Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Fish Tacos with Chipotle Slaw

For some reason making the Fish Tacos with Chipotle Slaw caused me to take a (very long) walk down memory lane back to my summer job college days. And I should warn you, it may not be what you first think. It's probably not what you might think at all. After working full-time either on the day or night shift, my weekends were filled laboring in a restaurant serving everything from breakfast to carrying heavy banquet trays. Yet, the most memorable of all of these 'thankfully lasting only twelve weeks' jobs was working the second shift 'on the line' in the Cracker Jack factory. Whether it was stuffing the toys in the boxes (dizzying work) or packaging up marshmallows (physically challenging work), at the end of each day or night I counted my blessings at having the privilege of being able to go to college. Way back when Cracker Jack was made in Chicago the wind often carried the aroma of the caramel corn for miles from the factory. As a kid this smell was intoxicating, inhaling it five days (nights) a week, eight hours a day was a completely different story.

For the most part, the 'college summer help' were treated well by those who made their living working there day in and day out. I would have never survived a week, let alone an entire summer, on the 'stuffing toys in the boxes' line if it were not for the Polish women who took me under their wing. They continuously saved me while I figured out how to keep my balance on a stool while simultaneously using ALL of my fingers and thumbs trying to get the toys into the slots of a conveyer contraption that moved at what seemed like warp speed. Once I got over the nausea from the motion sickness and stopped causing 'the line' to be shut down because I jammed the conveyer, I could hold my own as a team member amongst the women who took great pride in accomplishing the nightly quota goals.

First layering a piece of beer battered tilapia on warmed corn tortillas, topping with some of the slaw, drizzling with the creamy, smoky lime-chipotle sauce, and garnishing with additional cilantro microgreens creates the most beautiful Fish Tacos. Doing the dizzying work of putting together a platter of these tacos while the fish was still hot and crispy was what had me remembering my 'assembly line' Cracker Jack days. What I would have done to have some 'summer help' in the kitchen.

These tacos would be what I would call one of those 'at least a two person' (assembly line) recipes. Better yet, it is a perfect dish when having friends over for dinner who like getting involved (and when you like them getting involved) in the meal.

My relative reluctance at making any recipe where deep frying is involved has probably caused me to miss out on making some really good, memorable meals. My love of fish tacos is responsible for getting me to finally take a deep breath and just dive into the deep frying world. One bite of these fish tacos was enough keep me from ever being so dismissive over food preparation techniques again. Oh, the things we miss out on when we have preconceived notions or don't move outside of our comfort zones.

The slaw topping the fish is made with green cabbage, red cabbage, white onion, radishes, cilantro, mayonnaise, and salt. You can choose to make it with only green cabbage, however, the added flavor and color dimension of the red cabbage to the slaw is pass up. Choose the smallest cabbages you can find because you not need full heads for this recipe.

The cabbages and white onion are thinly sliced while the radishes are cut into matchsticks. This would be one of those times when it helps to have a good, sharp knife.

At the farmer's market I found some cilantro microgreens. Ever so slightly milder in flavor than full grown cilantro, I thought they would be perfect in the slaw and as a garnish on the tacos. Had I not found these microgreens, I would have used freshly chopped cilantro. Honestly, I have never been a big fan of cilantro. Actually that would be a slight understatement. I have generally avoided it all costs. In addition to overcoming my avoidance over deep frying, I am finally coming to appreciate and like the flavors of this herb.

To assemble the slaw you must first make the sauce. Mayonnaise, freshly squeezed lime juice, chopped chipotle peppers and salt are mixed together. The longer you allow the sauce marinate the more heat and smokiness to the sauce (learned this when tasting the sauce the next day). At a minimum  let the sauce chill in the refrigerator at least an hour before you begin making the tacos which is enough time for the flavors to begin to develop. A generous quarter cup of the sauce lightly dresses the slaw and the remaining sauce is used to drizzle over the fish tacos.

