When I was visiting my friend Becki in San Diego, California many years ago, the one thing she insisted I had to eat was fish tacos. I had never had them and couldn’t wait for my first taste. We drove around and around, looking for a specific restaurant that had been recommended. I’m not sure we ever found the right one, but we finally stopped and ordered tacos with “green stuff,” aka guacamole. One bite and I was hooked.
I can still see the group of us sitting around picnic tables in the warm Southern California sun, diving into huge fish tacos. We were laughing so hard we could barely eat, but managed to finish all of our goodies. Afterward we played miniature golf and that evening we all went to a concert. Just thinking about fish tacos brought back all of these wonderful memories … that’s what I love about food and writing this blog!
The problem with most fish tacos is that people treat them like fish and chips. They bread or batter the fish and then deep-fry it. This leaves the fish greasy with a coating that slides right off and gets soggy immediately. Wrapped in flour tortillas and piled with shredded cheese and taco sauce, you wind up with a taco where you can’t taste anything but the toppings. The delicate flavor of the fish disappears.
Adding chopped chipotle peppers to the marinade adds some heat and a nice smokiness that is especially complementary to grilled foods. I like to serve my fish tacos with an avocado cream made from sour cream, guacamole, and fresh lime juice. It adds a wonderful flavor and creaminess that complements the fish without overpowering it.
Grilled fresh pineapple salsa lends a bright sweetness that sets off the flavors of the fish. You don’t have to grill it, but I think it goes especially well with the smokiness of the chipotle and makes the dish outstanding!
The most common avocado sold in stores around the country are Hass. When ripe the skin is a deep purplish-color, covered with bumps and gives slightly when gently pressed. If your avocados are not quite ripe, place them in a brown paper bag with an apple and leave on the counter for a day or two. The apple emits chemicals that ripen other fruits. Always store them separately unless you need this unique phenomenon to occur.
If you are watching your carbs, you can serve this either wrapped in a lettuce leaf or spooned over shredded lettuce. You will get an extremely healthy meal and hardly miss the tortilla. You could even crumble a few tortilla chips over the top to give you a nice crunch.
A great fish taco has white fish, usually mahi-mahi, marinated in a spicy sauce and grilled just until done. Broken into bite-sized pieces, it is served with some fruit salsa and a squeeze of lime in fresh corn tortillas. The fish is hot and flaky without being greasy, the salsa is cooling and refreshing, and the lime adds just enough acid to cut through the richness of the fish. Once you’ve had fish tacos made this way, you’ll never go back to the fried kind again.
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
To grill pineapple, brush lightly with olive oil, and place on a medium-hot grill. Cook until pineapple becomes golden and the natural sugars begin to caramelize. You can chop it into small pieces or leave it in big chunks.
Kitchen Skill: How to Safely Pit and Dice an Avocado
Using a sharp knife, slice avocado in half lengthwise, sliding blade around pit. Twist halves to separate them. Holding the half with the pit cut side up in the palm of your hand, slip the point of a spoon under the pit and lift it out.
With a small paring knife, cut several lines lengthwise through meat of avocado being careful not to cut through the peel. Now cut lines perpendicular to the first set, creating 1/4-inch squares. Use a large spoon to scoop out the meat which will fall into perfectly cut dice!
- Pineapple Salsa
- 1 ripe pineapple or 2 to 3 large cans pineapple chunks, drained
- 1/2 large red onion, peeled and finely chopped
- 3 to 4 tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice
- 1/2 small red jalapeno chile, seeded and finely minced
- 1 poblano or Anaheim chile, seeded and finely minced
- 2 tbsp finely minced fresh cilantro
- Avocado Cream
- 1/4 cup prepared guacamole
- 1/4 cup sour cream
- 2 tsp grated onion or shallot
- Freshly squeezed lime juice
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 to 1-1/2 lb mahi-mahi, cod, or other thick, flaky, white fish
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- Juice of 1 lime
- 1 tbsp ancho chili powder
- 1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, chopped
- 1/2 tsp Adobo sauce (liquid the chipotle’s are stored in) if you want more heat
- 1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1/2 tsp ground cumin
- 8 corn tortillas, warmed
- Lime wedges
- Additional minced jalapenos, optional
- Additional chopped cilantro, optional
- Preheat grill to medium-high heat, or light a charcoal grill and set up a 2-tiered fire.
- Make Salsa: Cut off the top and bottom of the pineapple. Stand the pineapple up on one end. Using a large, sharp knife, slice off the peel cutting deep enough to remove most of the “eyes”. Cut the pineapple in half lengthwise, and cut each half in half again lengthwise. Cut the core out of each piece and discard. Very lightly brush the pineapple with olive oil and place on the cooler side of the grill. Cook for 2 to 5 minutes on each side or until you have nice grill marks, a lightly smoky flavor and the sugars have begun to caramelize. Transfer cooked pineapple to a cutting board to cool.
- When cool enough to handle, cut pineapple into 1/4-inch dice and place in a bowl. Add the onion, lime juice, jalapeno and poblano. Toss to combine well and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Chill, covered, 1 to 2 hours and up to 24 hours. Stir cilantro into salsa just before serving.
- Make Avocado Cream: Combine guacamole, sour cream, and onion in a small bowl. Stir in enough lime juice to thin it slightly. You want it thin enough to drizzle over the fish. Add some salt and pepper, taste and adjust seasonings. If it is too tart, add a pinch of sugar. Pour into a squeeze bottle if you have one.
- Prepare Fish: Place fish in a medium dish. Combine marinade ingredients and pour over fish. Let marinate for 15 to 20 minutes.
- When grill is hot, remove fish from marinade and place on the hot grill. Cook for 4 minutes on the first side and very carefully flip over and cook another 30 seconds. Remove to a plate and set aside for 5 minutes. Fish will finish cooking as it rests. Flake with a fork into bite-sized pieces.
- Warm the tortillas on the grill for about 20 seconds on each side. Place a little salsa on each tortilla, top with some fish and drizzle with avocado cream. Serve with lime wedges, minced jalapenos, cilantro and remaining avocado cream.
- Yield: 4 servings, 2 tacos each serving