Monday, August 11, 2008

Taco Town

Meeting people from the west coast can give you an entirely new perspective on life, especially where food is concerned. I always thought that the tacos I ate back home in Maryland were the best around, but after moving to New York for college and talking the the many Californians I encountered, I learned that there was a whole world of tacos west of the Mississippi. Although I'd long been a fan of the hard-shelled beef taco, sharing a room with a food savvy Los Angelino for a year brought me around. She constantly spoke of the wonders of the taco stands back home in L.A., and how no New York City taco could even compare. After sampling what New York's taco joints had to offer, my former roomie introduced me to the culinary delight that is the fish taco. Strongly contrasting everything I'd always known and loved about tacos, the fish taco presented me with a wonderful new food option.

Before I knew it, my love for crunchy, meaty tacos was tossed aside and replaced with an obsession for soft tacos filled with crispy fried fish and topped with fresh avocado. My roommate was of course correct in suggesting that there were few fish tacos in the city worthy of a west coaster's praise. To that end, I have taken it upon myself over the years to perfect my own recipe for the fish taco. I often find that those at restaurants are drowned in a million toppings or swimming in a sea of salsa. The fish itself is often not so tasty or juicy, and generally lacks a great deal of flavor and crunch. The first thing to figure out when trying to make an excellent fish taco is deciding on the kind of fish you should use. I like something that can be cut into nice thick 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch strips and holds up to frying while staying moist inside. I bought a lovely piece of pollock at the farmer's market on the recommendation of the fellow behind the counter. He suggested that I use it for both the tacos and a ceviche I'd be making the same day.

After finding the right fish, I got to figuring out what a good coating would be. Cornmeal has worked well for me in the past, so I took a cue from the fried green tomatoes I made the other day and did something similar, replacing the spicy smoked paprika with sweet smoked paprika, and adding a few turns of fresh black pepper and salt. The result was a savory cornmeal mixture that created a thin but crispy coating on the fish after it was fried. I topped the tacos with a simple avocado salsa, crunchy iceberg lettuce, and some chopped Mexican chorizo I had in the fridge. A few extra squeezes of lime juice over the whole thing and they were ready to serve.

Crispy Fish Tacos

1/2 lb boneless, skinless pollock (or other flaky white fish) cut into 1/2 to 3/4 inch strips (this will make 4 tacos)
1 cup cornmeal
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 egg, beaten
vegetable or canola oil
4 soft flour tortillas, warmed through in a dry, non-stick skillet

1. Combine cornmeal, smoked paprika, pepper and salt (2 tsp) in a shallow bowl and set aside.

2. Season fish with salt and coat in egg, then in cornmeal mixture.

3. Heat 1/4 inch of vegetable or canola oil in a non-stick skillet on medium heat. Add fish and cook until browned and crispy on both sides. Remove to a paper towel covered plate to drain.

4. Top flour tortillas with fish and toppings of your choice (I like avocado, lettuce and chorizo) and a squeeze of lime juice. Enjoy!


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