Mark Miller: Baja-Style Fish Tacos
“Fish and tortillas. So?”
Prep time: 0:45 Overall time: 1:30
10 servings scale / convert
1-1/2 cups water
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
10 cloves garlic, sliced
2 serrano chiles, seeded and stemmed
2 tsp. Mexican oregano, ground
1 tbsp. fine sea salt
2 lb. young shark fillet, cut into 4 by 3/4 inch strips
Baja Tempura Batter
3/4 cup plus 1 tbsp. ice water
2-1/2 tsp. yellow mustard (optional)
1 cup bleached all-purpose flour
Vegetable oil for deep-frying
10 (5) soft white corn tortillas, for serving
Baja Cabbage Slaw (separate recipe)
Pickled jalapeno slices
Copious bottles of cold Pacifico
To make marinade, in a large bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups water, lime juice, garlic, chiles, oregano, and salt. Add the fish strips and let marinate for at least 20 minutes.
To make the tempura batter, in a separate bowl, whisk together the ice water and mustard. Gently stir in the flout, but don't over mix; a few lumps are okay. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Drain the shark pieces and pat them dry with a paper towel.
Have a plate lined with paper towels ready. In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, heat at least 2 to 3 inches of oil over medium heat until it reaches 360° F on a deep-fat thermometer. Remove the batter from the refrigerator and stir once more. Dredge the fish pieces in the batter, a few at a time, to evenly coat. Drop them in the hot fat, 2 pieces at a time, adding 2 more pieces every 30 seconds (fry no more than 4 pieces at a time). Monitor the temperature of the hot oil throughout frying, letting the oil return to proper temperature, if necessary, between batches; to ensure crispness, it must remain a constant 360° F to 380° F. If too low, the fish will be oily; if to high, the pieces will burn.
Fry them until crisp, light golden brown, and floating in the oil, about 2 1/2 minutes per batch. With a fine-mesh skimmer, transfer the fish tempura to the paper-towel lined plate to absorb the excess oil. Repeat with the remaining pieces of fish. During the frying, be sure to remove any pieces of floating batter, or they will burn and darken the oil, which will transfer a burned flavor to the tempura. Serve immediately.
To serve, lay the tortillas side by side, open faced and overlapping on a platter. Divide the slaw and filling equally between the tortillas and top with salsa and garnish. Grab, fold, and eat right away. Or build your own taco: lay tortilla, open face, in one hand. Spoon on some slaw, then filling, top with salsa, fold, and eat right away.
I spent a few days last week in Phoenix for a design conference at which I was invited to present. The hotel restaurant, The Gallo Blanco Cafe, served these adorable little tacos in delightfully hand-pressed, housemade tortillas. During my stay, an awaited mid-day snack typically consisted of three of these diminutive wonders; one braised pork, one pepper-seared tuna, and the batter-dipped white "fish taco" varietal available up and down the Baja peninsula.
Sure, the beaches and cervezas keep us entertained, but the tacos keep us satisfied. From Ensenada to Todos Santos, Mexican locals serve regional variations on this handheld street fare, which found its origins in the 1930's when this finger of salt-licked land between the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific became a working home for Japanese fishermen. The commercial fishing grounds have been significantly depleted by the Asian trawlers, yet the imprint of flash-fried fish remains a culinary signature forged by interwoven cultures.
Note: This recipe calls for young shark, which used to be widely available and extremely inexpensive in Baja. No more. These days, you're more likely to find mahi-mahi (known as dolphin-fish or dorado in Mexico) being served on most street corners. Any moist, firm white fish — tilapia, opah, corvina and perhaps best for us, Oregon-caught halibut — works beautifully. You'll also note the absence of the white sauce, typically a mixture of mayonnaise, sour cream and lime juice. It's just not necessary.
Have you made it? What'd you think?
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