Fish tacos can be made with red snapper, cod, tilapia or any other light to medium fish. For this recipe I used the light, flaky, and mild in flavor tilapia. The fish fillets are cut into 1 inch by 5 inch strips, sprinkled with salt before they are floured, dipped into the beer batter and deep fried.

The batter for the fish is made with flour, salt and beer. The obvious and best choice of beer is a Mexican lager (think Dos Equis XX). Once all mixed together the batter rests for fifteen minutes.

The fillets are first dredged in flour then coated in the batter before being gently placed in vegetable oil heated to a temperature of 375 degrees. Within 4 to 5 minutes or until golden brown, the fish should be fully cooked. To maintain the temperature of the oil fry only 4 to 5 pieces of the fish at a time. Once cooked, the fish is placed on paper towels to drain.

Yellow or white corn (soft) six inch tortillas are heated on a flat skillet and kept warm wrapped in a towel while you deep fry the fish.

Every layer of these tacos was mouthwatering scrumptious. They are relatively easy to make (as long as you have some help). Served with some icy cold beer (Mexican of course) or margaritas (made with your favorite tequila) they just might be one of the best meals you will make all summer. So don't let either the thought of deep frying or all of the parts to this recipe keep you from making them.

Whether you choose to bring a platter of assembled Fish Tacos with Chipotle Slaw to the table or serve all of the taco components buffet style, they taste best while the fish is still hot and crispy.

The next time I make these fish tacos I just might put out some bowls of caramel corn. Just for the fun of it, as a reminder to all of the things I learned way back when.
Fish Tacos with Chipotle Slaw (slight adaptation to Fine Cooking's Baja Fried Fish Taco recipe)

1 cup mayonnaise (recommend Duke's or Hellman's)
3 Tablespoons minced canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
2 Tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt

Cabbage slaw
2 cups thinly sliced red cabbage
2 cups thinly sliced green cabbage
1/2 cup thinly sliced white onion
4 radishes, cut into thin matchsticks
2 - 3 Tablespoons of cilantro microgreens (or 2 Tablespoons freshly chopped cilantro)
Generous 1/4 cup of the Sauce

1 1/2 cups Mexican lager, such as Dos Equis XX
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons Kosher salt

1 1/2 pounds tilapia fillets, cut into 5"x1" strips (other fish options include cod or red snapper)
3/4 teaspoon of Kosher salt
1/2 cup all-purpose flour

48 ounces vegetable oil
Additional cilantro microgreens or minced cilantro for serving

12-16 6 inch soft corn tortillas (yellow corn or white corn) - heated on griddle until hot then stacked n a cloth lined basket to keep warm
Lime wedges for serving

1. Whisk together 1 cup mayonnaise, 3 Tablespoons minced chipotle peppers, 2 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice and 1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt. Cover and refrigerate up to two hours.

1. Mix together cabbages, radishes, onion, and cilantro in a medium-large bowl. Stir in a 1/4 cup of the sauce to lightly dress the vegetables (add more if 1/4 cup is not enough). Note: If making ahead, place vegetables in the refrigerator and mix in sauce just before serving.

1. Stir together 1 1/2 cups flour, 1 1/2 teaspoons Kosher salt and 1 1/2 cups Mexican lager beer in a medium bowl. Let stand for 15 minutes.

1. Heat vegetable oil over medium heat to 375 degrees in a 4 quart pot.
2. Toss the sliced fish with 3/4 teaspoon Kosher salt.
3. Put 1/2 cup all-purpose flour in a shallow bowl.
4. Working with several pieces of fish at a time, dredge in flour (shaking off excess), coat with batter and place in the oil.
5. Fry fish until golden and just cooked through (3 to 4 minutes).
6. Transfer to a paper-towel lined plate to drain. 

Place a piece of fish on each warm tortilla, top with some of slaw, drizzle with additional sauce, and top with additional cilantro microgreens or minced cilantro. Serve with lime wedges.

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