I very rarely deep fry, but this was a special request from one of my daughters, who was at home for a little while, and now is teaching English as a Second Language in Japan. A fish recipe fits nicely with the Lenten season (for those who are not eating red meat and poultry), and as a follow-up of the Caesar salad from my previous post, which was also invented in the Mexican state of Baja California. The salad is from the border city of Tijuana, but these fish tacos originated about 80 km further South, in Ensenada, a coastal city with a population of about half a million, where the sunshine is ever-present, and its vibrant community, constantly growing. Ensenada has several industrial parks; research centres and university campuses; wineries; and natural sites, such as Guadalupe Island.
Tourism and fisheries are flourishing industries in Ensenada, and that explains how the delicious fried fish taco bounced from its humble origin as a street snack outside a seafood market, made with leftover scraps of “Angelito” shark, to an emblematic dish, nowadays popular around all of Mexico, and some parts in the US:
Although technically fish tacos have been around since pre-Hispanic times – anthropological evidence found in the lake region of Central Mexico indicates that the indigenous groups in the area filled tortillas with small fish – the first to fry fish for tacos were some inventive people in Ensenada in the middle of the 20th century, and in particular, Don Zeferino Mancillas is recognized as the first to have come up with the use of a batter to coat the fish for his tacos; as he used to explain, coating the fish was helpful to speed up the assembly line in the kitchen, since the pieces could be fried and handled without breaking or sticking to the pot, making it easier for him and his crew to meet demand at his restaurant.
The original Mancillas family recipe used evaporated milk in the batter, and cream as a topping; most recipes now also call for beer for a fluffier batter, and a mayonnaise-based dressing instead of plain cream. The other traditional toppings are shredded cabbage, pickled jalapeños and salsa bandera – Flag Sauce, for its green, white and red ingredients; lime wedges, avocado slices and bottled hot sauces are often added nowadays.
Baja Style Fish Tacos (Ensenada) –
Tacos de pescado estilo Baja California (Ensenada)
1 lb (454g) white fish fillets
¼ tsp black pepper
½ tsp salt
2 tbsp flour
½ tsp paprika
¼ tsp oregano
1 cup flour
¼ cup evaporated milk
1 cup beer
¼ tsp salt
2 large tomatoes; chopped
½ white onion; chopped
½ cup cilantro; chopped
½ lime, juice only
2 tbsp vinegar (from pickled jalapeños below, preferably)
Salt, to taste
Pinch dry marjoram
½ cup mayonnaise
1 lime, juice only
¼ cup cream
2 tbsp evaporated milk
Salt, to taste
2-3 cups oil, such as canola or peanut, for frying
Corn tortillas, preferably small, for tacos
Cabbage; leaves separated and washed, shredded
Hot green peppers, such as serranos; washed and sliced, for salsa or as a topping
Pickled jalapeños (click here for my recipe for jalapeños en escabeche, or canned)
Bottled hot sauce, such as “Cholula”
“Angelito” shark has white and firm meat; this wild pollock is a good substitution:
If frozen, allow fish to thaw in the fridge overnight, then remove from package and pat dry with paper towels:
Prep the fish fillets: Mix black pepper, salt and flour in a small bowl, and sprinkle on both sides of each fillet:
Set aside in the fridge until ready to cook.
Start the batter: Place paprika, oregano and salt in a mixing bowl (photo below, left). Separate yolk and white from one egg; add yolk to the bowl and reserve egg white in a different container. Add second egg, flour and evaporated milk to the bowl and mix (photo below, right):
Add beer to the mix, and continue mixing (photo below, left) until smooth (photo below, right):
Place mix in the fridge until ready to cook, and reserve the egg white at room temperature.
Prepare salsa: Mix tomatoes, onion and cilantro in a bowl, add lime juice, marjoram and salt, and the two tablespoons of vinegar from the pickled jalapeños:
The sliced hot green peppers, in this case serranos, may be added to the salsa, or offered separately. Reserve salsa in the fridge until ready to serve.
Prepare dressing: Mix all ingredients thoroughly, until creamy and runny enough to be poured:
Close to serving time, set up the salsa, dressing and toppings at the table:
Finish the batter: Beat the reserved egg white until foamy and firm; remove batter from the fridge and add egg white (photo below, left). Fold with a beater, to incorporate all together (photo below, centre). The mix will be thick as a pancake batter (photo below, right):
Coat and fry fish: Place oil in a small but deep pot, and warm up over medium/high heat. Remove fish fillets from the fridge, and slice into pieces, approximately one by three inches (2.5 by 7.5 cm). Dip one piece at a time in the batter:
Test the oil by dropping a small dollop of batter; it should bubble and cook fast. Remove dollop and carefully place a single layer of pieces of fish in the oil, allowing to cook until crispy and golden brown on both sides, flipping once (photo below, left); my mom always used a brown paper bag to partially cover the pot while deep frying, to prevent oil spatters and absorb steam from the pot (photo below, right):
Place cooked fish on paper towels to remove excess oil, then transfer to a plate:
To plate: Warm up corn tortillas as indicated on the package (I use the microwave oven):
Small tortillas for tacos (taqueras) are about 3 inches (7.5 cm) in diameter, so they are the perfect size to fit one piece of fish. Serve hot with the toppings set up at the table, so each person may prepare their tacos to taste. The platter below has three tacos with cabbage, salsa, dressing and serrano peppers, with a few lime wedges on the side:
We enjoyed our meal very much, and my daughter was able to satisfy her fish taco craving before leaving for Japan. Nowadays, she is still enjoying plenty of fish, but mostly raw, on sushi.
FUN FACT – Ensenada is claimed to be the city with the highest number of scientists per capita in Mexico and in Latin America. Research is conducted on the campus of the Autonomous University of Baja California, Ensenada (UABC), and Mexico’s National Astronomical Observatory is located on the mountains of the Sierra de San Pedro Mártir, near the city. Ensenada is also home to the largest cluster of bio-medical device companies in Mexico. In addition, The Center for Scientific Research and Higher Education of Ensenada (CICESE) and the Centre for Nanosciences and Nanotechnology (CNyN) of Mexico’s National Autonomous University (UNAM) are located there, where my PhD degree diploma was granted, and my PhD thesis defence took place, respectively; that has been my only visit to Ensenada, and curiously, I did not try fish tacos that time.
I am bringing my recipe to Thursday Favourite Things #430 with Bev @ Eclectic Red Barn, Pam @ An Artful Mom, Katherine @ Katherine’s Corner, Amber @ Follow the Yellow Brick Home,Theresa @ Shoestring Elegance and Linda @ Crafts a la Mode.
I am bringing my recipe at Over the Moon #216, graciously hosted by Marilyn @ Marilyn’s Treats and Bev @ Eclectic Red Barn. Special thanks to Marilyn for featuring my Vegetarian Worcestershire Sauce at this party.