Saturday, August 6, 2011

Fish Tacos with Tequila-Lime Aioli and Auntie Jojo's Black Bean Salad


I love fish. Growing up, whenever we ate out I almost always ordered fish...even as a kid at McDonald's, I was far more likely to be found with a Filet-O-Fish than I was with a Happy Meal. My little sister hated fish, so we never got to have it at I ate it every chance I got. Even now, more often than not I tend to order fish when I go out. Old habits die hard, I guess - or I really do love fish that much !

I also love tacos. I remember tacos being the first meal I was ever allowed to cook in Maine, which was a huge deal (that was a house full of seriously good cooks, and the kids weren't really allowed in the kitchen).  Tacos are not only tasty and fairly healthy (well, except the cheese and sour cream), but they are great for feeding kids (and picky grownups). Fun to build your own food, and you can just put in what you like. Kid friendly, grown-up foodie approved !

Given my affection for all things fish and taco related, it seems amazing that I had never sampled the delight that is the fish taco until last year. Somehow fish and taco were two words that never went together in my head...sort of like bacon and chocolate. (Which actually do go together. But I digress :) ). After seeing a coworker order some really fantastic-looking fish tacos at one of our favorite lunch spots, I decided to take the plunge. Oh, yeah. Spicy bits of fish, the cooling crunch of cabbage, the silkiness and tang of the cream...that's some Culinary Orgasm right there.

Fish tacos originated in Baja California , and are very popular on the West Coast - though they are definitely working their way on to a lot of menus here in the Northeast. There are two popular varieties - one in which the fish is battered, fried and crunchy, and one where the fish is spiced and grilled or quickly pan-seared. Though we're definitely not afraid of the deep fryer around these parts, I decided to go with the non-battered version...even here at CO HQ, we do try to eat healthy at least once in a while. Shredded cabbage, a sour cream or crema (basically Mexican sour cream), and some sort of salsa round out the basic construction. The version you see here is one of my usual mashups - I did a lot of reading and incorporated bits of different recipes as well as my own ideas. This one is basically a  Bobby Flay / Alton Brown / Guy Fieri cover (the aioli is pretty much all Guy, and a brilliant idea). The only thing I really wish I had done differently is used a crunchy corn shell wrapped in a flour shell...I had them that way once, and it was by far the best presentation when using a non-battered fish component. (I did soft and soft, which was okay...but soft/hard would have been much better !) You can of course do just soft or just hard rather that doubling up - it's your party ! The doubling prevents the hard shell from disintegrating at first bite, which is my major problem with hard taco shells.

Black bean salad is a perfect accompaniment to tacos - my sister (the fish hating one) actually puts it in her tacos, which I have to admit is a pretty damn good idea. My much beloved sister-in-law who moved to Key West a few years ago sent us back this recipe, and it is truly a winner - easy to make, plenty of flavor, super cool and refreshing. Jojo specifies English cucumbers, which I do prefer myself - but the guys who live here are not fans of the English, so I use plain ol' American instead. I wish she would send herself back more often - I miss her all the time - but for now, I'll just eat this salad and think of her.

yummy fishes !

choose your weapon

Tequila-Lime Aioli

Black Bean Salad

* "Tacos Rule" is a Robot Chicken reference - see here or here . Yes, I know it's pretty dumb. So am I, sometimes :)

Fish Tacos

Fish :

1 1/2 lbs white flaky fish - tilapia or mahimahi work very well
2 T canola oil (plus extra for pan)
2 T tequila
juice and zest of 1 lime
1/2 tsp cumin
1 1/2 tsp chipotle powder
1 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1 clove garlic
1/4 c chopped fresh cilantro
salt and pepper to taste

Garnishes :

Sour Cream or Tequila-Lime Aioli (recipe follows)
Prepared salsa of your choice
Shredded cabbage (I like the look and flavor of the red, but use whichever you like better)
Chopped red and green onions
Chopped cilantro
Lime wedges
8 - 10 hard taco shells, heated according to package directions
8 - 10 flour tortillas, heated

Tequila-Lime Aioli

8 oz sour cream OR crema OR Crème fraiche
juice and zest of 1 lime
2 T tequila
1 tsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp cumin
2 T cilantro

For fish - combine all ingredients except fish in blender, and blend well to make a marinade. Pour marinade over fish (large Ziploc works well) and marinate for 15 - 20 minutes. Heat a large pan (a griddle or grill pan works great) and brush with oil. Cook the fillets until just cooked through and opaque, about 4 minutes per side. Serve in taco shells wrapped in tortillas, and let everyone garnish accordingly.

Auntie Jojo's Black Bean Salad

1 large or 2 small cucumbers, peeled and chopped into cubes
1 15 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 15 oz can kernel corn, drained and rinsed
1/2 c chopped red onion
1 tsp minced garlic
1/4 tsp cumin
juice of 2 limes (I throw a little of the zest in too)
chopped cilantro to taste

Mix all ingredients, and chill.

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