I was in the Air Force, stationed near Oxnard, California in the late 1950s, when I discovered the joy of tacos.
That first taco wasn’t fancy. It was just seasoned hamburger, shredded lettuce, chopped tomato, grated cheese and a drizzle of store-bought taco sauce in a crisp corn tortilla shell, but to this boy from a logging town in western Washington, it was the most exotic food I’d ever eaten.
About 10 years ago, I came across a recipe for fish tacos, and added those to my taco-building repertoire. Most any fish you like to eat, you’ll like in a taco. Tacos are a great way to finish off left-overs. Earlier this week, I made them with left-over, deep-fried halibut, and I often make them with left-over salmon. Following is my recipe for fish tacos. I’ve included instructions for cooking seafood with Panko along with a few other tips.
Fish Tacos with Salsa Verde
Prepare salsa and sour cream (recipes below) before cooking fish.
4 flour tortillas (soft taco size)
1 lb. boneless, skinless fish, cut into bite-sized chunks
1 cup peanut oil
1 cup Panko
1/2 cup rice flour
Your choice of spices and herbs (see below)
1 large egg
2 T. water
1 cup shredded white cabbage
¼ cup sour cream mixed with zest of 1 lime
1 or 2 jalapeno peppers, seeds and veins removed, finely chopped
2 med. tomatillos, finely chopped
1 T. finely chopped sweet onion
1 T. fresh lime juice
¼ t. ground cumin
¼ t. ground corriander
¼ t. salt
½ t. honey
2 T. chopped cilantro leaves
Mix salsa ingredients, cover and refrigerate for an hour or so to allow flavors to blend.
In a wok or small sauce pan, preheat oil (about 1/2-inch deep) to 375 degrees (F.). Mix rice flour and spices in a plastic bag. Add fish pieces to bag and shake until all are thinly coated. Lightly beat egg and water in small bowl. One piece at a time, dip fish in egg mixture with a fork, allow to drain for a moment, then place in Panko and thoroughly coat with a teaspoon. Set Panko-coated pieces aside on a plate.
Cook fish a few pieces at a time, without crowding. Avoid overcooking. Turn pieces once. Small pieces will be done in about one minute, total cooking time. Fish should be crisp on outside and moist inside. Place finished pieces on rack to drain, then put in a warm oven until ready to serve.
In a fry pan on the stove top, heat tortillas one at a time, turning once, until warm. Place a row of cooked fish in center of warm tortilla. Add cabbage, salsa and sour cream, and serve immediately.
Panko, or Japanese rice breading, is good for coating all kinds of seafood. It has two advantages over beer-batter coating. Panko doesn’t soak up as much grease as batter. When Panko-coated food cools, it’s doesn’t become soggy the way battered food does. Rice flour, when combined with a beaten egg, is the “glue” that holds Panko on the fish. Rice flour and Panko can be found in local food stores.
Peanut oil is the preferred oil for cooking fish. It’s lighter than canola, and has a high smoke-point, which allows cooking at 375 degrees.
I like using an electric wok for this recipe. It uses very little oil, and it maintains the temperature well. It’s no deep-frier, by it does a good job on small pieces.
As for spices, I usually make a mixture that includes paprika, lemon pepper, garlic powder and cayenne powder. For herbs, I sometimes add dried dill weed, thyme or oregano. A lot of the flavor of the spices and herbs are lost in the frying process, so I add a teaspoon or so to everything that goes on the fish — rice flour, egg and Panko.
If you have a package of tortillas and a jar or can of store-bought salsa at hand, you can make fish tacos in less time than it takes to get a pizza delivered, and for a lot less moola.
Les Palmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.