Friday, June 3, 2011

Tacos de Pescado (Fish Tacos)

I can remember, as a kid, going fishing with my grandfather on a few occasions.  My grandfather gave me a pole and my own tackle box.  We fished for perch or trout in the Metroparks outside of Cleveland or at nearby fish farms.  We usually fished with live bait, mostly worms.  After sticking the worms on the hook, I would do my best to cast out into the river or the pond.  I'd then sit down next to my grandfather, who had already cast his line, waiting for the fish to bite.  Meanwhile, my grandfather did his best to endure the short attention span and patience of his grandson, especially when the fish were not biting.  We did have some success catching fish, because I can remember bringing the fish home and watching my grandfather clean the fish on our picnic table. We ate the fish for dinner, and, if I can recall correctly, served with corn on the cob. I look back fondly to those times, treasuring the time I spent fishing with my grandfather.  If I have any regrets, it is that I did not go fishing with my grandfather more often.

During our recent vacation, I had the opportunity to relive those memories to a degree when I went fishing with my beautiful wife, Clare, her father and one of her cousins.  We booked a half-day excusion on the Pamlico Sound where we fished for grey tout, flounder and bluefish.  Everybody caught trout and flounder, although many had to be thrown back because they were too small.  I caught only one trout that was a keeper, and, it was the largest trout that any of us caught.  I also caught about four or five flounder; however, all were too small to keep.  In the end, our combined efforts produced enough fish that, after being cleaned, we had twenty-two fillets.

The menu for the evening was to be beef tacos.  So, we all decided that it would be great to also have fish tacos.  Personally, thoughts of fish tacos prepared in the style of Mexican or Southern Californian street food were racing through my head.  I did not have any recipes; and, in fact, I had never purchased a fish taco from a street vendor in either Mexico or Southern California.  However, I have made fish tacos several times in the past.  Those prior efforts have apparently been very successful because Clare always looks forward to the next time that I make fish tacos.  

For this occasion, I decided on a few basic steps for this recipe.  I first marinated the fish for a brief period of time using beer and citrus juice (both lemon and lime juice).  The objective was to add just enough citrus flavor to the fish.  The key to any citrus marinade is timing, because when the citrus juice comes into contact with the meat, there are chemical reactions that will cause the meat to "cook." And, if the meat is left in the citrus juice for too long, the fish will become ceviche.  While I like ceviche, that is not the meal that we wanted to make with our catch.   By adding beer to the marinade, the citrus juice becomes somewhat diluted, thereby slightly slowing down the chemical reactions.  Based upon the amount of fish I had and my prior experience, I decided that I would marinate the the fish for no more than ten minutes.

When making the marinade, I added more than just beer and citrus juice.  I used ingredients that, for me, are associated with Mexican or Southern Californian street food, such as oregano, cayenne pepper, garlic and smoked paprika.  I used the smoked paprika because I wanted to add a hint of smokiness to the fish.  If you do not have any smoked paprika, you could use ancho chile powder or chipotle powder, both of which have smoky elements in their flavors because they are made from smoked chiles that are popular in Mexican cuisine.

Finally, given the amount of fish that we had to eat, not to mention the fixings (including some very tasty guacamole), I decided to used tortillas rather than the traditional soft taco shells.   This enabled people to put a lot of fish, lettuce, tomatoes, onions and, of course, guacamole, togther to create some awesome tacos. 

A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 10

Your catch of the day (or 2 to 3 pounds of fish fillets)
1 bottle of beer (the lighter, the better)
4 lemons, juiced
4 limes, juiced
4 teaspoons of smoked paprika
4 teaspoons of cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons of dried oregano
2 cloves of garlic, diced finely
4 tablespoons of unsalted butter
Salt, to taste
Ground pepper, to taste
10 or more tortillas
All of the fixings (lettuce, guacamole, tomatoes, onions, lettuce, etc.)

1.  Marinate the fish.  In two Ziploc bags, add one clove of garlic, the juice from two lemons, the juice from two limes, 1 tablespoon of dried oregano, 2 teaspoons of smoked paprika and 2 teaspoons of dried cayenne pepper.  Pour half of the beer into each bag.  Divide the fish evenly between the two bags. Add some salt and ground pepper.   Mix all of the contents thoroughly, making sure the fish are covered by both the liquid and the dried herbs/spices.  Let the fish marinate for no more than ten minutes.

2.  Saute the fish.  Add two tablespoons of butter to a pan on medium high heat.  After the butter has melted, saute the fish in batches.  Cook each fish for a couple minutes on each side and flip the fish to the best of your ability.  The fish will begin to break apart, which is okay. After each batch of fish is cooked, remove the fish to a plate and cover it with some aluminum foil.  Add another tablespoon of butter and, after the butter has melted, add the next batch of fish.  Cook each batch as you did the first one.

3.  Heat the tortillas.  After the fish is cooked, heat a frying man on medium heat.  Place a tortilla on the pan and allow it to heat up for one minute.  Flip the tortilla and heat the other side for one minute.  Remove the tortilla to a plate and repeat this heating process for the remaining tortillas.

4.  Plate the dish.  Serve the fish with the tortillas and all of the fixings.  I recommend the fixings include lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and guacamole.  You can also include jalapeno peppers for those who like a little spice in their food. 

This meal was the first time that I had eaten fish that I caught the same day since I went fishing with my grandfather more than twenty years ago.  The meal was also a great way to end a fun fishing trip with my Angel, my father-in-law, and one of Clare's cousins.

The memories of fishing with my grandfather, along with the experence of fishing with family on the Pamlico sound, have definitely kindled a renewed interest on my part in fishing as a recreational activity.  Now, I just need to get some free time to go fishing....


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