Hooked on something different: Fish tacos

If your idea of a Mexican food night involves picking up some ground beef at the supermarket, think

If your idea of a Mexican food night involves picking up some ground beef at the supermarket, think again. Fish tacos have become the rage in restaurants, and they can be easy to make at home for a fresh take on south-of-the-border food.

Ralph Rubio, owner of Rubio’s Fresh Mexican Grill, a chain of restaurants in California, helped to make fish tacos popular in some parts of the United States. Rubio was in Mexico when he saw a sign for fish tacos in a taco shop window and fell in love with the taste. Several years later, in 1983, he and his father opened a walk-up taco stand which, 50 million fish tacos later, has expanded to 180 restaurants.

While fish tacos aren’t as readily available in the Capital Region as they are on the West Coast, you can find them here on some menus.

Customers at Cantina Restaurant in Saratoga Springs enjoy the seafood tacos because they’re new and different, said executive chef Matt Richardson.

“You can get a beef taco or a chicken taco anywhere,” he said. The restaurant’s fish and shrimp tacos are a lighter option than their beef and chicken counterparts. “It’s not a heavy taco,” he said.

Chance for variety

What is great about the seafood option is that home cooks can use different kinds of fish or shellfish to vary the flavor of the tacos to suit their individual tastes. Mahi mahi, tuna, salmon, halibut, grouper, red snapper, catfish, tilapia, lobster, crab, shrimp and scallops — all are fair game. Cooks can use different marinades and spices when cooking with a milder fish, and that will also vary the flavor of the tacos.

Cantina Restaurant serves three kinds of seafood tacos. One has shrimp marinated with jalapeno and garlic, topped with cabbage and pico de gallo. The tuna taco is one of the restaurant’s biggest sellers.

Then there’s the Baja taco, with fish dipped in a beer batter and deep-fried — a process Richardson calls relatively simple — and topped with a salsa containing chipotles, pineapple and red bell pepper, garnished with avocado.

Deborah Schneider, author of “Amor y Tacos, Modern Mexican Tacos, Margaritas, and Antojitos” (2010, Stewart, Tabori & Chang), writes that you can find fish taco stands all along the roadsides and street corners of northern Baja, each with its own special batter and salsa. In her book, she puts her own twist on the Baja taco

by substituting tempura-beer batter for the normal batter.

Seafood tacos can be served in either flour or corn tortilla shells, depending on preference. For home cooks, using different types of seafood and accompaniments provides a great opportunity for easy variety.

Seared Tuna Taco with Jalapeno-Pineapple Salsa

Recipe by Matt Richardson, executive chef at Cantina Restaurant in Saratoga Springs.

For the salsa

1 pineapple

1 jalapeno (seeded and deveined if less heat is desired)

1 small red onion

1 red bell pepper

4 ounces chipotle chilies in adobo sauce

1 tablespoon honey

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

Salt and pepper to taste

For the taco

4 4-ounce portions of fresh yellowfin tuna

3 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil

Salt and pepper

1 tablespoon ancho chili powder

12 small corn tortillas

2 fresh avocados

1 bunch fresh cilantro

Dice the pineapple, jalapeno, red onion and bell pepper. In a food processor (or blender if preferred), combine the chipotles with some adobo sauce, honey, apple cider vinegar, salt and pepper. Add the combined mixture to the diced ingredients and set aside.

In a bowl, add the oil, ancho chili powder, salt and pepper. Marinate the tuna in the mixture for no more than 10 minutes. Grill the tuna until rare (2 minutes per side).

Heat the tortillas in a saucepan, lightly coated with pan spray, until soft.

Assembly: Put 3 tacos onto a serving plate. Thinly slice the tuna and top the tortillas. Top the tuna with the salsa. Add fresh slices of avocado and cilantro to garnish.

The salsa can be made a day in advance and refrigerated. The salsa also goes great with plain tortilla chips for a party or other special occasion.

