Of all foods both highbrow and lowbrow in the vast culinary world, foodies, gourmands (and surfers) almost uniformly will tell you that fish tacos are among the top of the food chain of deliciousness. Tactically, it’s pretty simple: Tortilla + fish + accompaniments. But like omelets and soufflés, it’s the simplest things that require expert technique – lest they go horribly wrong – to truly achieve their full potential.
Much like all tacos, the first thing you’ll need to begin your quest towards fish taco glory is tortillas. Most taco purists will argue that corn tortillas are simply the rule, especially for fish tacos. There’s something magical about the toasted corn flavor mixed with fresh fish and sharp condiments that makes all seem right in the world. However, corn tortillas often have a structural flaw, in that they can become brittle and break apart fairly quickly after heating. Flour tortillas are much more durable in that sense, so if preference and ease prevail for you, it’s fine to go for flour. If you’re able to get your hands on great – even possibly locally made – corn tortillas, opt for them, doubling them up for extra support if needed. If you’re in a pinch and can only get supermarket tortillas, flour might be your best bet. Pro tip: Char flour tortillas briefly on a grill or even dry on top of a gas burner for 15-30 seconds per side to add a smoky flavor and brittle crunch.
Now that your fish taco house has its foundation, another decision involving both tradition and preference must be made: Fried fish, or grilled/baked? If you’re watching your calories, there isn’t much of a decision, but all culinary logic points towards fried fish here. Fish tacos using fried fish are often referred to as Baja-style, thanks to the region of Mexico they’re said to originate from. Tacos employing fried fish add another layer of textural contrast to the overall product, which is why it’s generally the preferred method. As for what kind of fish you should be using, use the ceviche mentality of whatever happens to be the freshest. White fish – cod, hake, pollock, snapper, halibut, flounder, sea bass, etc. – are the go-to thanks to their mild flavor mingling with all of the other ingredients, but if you're the type who prefers “fishier” fish like bluefish or mackerel, those will serve you just as well. You’ll want to avoid fatty, soft fish like salmon or arctic char, which will turn to mush when fried. Once you’ve got your fish, you’ll want to portion the filets into small pieces – anything from 1-inch strips to pieces about the size of your thumb will work. Anything bigger will throw off the fish-to-everything-else dynamic of your taco. Store the filets or portioned fish using the Perfect Temp Drawer in your Electrolux refrigerator on the fish and shellfish setting, designed specifically for the ocean's bounty.
When it comes to the actual frying process, a beer batter or batter using seltzer water, like most fish and chips recipes, is often the most popular method, as it adds a crisp airiness to the coating. You don’t want too thick of a crust, which would overpower the fish, so go light on the coating and be sure to monitor your oil temperature to ensure consistent heat. Too cold, and the fish will soak up too much grease, while too hot will mean the coating will burn without the fish cooking through. Electrolux’s induction cooktops offer cooks complete control over their cooking temperature, making frying much less complicated. Another key to frying success: Don’t overcrowd the oil, which will cause a big drop in oil temperature. Instead, cook in batches, and if you’ve got a big batch to cook, you can keep any already-fried pieces on a wire-lined baking sheet in a 200 degree oven to keep warm.
Should you be going the baked or grilled route, skip the portioning process and cook your fillets whole, breaking them up into taco-sized chunks with a fork or spatula afterwards.
Tortillas? Check. Fish? Done. Now, it’s all about the condiments. Baja-style tacos scream for a cabbage-based slaw, generally punched up with copious amounts of lime juice and sour cream, whose tang cuts through the fried richness of the fish. Variables to add into said slaw often include cilantro, scallion, jalapeno or chilis, fruits like mango or orange – but if you want to give guests the chance to build their own taco experience, you can simply leave those on the side for people to customize on their own whim (in case there’s a cilantro hater in the house). Other essentials to have on hand should you so desire: A bottle of hot sauce and some fresh-made pico de gallo (a simple tomato-onion-cilantro salsa), and extra lime wedges to squeeze on once your tacos are all assembled.
All that’s left to do is grab yourself a cold drink and enjoy the magic of the fish taco.