A couple weeks ago, I bought a big-ol-bag of frozen tilapia. Last week, it was breaded, baked, and served with chorizo sprouts. That was good, but the tilapia was fishy. Not in a good way, like mackerel. But in a way that you might anticipate from frozen fish sold in a big-ol-bag. I didn’t mind that much, since the real star of the meal was going to be my chorizo experiment. But, this week, I wanted the fish to stand out. So I decided on fish tacos.
1. Pick a filling: I really wanted something creamy and crunchy and bright for the tacos. I thought slaw would be nice. Cole slaw felt a little heavy, but I don’t like, as a general rule, oil-based slaws. So, I looked up a couple of recipes and then used this Bobby Flay creamy cole slaw recipe as a starting point. I sliced up a half a head of red cabbage as thin as I could. And I did the same for half of a red onion I had sitting around. This was fun, as knifework is usually my favorite part of cooking a meal.
2. Make the slaw: I quickly forgot what the Bobby Flay recipe called for and didn’t feel like looking it up again, so I just started throwing some stuff in. I put in the rest of the homemade mayo I made earlier in the week, maybe three tablespoons of sour cream, numerous glugs of red wine vinegar, a ton of pepper, and about a teaspoon or so of mustard powder. After mixing, I was surprised that it actually was starting to look like cole slaw since I had never actually made a cole slaw before. I tasted it, and it was missing something, so I added about a teaspoon of garlic powder. Then, I let it sit in the fridge so that the vinegar could do it’s thing and soften up the cabbage while the whole thing got nice and chilly.
3. Cut up the fish: I took three filets of thawed tilapia and cut them up into larger-than-bite-sized pieces.
4. Heat the oil: I put a large container of Smart Balance oil in my cast iron skillet and started heating it up. I was looking for heat in the 400ish area.
3. Make the batter: I made my tempura batter, which is not really a tempura batter but just regular flour and a light beer. I put about a cup of flour in a bowl, added the beer, a mixed. Usually, less than a beer is enough. But this time, I needed two beers, but that is because I drank the first one. The consistency you are looking for is something between pancake batter and crepe batter. But don’t overmix and make sure you make it as close to frying time as possible. Otherwise, the beer batter will lose bubbles.
4. Batter and fry: Drop the fish pieces in the batter, swish around to coat, and drop in the hot oil. Chopsticks are uniquely suited to this task. You can flip the fish over if it’s not cooking evenly. Again, chopsticks are good for this. So is a spider.
You’ll have to fry the fish in batches. When a piece is done, remove and set aside. You can put it on a paper towel lined plate (lazy way) or on a cooling rack set on top of a sheet tray (ambitious way), depending on how much room you have in your kitchen or how flustered you happen to be by this point. I put the fish on a paper towel lined plate. And I chugged another beer.
5. Attempt to make hard taco shells: At the grocery store I go to, there are these magnificent tortillas. They are 35 cents per package of about 10 tortillas or so. This is no joke. 35 cents! And they are no joke. They are delicious. We buy them all the time.
I thought I would try to fry the tortillas a little and then let them drape over some dowels so that they hardened into a hard taco shell shape. I was going to use some wooden spoons and set them across a 9×13 casserole. The wooden spoons I was going to use had extra fat handles and remind me of that scene in Boondock Saints where they reference The Rule of Thumb. But, even though I only fried the shells for what seemed to be a couple of seconds, they came out stiff as a board and light as a feather.
6. Make tostada shells instead: Since the taco shell thing didn’t work out, I just fried the rest into tostada shells.
7. Assemble: I put a tostada shell down, put a ton of slaw, placed a handful of fish nuggets on top, and garnished with fresno chilis. Then, because I didn’t have fresh salsa verde, I thought about a wing sauce that my mother-in-law had gotten me two Chistmases ago as part of a multipack of hot sauces. It is lime flavored, which is why I still had it. But it sounded like it would actually be good on this.
This meal was quite enjoyable, albeit greasy. The tortillas would bubble and burst due to the heat, and oil would creep inside. Trying to drain them only resulted in molten hot oil running out of the tortilla, down the spider, and directly onto my fingers. This resulted in a lot of screaming from the kitchen, and not in a good way like the night before when I made pretzel rolls and they actually came out good.
But, the oil was actually a nice foil to the red cabbage slaw that I made. The heat of the oil did help the slaw wilt even more. Plus, the salty crunchiness of the tostada was a nice texture contrast to the super cold and vinegar-y cabbage. Then, the fish was a perfect pillowy cloud of tastiness – not fishy at all. And the lime wing sauce was good too.
The only bad part about this meal was that I couldn’t shovel it into my face fast enough. Seriously, it was somewhat cumbersome to eat.