Shrimp Taco Dorado

Recipe from “Amor y Tacos” by Deborah Schneider (Stewart, Tabori & Chang 2010)

Makes 12 tacos

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons butter or olive oil

1 teaspoon chopped garlic

1 pound medium shrimp, peeled, tails removed, and cut in half if large

1 teaspoon finely chopped chipotles in adobo

1⁄4 teaspoon salt

12 large corn tortillas

1 1⁄2 cups grated Jack cheese

Chipotle salsa

Mango habanero salsa


Cilantro sprigs

In an 8-inch sauté pan, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter or oil over medium heat. When it is heated, but not brown, add the garlic and shrimp, and cook, stirring, until the shrimp are pink. Stir in the chipotles and salt and remove from the heat.

Preheat a heavy pan or griddle over medium heat and brush it lightly with some of the remaining butter or olive oil. Set a corn tortilla on the griddle and scatter 2 tablespoons of shredded Jack cheese evenly over the tortilla. Set 3 or 4 shrimp on one side of the tortilla. When the cheese starts to melt, fold the tortilla in half over the shrimp, and continue to cook on both sides until the cheese is melted and the tortilla is lightly crisped and golden brown.

Open the taco. Dollop 1 teaspoon of chipotle salsa on top of the shrimp and follow with a tablespoon each of guacamole and mango habanero salsa. Tuck a couple of cilantro sprigs into the opening and serve right away.

Deep-Fried Fish Taco Capeado with Spicy Coleslaw

Recipe from “Amor y Tacos” by Deborah Schneider (Stewart, Tabori & Chang 2010)

Makes 12 tacos

3⁄4 pound catfish or striped bass fillets

Tempura batter mix

1 bottle ice-cold beer

1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano, rubbed to a powder

1⁄2 teaspoon granulated garlic

1⁄2 teaspoon cayenne

1⁄4 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper

Vegetable oil for deep-frying

1⁄2 teaspoon kosher salt

12 warm corn tortillas


Mayonesa sauce (recipe below)

Mango habanero salsa

Spicy coleslaw (recipe below)

Cilantro sprigs

Lime wedges

Cut the fish into finger-sized strips and pat dry.

Prepare the tempura mix according to the box directions, substituting beer for the liquid. Stir the oregano, garlic, cayenne and black pepper into the batter. Don’t overmix; tempura batter should be lumpy.

Heat about 1 inch of oil in a deep pan over medium heat (a wok works perfectly) to 350 degrees on a deep-fry thermometer. (To test the heat, drop a little of the batter in the oil. When bubbles form quickly all around, the oil is ready.) Dip the fish strips into the tempura batter, allow the excess to drip off, and fry the fish a few pieces at a time until golden brown and very crisp. Sprinkle the fish with the salt, and keep warm.

On a warm corn tortilla, place a spoonful of guacamole, a piece of fish, and drizzle a stripe of mayonesa sauce on top. Top with salsa, coleslaw, and cilantro sprigs. Serve the lime wedges on the side.

Spicy Coleslaw

Makes 5 cups. To keep it crisp, prepare the vegetables ahead of time, make the dressing separately, and toss with salad a few minutes before serving.

3 cups thinly sliced green cabbage

1 cup thinly sliced red cabbage

1⁄2 cup grated carrot

1⁄2 serrano or (for less heat) jalapeno chili, stemmed and minced (about 1 tablespoon)

2 tablespoons minced red bell pepper

1⁄2 cup minced red onion

1 bunch cilantro, chopped (about 1⁄2 cup)

1 tablespoon fresh-squeezed lime juice

2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

2 tablespoons olive oil

1⁄2 teaspoon salt

In a bowl, combine the cabbages, carrot, chili, bell pepper, onion, and cilantro. In a separate bowl, stir together the remaining ingredients to make the dressing. Just before serving, toss the dressing into the vegetables and use quickly.

Mayonesa Sauce

Makes about 1⁄2 cup. This is the legendary “secret sauce,” a fixture at fish taco stands, where you add it yourself from a pump dispenser. Use small amounts — a perro caliente — to enhance any seafood taco.

1⁄2 cup mayonnaise

1⁄4 teaspoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon fresh-squeezed lime juice

1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro

Whisk all ingredients together. The mayonesa keeps, refrigerated, for 48 hours.

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