Let us be frank: Growing up in Rural Ontario is not exactly a hotbed of ethnic diversity, unless your idea of diversity is Protestants and Catholics. (I joke that growing up in an Italian-Catholic community until I was 18, and discovered Woody Allen, I thought Jews was the plural of You.) And so, while I grew up with Scottish and Northern Italian cuisine — two cuisines based on similar principles of boiling, grinding poverty, organ meats and other food that required fortitude — it took later in my life to open up the horizons of my eating, even with a stint driving delivery at the Forbidden City Chinese restaurant in Hamilton in my teens (The Forbidden City is still in operation, which, some days, is more than can be said of me) to push my palate out of Europe’s colder climes.
For example, until I came to America, Mexican food was Taco Bell and Ortega Hard Taco Shells (with the lame spice packet you sprinkled over sautéed ground beef), to which I can only say now, what the what? it’s like suggesting that, having seen everything Adam Sandler’s done with Dennis Dugan, you truly have experienced cinema. Since then, I’ve eaten — and cooked — plenty of Mexican-style food, and reverse-engineered more than a few recipes. but the one taste of real Mexican cooking I love? Baja Fish tacos. Which I now know how to make a variation on, Beer Battered Fish Tacos.
(Photo: Casey Revkin)
Now, this is dangerous stuff, because it involves deep frying — and that can be tricky. (“Tricky” being a euphemism for ‘“If you are not careful, you could severely disfigure yourself or other doing this, so pay attention, be sober and anyone who doesn’t need to be near the kitchen shouldn’t be.”) You have to be careful, and you need a deep fat frying thermometer — if you’re a pro fry cook, you can eyeball this stuff, but we are not pro fry cooks; when you dump cold battered fish into hot oil, its temperature drops, and you want to bring the temperature back up to 375 every time with a careful hand on the burner temperature. But, if you can pull it off? It’s tasty stuff. I didn’t know about this stuff when I was a kid, but I do now — and, really, I’m luckier for it.
Beer Battered Fish Tacos
1.5 pounds firm white fish, cut into small pieces. I’ve used Mahi-Mahi and Cod; you want the pieces to be large enough to matter but small enough to cook swiftly and fit in a taco — 1.5 in long by, say, .75 in wide max.
1 12-Oz bottle beer (I recommend something light and cheap — a Corona, a Dos Equis. You don’t want to deep fry some fancy-schmancy microbrew.
2 Cups flour, with dashes of seasoning to taste — salt, pepper, chili, garlic powder, etc. Keep it light and simple.
1) CAREFULLY fill Heavy pot w/heavy bottom (I recommend a cast-iron Dutch oven) with 3 in. cooking oil. carefully place deep-frying thermometer until tip is in oil and not on bottom of pot.
2) Pour beer into large bowl; sift 1.5 cups seasoned flour into bowl; whisk until combined.
3) Pat fish dry and coat the fish in the beer batter. Dredge the pieces of fish in 1/2 cup of remaining flour and slide into oil as coated, INCREDIBLY CAREFULLY. Fry fish, turning over frequently with tongs or slotted spoon, until deep golden and cooked through, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined baking sheet and keep warm in oven. Fry remaining fish in batches, returning oil to 375 degrees F between batches.
(Jalapeno Cole Slaw)
Serve with warmed tortillas and accoutrements; I’ve found Jalapeno Cole-Slaw (Recipe at link) an excellent base, with cool Guacamole as a great accompaniment, or shredded lettuce and Pico de Gallo and lime wedges. Serve with a crisp, light ale.