Dinner Tonight: Fish Tacos

I know, it's soggy out and doesn't feel much like mid-June, but let's warm up and pretend we're surfers instead.

Dude, wherever you are, the sun is blazing and your hair is streaked with it. Those were some killer waves, and now I'm starved. Let's make some grub and polish our boards.

Darn. Still soggy, I'm afraid.

Well, if the power of imagination won't kick in with a summery movie backdrop, how about the power of the kitchen? There's nothing like a batch of fish tacos (Real Player video)) to whisk you away from gray skies (or the concrete jungle).

Chunks of tilapia or mahi mahi filets get dipped into a beer batter and are quickly fried into golden nuggets that are worlds away from the fast-food version. But before you heat up that skillet, get your taco fixins together -some shredded green cabbage for color and crunch and a simple pico de gallo (tomatoes, scallions, cilantro, jalapeno, lime) to zip up the entire equation.

With a batch of flour tortillas heated up (try wrapping them in a damp paper towel in the microwave for 1 minute), you can start the assembly line and build your own taco.

This is a fun project for kids who like to help out in the kitchen - someone to dip the fish in the batter or make the pico de gallo, for example - and festive enough for an impromptu dinner party for grown-up surfers, complete with cerveza or margaritas!

So, I challenge you: On the way home from work tonight, pick up some fish for tacos and see if you don't feel the temperature rising with that first bite. Start to finish: 1 hour, less if you cook as a team.

Come on - surf's up!

Fish Tacos Recipe

Make Taco Fixings
3-4 plum tomatoes, seeded and diced
Small handful of cilantro, finely chopped
1/2 jalapeno, diced (or something hotter if you like)
3-4 scallions, cleaned, roots removed, white and light green part diced
squeeze of lime
salt to taste

Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Taste for seasoning. Set aside. Drain accumulated water, if necessary.

Shred half a small head of green cabbage. Spritz with a squeeze of lime and salt. Set aside.

Make Batter (amounts can be doubled)
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
half of one 12-ounce beer
1/2 tsp. yellow (ball park style) mustard
1/2 tsp dried oregano or a small handful of chopped fresh oregano
salt to taste

Mix all ingredients and whisk to combine. A rubber spatula may be needed to help mix well. Batter will be somewhat effervescent. Batter should be consistency of pancake batter; if too thick, gradually add more beer.

Cook Fish
Slice fish into 1/2 inch-wide strips. Dip into batter. Heat a skillet and add cooking oil to cover bottom of pan. Saute fish for about 1 1/2 minutes per side, until golden brown.

While fish is cooking, warm tortillas (I used flour, but corn is more traditional) either in the oven or in the microwave. If using a microwave, wrap tortillas in a damp paper towel and heat for about 30 seconds. If using the oven, moisten the tortillas with wet hands and wrap in foil. Heat at 300 hundred for about five minutes.

Immediately stuff tortillas with cabbage, fish and pico de gallo. White sauce (a combination of equal parts mayonnaise and sour cream and a few squeezes of lemon) is a traditional finale for the top, but it's up to you. Other possibilities are green sauce made with tomatillos or red sauce, made with guajillo chiles.

By Kim ODonnel |  June 12, 2006; 11:45 AM ET Dinner Tonight
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I like the recipe but suggest using
U.S. Farm-Raised Catfish instead.

Posted by: Jim Steeby | June 12, 2006 3:44 PM

How much fish is a good amount for the batter and pico de gallo you list?

Posted by: EPR | June 12, 2006 4:30 PM

Jim: Thanks for adding to the list. Farm-raised catfish is great for tacos.
EPR: 1 pound of fish, trimmed of skin, etc, will give you enough for 9 tacos, and i'd say two tacos per person is ample for dinner. There was leftover batter, so you if you wanted to use it up, I'd say 1 1/4 pounds fish would cover you. Cheers.

Posted by: KIm O'Donnel | June 12, 2006 4:47 PM

Try it with corn tortillas instead - just heat them right on the gas stove top range, turning over 3-4 times until soft. The lime and corn flavor in the tortilla complements the fish much better than the doughy, bland, Texas-style flour tortillas that they sell around here.

Red snapper (huachinango) also works well.

Posted by: Mexican from L.A. in D.C. | June 12, 2006 5:58 PM

Kim, I made your fish tacos last night and they were delish! I used tilapia filets and corn tortillas (I got mine at Harris Teeter, found them right there next to the regular flour tortillas), fresh pico di gallo (with LOTS of cilantro), the lime marinated cabbage, and a little sour cream mixed with lime juice. I have a question, though. The fish stuck to the bottom of the pan, and when I went to turn the pieces, I lost most of the batter as it stuck. I was cooking over med-high heat, and I made sure the oil was good and hot before putting the fish in to fry (I dropped a bit of batter into the oil as a tester). Any suggestions to prevent sticking next time?

Posted by: Love those tacos! | June 14, 2006 3:34 PM

Love, You were correct to get oil good and hot, but one key is to avoid the temptation of flipping the fish too early. Let them cook! Try 3 minutes before doing so. You may also need a good inch of oil to help keep things swimming nicely. Also, after you remove a batch, remove any brown bits and let oil heat up for at least 30 seconds before adding new batch. Let me know if this helps.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | June 14, 2006 4:23 PM

Flour tortillas for fish tacos?!? Egads, Kim, what are you thinking?!? Fish tacos should ONLY be wrapped with the heaven that exists in a corn tortilla. For the best fish taco you'll ever have, head to the Surf-n-Taco at the Ventura marina around suppertime and, after eating your fill, watch the sunset over the Channel Islands. Or, if a flight out to SoCal is too expensive, you can always make your own.

Posted by: Sam F. | September 21, 2006 1:56 PM

Sam, Oh how right you are. The corn tortillas availabe locally in stores are just not up to snuff. I don't have the equipment to make my own which is really what I want to do. Believe me, I know flour tortillas are no equivalent to the corn, and one day soon you may find me hanging out on that marina scarfing down a proper taco. Many thanks.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | September 22, 2006 9:12 AM

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