By Nathan Sonnenfeld
When I was 12, I visited my brother in California. We went to dinner at a taqueria called Tacolicious. I was struck by the authenticity of this restaurant compared to the Tex-Mex restaurants I was used to in Central New York. I ordered a glass of horchata, a Mexican rice drink with strong cinnamon and vanilla flavors, and a plate of Baja-style fish tacos.
For my birthday a few months later, my brother sent me a cookbook from Tacolicious filled with delectable recipes from the popular taqueria. It was not long before fish tacos, horchata, and gazpacho (although not from this restaurant, a family favorite) was a common meal in my house.
Although we maintain the majority of the original fish taco recipe, we make three frequent alterations. We sometimes grill the fish instead of frying it to make the meal lighter. Secondly, my father loves to crush chipotle peppers in adobo sauce and combine it with sour cream to create a creamy, spicy topping. Lastly, we add guacamole, because everything’s better with guacamole.
And one thing I learned from this taqueria is that real tacos do not have cheese in them. Ever.
(For a printable copy of all three recipes, click here)
Baja-Style Fish Tacos
Time: 30 – 45 minutes
Servings: about 12 tacos; serves 4 to 6
1¼ lbs cod or similar fish, cut into taco-sized strips
1 tablespoon kosher salt
Vegetable oil for deep frying
1¼ cups plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3¼ teaspoons baking powder
4 teaspoons kosher salt
1 (12 ounce) can light-bodied beer
1½ cups crema
3 cups shredded green or purple cabbage
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
12 lime wedges
Sprinkle salt on both sides of the fish and set aside.
Pour 1½ inches of oil into a deep, heavy pot and heat oil to 350ºF.
Line a baking sheet with paper towels.
Make the batter while the oil heats. Stir together flour, baking powder and salt.
Gradually add the beer and stir until smooth.
To cook the fish, work in batches so as not to crowd the pieces in the oil. Using tongs, dip each piece into the batter, let the excess drain off, and carefully submerge it in the oil. Fry for 2 to 3 minutes, until golden brown and cooked through. Transfer the fish to the baking sheet and season with salt.
Preheat a cast-iron pan to medium and lightly oil it. When warm, add a corn tortilla. Flip once it is soft and you can smell the corn, maybe 30 seconds. Repeat with remaining tortillas.
Serve fish with the tortillas, crema, cabbage, cilantro, lime, and salsa.
Recipe adapted from “Tacolicious,” by Sara Deseran
Servings: about 8 cups; serves 6
Est. Start to finish: 5-13 hours (1 hr active)
2 cups long-grain white rice
1 (2-inch) cinnamon stick
¼ vanilla bean
7 to 8 cups water
½ cup sweetened condensed milk
1 ½ teaspoons freshly squeezed lime juice
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup sugar
⅛ teaspoon ground cinnamon, plus more for garnish
½ teaspoon kosher salt
In a bowl, combine rice, cinnamon stick, vanilla bean, and 4 cups of the water, cover and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.
Transfer rice mixture to a blender and puree on high speed for 2 to 3 minutes, until smooth. Strain through a chinois or a fine mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth into a bowl, using the back of a wooden spoon to help push it all through. (If you are using a sieve and don’t have a cheesecloth, strain the mixture twice.) Discard the solids.
Rinse out the blender canister and return it to its base. Pour the rice liquid back into the blender. Add the condensed milk, lime juice, vanilla extract sugar, cinnamon, and salt and puree for 1 minute, until smooth. Pour into a pitcher and add the remaining 3 to 4 cups water, according to taste.
Cover and refrigerate before serving. Serve in tall glasses over ice. Top with a light dusting of cinnamon.
Recipe adapted from ‘Tacolicious,’ by Sara Deseran
Start to finish: 2 hr 45 min (45 active)
1 ½ pounds vine-ripened tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1 cup cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped
½ cup chopped red bell pepper
½ cup chopped red onion
1 small jalapeno, seeded and minced
1 medium garlic clove, minced
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 lime, juiced
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
½ teaspoon toasted, ground cumin
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons fresh basil leaves, chiffonade
Fill a 6-quart pot halfway full of water, set over high heat and boil.
Make an X with a paring knife on the bottom of the tomatoes. Drop the tomatoes into the boiling water for 15 seconds, remove and transfer to an ice bath and allow to cool until able to handle, 1 minute. Remove and pat dry. Peel, core and seed the tomatoes. When seeding the tomatoes, place the seeds and pulp into a fine mesh strainer set over a bowl in order to catch the juice. Press as much of the juice through as possible and then add enough bottled tomato juice to bring the total to 1 cup.
Place the tomatoes and juice into a large mixing bowl. Add the cucumber, bell pepper, red onion, jalapeno, garlic clove, olive oil, lime juice, balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire, cumin, salt and pepper and stir to combine. Transfer 1 ½ cups of the mixture to a blender and puree for 15 to 20 seconds on high speed. Return the pureed mixture to the bowl and stir to combine. Cover and chill for 2 hours and up to overnight. Serve with chiffonade of basil.
Recipe from Alton Brown (http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/gazpacho-recipe)