Recipe: Cal-Mex Fish Tacos with Creamy Slaw

(Tacos De Pescado con Ensalada de Col Cremosita)

It’s hard to pin down where the fever for fish tacos started, since the delicious battered fish is a signature dish on both sides of the border. I can spot the Mexican version immediately. It has a fluffier and puff­ier batter, because of the way the batter is made. The flour mixture is mixed into the whipped egg whites rather than the other way around. Also, in Mexico, the tacos are served on corn tortillas rather than flour, and the slaw is creamier and tangier. The crunchy slaw makes a light, refreshing partner for the fried battered fish, which gets a flavor kick from the bold salsa macha.

Serves 6

Preparation Time: 15 Minutes
Cooking Time: 25 Minutes
Make Ahead: The fish sticks can be made a couple of hours ahead and kept warm in a very low oven or warmer, or under a heating lamp. Leave uncovered, or the puffy coating will deflate. If you have any leftover fish sticks, they can be reheated the next day in a medium-low oven.

Ingredients

For the batter:

  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt or to taste
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 cup Mexican beer, prefer­ably a light beer (but any­thing short of a very dark, bitter beer will work)

For the fish tacos:

  • Canola oil or safflower for shallow-frying
  • 1 pound mild, firm white fish fillets, such as tilapia, cod, haddock, or halibut, cut into 1-x-4-inch strips
  • Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Flour, for dusting
  • 12 corn or flour tortillas, warmed
  • Creamy Slaw (recipe below)
  • Chipotle, Peanut, and Sesame Seed Salsa (recipe below)

Directions

To make the batter: In the bowl of a stand mixer or in a medium bowl, using a hand mixer, beat the egg whites on medium speed until stiff but not dry peaks form.

In another bowl, combine the flour, salt, and cumin, then whisk in the beer. In four additions, gently fold the flour mixture into the egg whites, taking care not to deflate the whites.

To make the fish tacos: Pour the oil into a 12-inch heavy skillet or casserole to a depth of ½ inch and heat over medium heat for at least 5 minutes. Test the heat by dipping a wooden spoon or the tip of a piece of fish into the oil: It should bubble happily around whatever you dip into it. Set a cooling rack on a baking sheet and cover the rack with paper towels. If you don’t have a cooling rack, just cover the baking sheet with paper towels.

While the oil is heating, season the fish sticks lightly with salt and pep­per. Place the flour on a plate and, one at a time, gently press each fish stick into the flour, flip over, and flour the other side. Tap off excess flour and place on a plate.

When the oil is hot, one by one, dip the floured fish sticks into the bat­ter and immediately, but gently, place in the hot oil. Add only as many as you can without crowding the pan. Fry until crisp and light golden brown on the first side, 2 to 3 minutes, then flip and repeat on the other side for 2 to 3 minutes, or until crisp and light golden. Remove with tongs (see Cook’s Tip) or a slotted spoon and place on the rack. Cover loosely with foil to keep warm while you cook the remaining fish.

Serve with the warm tortillas, slaw, and salsa macha.


Creamy Slaw

(Ensalada Cremosita de Col)

This crunchy, fresh-tasting slaw is just what the battered fish in my Cal-Mex Fish Tacos needs to jump off the plate. The slaw can also be served as a side or tucked into other tacos and sandwiches.

Makes about 3 cups

Preparation Time: 12 Minutes
Make Ahead: The slaw can be made up to 3 days ahead, covered, and refrigerated. Mix well before using.

Ingredients

  • ½ cup Mexican crema, crème fraîche, or sour cream
  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
  • ¼ teaspoon sugar
  • Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups shredded green cabbage
  • 1 cup shredded red cabbage

Directions

Combine the cream, mayonnaise, lime juice, sugar, and salt and pepper to taste in a large bowl and mix well. Add the cabbage and toss with the dressing. Taste and adjust the salt. Serve.


Chipotle, Peanut, and Sesame Seed Salsa

(Salsa Macha)

The name of this salsa is a funny one: Macha is the feminine form of macho. So you could call this a macho female salsa. Macha can also mean “brave.” Call it what you may, this salsa, which originated in the state of Veracruz, on the Gulf of Mexico, has a very strong personality and many uses. It is made by sautéing just a few ingredients—dried chipotle chiles, garlic, peanuts, and sesame seeds—in a generous amount of olive oil, then blending the mixture with a splash of vinegar and a sprinkle of sugar and salt. You end up with a mix that, unlike a typical salsa, is a very wet and textured paste. It will keep for months in the refrigerator, getting better and better as time goes by. Since this salsa has a substantial amount of olive oil, the chile paste will sink to the bottom if it stands for a while. You can choose to stir it up and serve the salsa as a paste, or you can use a bit of the flavored oil for multiple purposes, such as drizzling over fish, shrimp, pota­toes, pizza, toast, cooked vegetables, or even an omelet!

Makes about 3 cups

Preparation Time: 10 Minutes
Cooking Time: 3 Minutes
Make Ahead: The salsa will keep, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.

Note: Other nuts, such as almonds, pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, or pine nuts, can be substituted for the peanuts.

Ingredients

  • 1½ cups olive oil
  • ½ cup unsalted raw peanuts
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
  • 2 ounces (1½ to 2 cups) dried chipotle chiles stemmed and seeded
  • 1 tablespoon packed brown sugar or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt or to taste
  • 3 tablespoons distilled white vinegar

Directions

  1. In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat until hot but not smok­ing. Add the peanuts and garlic cloves and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds, or just until they begin to color. Be on the lookout, as peanuts can be deceiving and not really reveal how brown they are getting until it is too late. Add the sesame seeds and chiles and cook, stirring, for 1 minute, or until the chiles are lightly toasted.
  2. Transfer the contents of the pan, including all of the oil, to a food processor or blender. Add the sugar, salt, and vinegar and process until smooth. Pour into a container, let cool, and refrigerate if you are not using the salsa that day.

Text excerpted from Mexican Today, © 2016 by Pati Jinich. Reproduced by permission of Rux Martin Books/HoughtonMifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.