Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Fish Tacos

This post is long over-due, but the timing is perfect for this steamy weather.  I cannot take complete credit for this mini-series of recipes that resulted in some very tasty fish tacos, as a co-chef assisted me in their creation.  I can, however, take complete credit for my awkward, cheeky prose.  This was quite the journey for a couple of co-chefs.  And while we both worked hard to soften our culinary opinions in order to collaborate, the composition of the final product was quite simple.  In other words, the food was both good and easy. 

Deciding to make fish tacos was easy; deciding what to put on them was not.  There are so many viable options, and combinations (go to foodgawker and search “fish tacos;” the search results will make your head spin).  I will not go into the details of how we made our decision, but do know that this matter was not taken lightly.  We settled on the following combination: soft corn tortillas with sautéed white fish fillets, topped with guacamole, red cabbage slaw, and jack cheese.  The result was a fresh, light, and satisfying meal, which only required 10-15 minutes of heat from a single burner on the stove.  At the time it was thunder storming and 70 degrees, but it is currently 95 degrees outside, and the minimal heat requirements are becoming an increasingly important selling point.

First, my co-chef made guacamole.  It was a standard, but well executed guac, with the primary focus on the perfectly ripe avocados.  I think the key to this recipe is allowing the onions to sit in a bit of lime juice, which mitigated their raw, acrid flavor.  I tried to stay out of his way during its construction because, not surprisingly, I can be a little bossy in the kitchen.  However, I have gleaned the following information:

1 Roma tomato, diced
2 tablespoons minced red onion
Juice from ½ lime
2 ripe avocados, seed removed and flesh scooped out into a large bowl
1 teaspoon of mayonnaise
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

-       Squeeze the lime juice over the minced onion while preparing your remaining ingredients.
-       Add all ingredients in a large bowl and gently mix together.  Taste for seasoning.
-       Cover the guacamole with plastic wrap directly on the surface to prevent browning, and chill until you are ready to serve.

Next, I made the red cabbage slaw.  I have never worked with a whole head of cabbage before, and it was surprisingly easy.  First I removed a few of the outer leaves.  Then, while my co-chef watched nervously, I used a big knife to cut it in half, then quarters.  I removed the core by cutting into the cabbage on an angle, and then (carefully) made thin slices with a knife.  This was not a complex process, and so much more delicious than the pre-shredded bags (although those are not terrible if you’re in a time crunch).  The cabbage and some shredded carrots were dressed in a simple lime-based vinaigrette, formulated from the following recipe:  Over all, this slaw was a little smoky and a little spicy, and had a refreshing and satisfying crunch.  As a testament to how good it was, I ate the leftovers the next day directly out of the bowl they had been stored in, and then proceeded to make another batch with the lingering cabbage.

Red Cabbage Slaw
½ red cabbage, sliced
1 carrot, grated
2 scallions, finely chopped
¼ jalapeno, seeds and ribs removed, and minced (this can be replaced with a good squirt of sriracha in the dressing)
2 tbs. lime juice
2 tbs. olive oil
1 heaping tsp. mayonnaise
¼-½ teaspoon cumin (I used the latter amount the second time I made it, and it was great)
½ teaspoon honey
Salt and pepper, to taste (about ¼ teaspoon each)

-       In a bowl, combine lime juice, salt, pepper, cumin, honey, and mayonnaise.  Whisk together until thoroughly combined.
-       Slowly whisk in olive oil.  Taste dressing and adjust seasonings.
-       In a large bowl, toss the dressing with remaining ingredients.

I then prepared a plate of condiments (shredded jack cheese, cilantro leaves, and adorable little lime wedges), and my co-chef cooked the fish.  For this, I have to adorn him with enormous culinary praise. It was perfectly cooked, and perfectly seasoned. We used basa, which is a firm white fish, similar to tilapia.  I cannot go into too much detail because he deliberately shielded me from the kitchen during his cooking process (a difficult task in a studio apartment).  This was not out of secrecy, but because I am a terrible “backseat cook.”  He claims to have done the following (but he is a lawyer, and probably can’t be trusted):

Sautéed Basa Fillets
-       Preheat a large non-stick skillet over medium high heat with a thin, even coating of olive oil.
-       Season 1 lb. of basa fillets with a spritz of lime juice and a light sprinkling of cayenne, Lawry’s seasoned salt, chili powder, cumin, and salt/pepper. (Skip the cayenne if you’re not into spicy; go very light with it even if you are into spicy.)
-       Sprinkle lightly with a couple of teaspoons of flour. (Mr. Co-Chef says he wouldn’t do this again, but I liked it.)
-       Cut the fillets in half and sauté until the fish is opaque and firm (a couple of minutes on each side).
-       Assemble tacos and enjoy!

We used small white corn tortillas, heated briefly in the microwave.  If the word “microwave” makes you cringe, you could use the oven or the stove.  This meal was so delicious: crunchy, creamy, spicy, tart, and fresh.  You will find ample visual evidence that supports these claims.  You are even allowed the pleasure of seeing my overly-freckled face take a perfect bite of “mini-taco” (i.e. a bite of all the ingredients besides a tortilla for those who are too full to eat another taco, but can’t stop eating).