOUR perfect taco. The beauty of Mexican food is that there are a myriad of spices, salsas, herbs and seasonings that you can add or remove to make your taco your own. Go mild or go wild… It’s your choice. Everyone seems to be a Mexican food expert these days (Yes, douchebag, I’m talking about YOU), but do not let them tell you what to do.

Anyway, it’s fiesta time.

Baja-style Fish Tacos (serves 4)

2 Cream Dory (or any white fish) fillets, approximately 300 g. each
3 cups vegetable oil
½ cup all-purpose flour
8 flour tortillas
½ a head of cabbage, sliced thin
1 lime, cut into wedges
A few sprigs of cilantro, for garnish
Hot sauce (optional)

1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 egg, beaten
1 bottle of light pilsner
2 teaspoons salt

White Sauce:
½ cup mayonnaise
½ cup sour cream
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon Cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon Spanish paprika

Guacamole (optional):
2 medium avocados, cubed
1 medium red onion, finely-diced
3 cloves garlic, finely-minced
¼ cup cilantro, chopped
2 small tomatoes, finely-diced
½ lime
Salt and pepper

To make the Guacamole:
- In a medium bowl, pile on the avocados, red onions, garlic and tomatoes.
- Sprinkle cilantro over the mix and squeeze the lime into it, careful not to drop in the seeds. Season with salt and pepper. Mix vigorously until there is a nice creamy consistency, but still chunky.
- Cover with plastic wrap and set aside.

To make the white sauce:
- In a medium bowl, mix all the ingredients together.
- Cover with plastic wrap and set aside.

To make the beer batter:
- In a medium mixing bowl, put the dry ingredients (flour, salt and cornstarch) in and mix well. Add in the beer and egg. Mix everything together until well-integrated. (Do not worry about the small lumps, they won’t affect the quality of the crust.)

Cooking the fish:
- Heat the oil in a medium pot (make sure the oil is at least 2 inches high) over a medium-high fire. When you start seeing little ripples in the oil, you’re there.
- Slice the Cream Dory fillets into four equal parts, leaving you with eight pieces.
- Dredge the fish in flour, dunk them into the batter, and into the fryer. Cook the fish 2-3 pieces at the time to maintain the temperature of the oil. It takes around 2-3 minutes for the fish to fry, depending on its thickness. A nice golden coat is usually a good indication that its ready.

To heat the flour tortillas:
- The easiest way is to pile all eight tortillas on top of each other on a microwaveable plate, cover with a paper towel, and heat at “high” for 45 seconds.

Assembly is easy and fun. Just lay out two flour tortillas on a plate, top with one fish each, drizzle on some white sauce and top with some cabbage. Since I like cilantro, I put a few sprigs of it on top of the tacos with a couple wedges of lime as a garnish. And, of course, we should not forget the condiment containing the prized ingredient that started this all- a nice dollop of freshly-made guacamole on the side of the plate.

Vamos a comer!


sanju said...

you had me at tee hee

Chinkee said...

Sanj- Hehe. That's my Archie Andrews-inspired giggle.:-)