Volcano of oil

Sept. 7, 2013
Cook’s Country – August/September 2013
California-Style Fish Tacos

130907fishtacosYou can’t just wrap a fish in a tortilla and call it a California-style taco. You need light, crisp fried fish, the perfect toppings, and high-contrast flavors and textures. ~ Rebeccah Marsters

I’m a bit late with this post, and in fact was a bit late with the making of this “August” challenge (I blame work!) and am now playing catch up, which means you guys will be getting back-to-back recipes … not sure if that’s a good thing 😉

So, back in early August, Big Ring and I met up with our New York turned trucker friends for dinner at the first annual Columbia StrEAT food cart festival in New Westminster. Now, normally I steer clear of street food, it just doesn’t sit well with my belly, but the foods featured in these carts, they were far too intriguing not to try. There was Holy Perogy, Beljam’s Waffles, Chilli Tank, and Vij’s Railway Express – yes that Vij! Super chef Vikram Vij bringing out what was sure to be yummy Indian eats at a fraction of the cost of his hoity toity restaurant fares.

I had hoped this event would have been sampler style so I could try bits from multiple carts, but no, it was a wait in a hour plus lineup and hope the food you want is still available when you finally reach the front of the line kind of event. But I digress. I chose Vij, and I don’t know, maybe I had hyped the food up in my head, but I was fairly underwhelmed by it all 🙁

Yet, still, the atmosphere, the people, the feet on the street, the potential of such an event intrigued the heck out of me. And so, when I spotted California-style fish tacos in my latest Cook’s Country magazine, there wasn’t any debate about it, I knew that would be my August cooking challenge. How is that not street food???

But let me tell you that hot, spitting oil wasn’t gonna let me off easy. According to the recipe, I needed to keep the temperature at 350 degrees while the fish was sizzling inside, but the thing is, I didn’t have a temperature gauge, so your guess was as good as mine as to how hot that oil actually was. That said, given it spat a fiery volcano’s worth of oil up at me every time I laid a piece of battered fish down in it, I’m thinking it was probably hot enough.

When I wasn’t dodging the spitting oil, I was fighting to keep the battered fish from sticking to the bottom of the Dutch oven. Apparently there’s was a skill to it: when you place the fish in the oil, it’s advised you slide it along the bottom of the Dutch oven. Well, let me just say, that did NOT work. I swear half the fish was a mangled battered mess!

Overall, this was not my favourite recipe. I liked the heat of the jalapeños mixed with the refreshing white lime sauce, but I just couldn’t get over the battered fish. It tasted fine, don’t get me wrong, and it went well with a cold beer, and Big Ring said it was even better the next day, but I’m really just not a fan of deep fried. I think, for me, fresh fish – no batter – would have been a much better, repeat-worthy option.

1 small red onion, halved and sliced thin
2 jalapeño chiles, stemmed and sliced into thin rings
1 cup white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt

3 cups shredded green cabbage
1/4 cup pickling liquid from pickled onions
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons milk

2 pounds skinless whitefish fillets, such as cod, haddock, or halibut, cut crosswise into 4 by 1-inch strips (I used cod)
Salt and pepper
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup beer (light bodied lagers work best)
1 quart peanut or vegetable oil
24 (6-inch) corn tortillas, warmed
1 cup fresh cilantro leaves

1. FOR THE PICKLED ONIONS: Combine onion and jalapeños in medium bowl. Bring vinegar, lime juice, sugar and salt to boil in small saucepan. Pour vinegar mixture over onion mixture and let sit for at least 30 minutes. (Pickled onions can be made and refrigerated up to 2 days in advance.)
2. FOR THE CABBAGE: Toss all ingredients together in a bowl.
3. FOR THE WHITE SAUCE: Whisk all ingredients together in a bowl. (Sauce can be made and refrigerated up to 2 days in advance.
4. FOR THE FISH: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 200 degrees. Set wire rack inside rimmed baking sheet. Pat fish dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Whisk flour, cornstarch, baking powder and 1 teaspoon salt together in large bowl. Add beer and whisk until smooth. Transfer fish to batter and toss until evenly coated.
5. Add oil to large Dutch oven until it measures about 3/4 inch deep and heat over medium-high heat to 350 degrees. Working with 5-6 pieces at a time, remove fish from batter, allowing excess to drip back into bowl, and add to hot oil, briefly dragging fish along surface of oil to prevent sticking. Adjust burner, if necessary, to maintain oil temperature between 325 and 350 degrees. Fry fish, stirring gently to prevent pieces from sticking together, until golden brown and crispy, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer fish to prepared wire rack and place in oven to keep warm. Return oil to 350 degrees and repeat with remaining fish.
6. Divide fish evenly among tortillas. Top with pickled onions, cabbage, white sauce and cilantro. Serve.

Serves 6

2 thoughts on “Volcano of oil”

  1. It looks fantastic! I have trouble with a lot of batter, so I try to keep the flour/cornstarch/whatever to a bare minimum. If possible, I also try to cook it in a non-stick pan rather than deep fry it. Looking forward to the next recipe…

  2. Christine Neidecker

    I’ve had good luck with this recipe, but I’m not really fond of the mess, tedium, and fat/calories from deep frying. But I love the sauce and the pickled onions. I think a sauteed or grilled fish (spiced!) would be better.

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