One of the greatest things the West Coast has to offer is their fish-based Mexican food. To a native East Coaster, the idea of putting fish in a burrito or taco is frankly foreign and kind of repellent, at first thought. Isn’t Mexican food supposed to be a cheesy, gooey mess? Why would you put a fish in it?
In Southern California, however, seafood-based Mexican food is practically ubiquitous and it only took a single fish taco from one of the leading chains to convert me. I still like a traditional burrito well enough, but given the choice I’ll take a fish taco almost any day. Now, all fish tacos are not created equal, and I will admit, for taste alone, I am of the fried fish school of thought (as opposed to those healthier grilled fish varieties). I’ve written before about the best fish burrito in town, a hulking fried fish extravaganza from Senor Fish (locations in Pasadena and elsewhere in the LA area, just google it), but as far as making my own fish tacos or burritos? I wasn’t quite up to it until the other night…
What finally inspired me? The gorgeous shrimp tacos on Food Blogga– that Susan could make just about anything look good! As is my way, I fully intended to copy her, step for step, only to find that on the day I was going to finally make my tacos, Cook’s Illustrated arrived with a feature called Fish 101, instructions on the proper technique for cooking fish in five different ways. Given that most of my hang-up in cooking fish revolves around not having a clue as to what I’m doing, I decided this was the perfect opportunity to learn how to saute tilapia to perfection and then put together some lovely soft tacos with Susan’s unusual grapefruit-jicama-avocado salsa.
So how did they turn out? Absolutely fantastic, even if my picture doesn’t adequately reflect it. The fish was perfect- crispy on the outside, nice and flaky on the inside, complemented perfectly by the citrus and the avocado. I’ll admit I was shocked by just how good they were and am already looking forward to having them again tonight- with some leftover salsa, a quick 5 minute saute and we’ll have another gourmet dinner.
Fish tacos with citrus salsa (serves 4)
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
3 scallions, finely chopped
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
1 ruby red or pink grapefruit, peeled, de-seeded, and diced
1 navel orange peeled, de-seeded, and diced
1/4 cup peeled jicama, diced
1 avocado, diced and sprinkled with lime juice to prevent discoloration
juice of 1 lime
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper or 1 teaspoon minced jalapeno pepper (without seeds)
1 tablespoon minced fresh cilantro
4 mild fish filets (I used tilapia)
sprinkle of kosher salt
1-2 tbsp butter
1-2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup flour (or as needed)
1. To make the salsa, simply combine all ingredients in a medium size bowl and toss gently until well combined.
2. Pat fish dry and season both sides generously with salt. Let fish stand for about 5 minutes, until it glistens with moisture.
3. Place the flour in a pie plate and dredge fish in flour. Shake off any excess.
4. Heat 1-2 tbsp oil in skillet over high heat. Add 1-2 tbsp butter and heat until foaming subsides. Reduce heat to medium and add fish to pan. When bottom of fish is golden brown, use two spatulas to gently flip fish. Continue to cook to desired doneness.
5. While the fish is cooking, warm soft taco-size tortillas in the oven at ~250 degrees, being sure not to burn them. When fish is done, cut into large bite-size pieces (about 6 per tilapia filet) and divide among tortillas. Top with a generous helping of salsa and fold in half. Garnish with additional cilantro, if desired. Enjoy!