Easy fish tacos

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Albert Camus once said, “In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.”

If you think of eating light, fresh, summery foods as summer being in you, I know how he feels.

As much as I love rain and storms (as long as I don’t have to be out in it), I’m less enthused about gray skies in the winter. Everything outside looks dead or dying and there’s no snow to soften the image. My Seasonal Affective Disorder kicks into overdrive after a while and everything gets just a bit harder.

Sometimes, you just need a taste of summer.

If we’re going to ascribe food to seasons, I think tacos fall under the summer category. No matter what you put into them, they always feel warm in a way that has nothing to do with the temperature or spiciness of the food. Fish, in almost any of its commonly consumed forms (in America, anyway) is also a summer food in my mind, making fish tacos feel, not just like summer food, but all-out beach food.

Unfortunately, being smack dab in the middle of the Midwest, fish fresh on/from the beach isn’t going to happen, so, as Ina Garton would say, “store-bought works just fine.”

I’ll confess I’d never had fish tacos before I went to my parents’ house for Christmas this year, when my mom and I went to a South Bend Mexican food institution — Hacienda’s. Granted, we were offered a bowl of ranch to split between our complimentary bowls of salsa, so fully authentic, it ain’t, but it’s still decent food. I like to think the offer of ranch says more about the Midwest’s obsession with the sauce, accepted with a gusty sigh and a shake of the chef’s head, rather than a willing and enthusiastic proffering.

Hacienda’s fish tacos are served with grouper, lightly breaded and fried, with shredded cabbage, Baja lime sauce and pineapple salsa. They were better than I thought they would be — fish isn’t a filling I normally considered for tacos, but it wasn’t unheard of — and the undressed shredded cabbage wasn’t as weird a texture as I thought it might be. If you’re in the South Bend area looking for Mexican food, I’d suggest both Hacienda’s and these tacos. Overall, I’m sold on the idea.

Which is why I was pleased to find these Easy Fish Tacos from Buzzfeed on Pinterest without really doing a specific search. I see (and share on Facebook) recipe videos from Buzzfeed/Tasty all the time, but I hadn’t seen these. Anything labeled “easy” can’t be too much of a gamble, right?

And these are so worth the gamble.

The picture on Buzzfeed and probably if you just glance at the picture I posted above makes this fish look breaded, but it's not — just seasoned with cayenne, garlic powder, cumin, salt and pepper, so this recipe is naturally gluten-free if you use the right tortillas.

The recipe calls for tilapia and that’s what I used, but honestly, you could play with just about any mild, white fish like cod or grouper.

I bought the tilapia frozen and thawed out four filets, which was more than necessary to fill the three tacos in this picture. This recipe could easily feed four or five people — up to eight if you're not really hungry. Unless you get the fish from the seafood counter, the filets you get in the fish freezers are going to be on the smallish side, so you may end up with more seasoning than you need. Keep it for later (because if you're like me, you will make these again) or toss a little extra on these puppies to add even more flavor.

As the title of this recipe says, these tacos are easy and quick. Because the fillets are small, they cook pretty fast, so once you season them with your spice mixture and set them cooking in your skillet (medium-high heat), you’ve got about 10 minutes, flipping them half-way, to get the rest of this set up.

Now, if you recall from my baked beans post, I don’t really do creamy coleslaw. I don’t like the sweetness that’s in the traditional dressing and I don’t like wilted, slimy, embarrassed cabbage. This noble vegetable has done nothing worth hurting that badly. The coleslaw that goes with these tacos, however, is more tangy than sweet and, because it’s freshly made in the short time it takes for the fish to cook through, there’s no wilting. Combine thinly chopped cabbage with some sour cream and diced red onions and a squeeze of lime juice (salt and pepper if you want) and you’re ready to start plating.

The Buzzfeed recipe calls for corn tortillas, but, try as I might, I’m not a fan, so I used flour ones. Is it traditional? No. Will I enjoy eating them more? Yes. If you want to go the more traditional route and use corn tortillas, but aren’t used to preparing them, the texture is different and they are more dry-tasting than flour tortillas. To heat them up and make them a little less susceptible to tearing, you have a few options. 1) Wrap a small stack in damp paper towels and microwave for about 30 seconds at a time, 2) If you have the time and equipment, heat them on a grill over an open flame on a gas stove or hot skillet, turning them when small brown spots appear. Keep them pliable in foil or wrapped in a towel somewhere warm.

I didn’t have to do much to prepare the flour tortillas, so I set them up on the plate and spooned some coleslaw into them before turning to pull my fish from the skillet. Let it sit on the plate and rest for a minute before flaking the fish and splitting into the tacos. Add a little cilantro (if you like it — some people either with or without a certain gene are genetically disposed for it to taste like soap, apparently) and another squeeze of lime and you’re ready to go.

It’s simple, it’s fresh and it’s delicious!

Also, bonus suggestion/recipe: Sour cream is really the biggest calorie bomb here, especially if you use full-fat. Because of that and because some people are allergic to dairy, I tracked down a dairy/mayo-free coleslaw that would not only probably taste great with these, but add a great pop of color. I’d also like to have it noted that the creator of this recipe, Marc Matsumoto, agrees with me about the whole traditional coleslaw thing: “Call me crazy, but I really don’t get the appeal of raw cabbage swimming in mayonnaise soup. That’s why I make my coleslaw without mayonnaise.”

It’s so good to know I’m not alone.

For this to go with the taco recipe above, I’d swap out all things lemon in this recipe for all things lime to go with the flavor profiles, but you could make the lemon work just fine. I’d leave out the honey as well and definitely eat it right away rather than letting it pickle.

Because humiliated vegetables make me sad.

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