I was fortunate enough to live in La Jolla, CA for several years back in the 90’s and since I’ve been back in Texas, one of the things I miss most are the crispy, creamy, ocean-fresh fish tacos that San Diego is so famous for. You can get them just about everywhere but my favorite comes from The Brigantine family of restaurants. Probably because it’s where I had my first fish taco ever.
And I had that very first taco on my very first visit to San Diego, about 6 months before I moved there. My boyfriend, who lived there, took me to The Brigantine on Shelter Island the minute we left the airport. He’d been talking about fish tacos forever but frankly, the thought of them made me a little freaked. I just couldn’t get my landlocked, Tex-Mex-taco-having, Dallas brain around the concept. Tacos and fish did NOT go together, I told him. Then I had one.
One bite of the warm corn tortillas filled with the perfectly fried, golden brown fish and crunchy shredded cabbage topped with salsa fresca, cheddar cheese and – of all things – tangy ranch dressing, and I was hooked. It was everything you wanted in a perfect bite of food. And to have this new perfect food (I mean, really, when was the last time you had a BRAND NEW food? Nothing you’d ever had before? Those times are rare, my friends) while sitting ocean-side (also completely new), well the whole experience fused itself into my little brain and more importantly, my heart. From then on, San Diego equaled fish tacos and fish tacos equaled The Brig.
Flash forward to the current taco craze happening here in Dallas and you would think, I mean really BELIEVE, that a decent fish taco could be found in this town. Negatory, pardner. Can’t be done. Everyone tries to trick them up and add things like chipotle or mango or some other dreadful something. So, I took matters into my own hands and made them myself, with only minor tweaking. One bite and it was sun, surf and San Diego all over again.
½ lb white fish (cod, tilapia or mahi mahi), cut into four 2oz. pieces
1 quart peanut oil
Extra flour for dusting the fish
Freshly ground black pepper
16 corn tortillas
Beer batter recipe
White sauce recipe
Beer Batter: (Slightly adapted from Allrecipes)
1 cup flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 egg, whisked
1 bottle beer (I used Tecate)
¼ cup low-fat (or fat free) Greek yogurt
¼ cup light mayonnaise
¼ cup ranch dressing, your preferred brand or homemade
1 cup finely shredded red cabbage
½ cup cilantro, rough chopped
Shredded cheddar cheese (optional, I left it out this time)
Preheat oven to 250°. Place tortillas in a large piece of foil, wrap tightly to cover the tortillas and place in the oven to warm while preparing the fish.
For the white sauce:
Prepare white sauce by combining all the ingredients and setting aside.
For the beer batter:
In a large bowl combine flour, cornstarch, baking powder and salt. Add the whisked egg and beer and quickly stir to combine. Don’t worry if it’s a little lumpy. Cover with a clean dish towel and set aside for 15 minutes.
For the fish:
Heat oil in a fryer or deep pan to 375°.
Once batter has rested and the oil has come up to temperature, season each piece of fish with salt and pepper, lightly dust with flour and then dip into the beer batter. Moving quickly, place fish into the hot oil, slowly and moving the fish away from you as add it to the oil. Fry them one at a time until crispy and golden brown, about 3-4 minutes. Drain on a wire rack over paper towels, sprinkling with kosher salt as soon as they are out of the fryer.
Stack two corn tortillas together and add a handful of cabbage and top with a piece of fish. Drizzle with white sauce and sprinkle on the cilantro and salsa fresca. Serve with lime wedges.
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