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Thursday, June 4, 2015

When Feeling Fried: Cod Tacos and Mexican Sandwiches (plus Guacamole and Black Bean Spread)

Frying is a funny thing. On the one hand, we trust every fast food emporium, greasy spoon, and college cafeteria to do it decently well-and usually we're more or less right. On the other hand, even as we boldly braise, fold, and roast in our own kitchens, we tend to be scared of attempting it ourselves. Big bubbling pots of oil are intimidating things after all, and the process is both rapid and mysterious--something wholly inedible looking gets dropped into a pot, bubbles furiously as things splatter in all directions, and then is fished out, delicious and ready to satisfy your late-night pub grub cravings. My mother reacted in horror when Annie and I proposed making Chiles Rellenos last year, sure we'd burn the house down (we did not).

This week though, I found myself in possession of cod and corn tortillas, and had just made my standard fish tacos that use baked/oven poached fish a few weeks ago (but that's another post) and decided to try something different--namely, beer battering. Since I have no sense of proportion, there was enough for a second dinner, and so some Mexican-accented fish sandwiches happened as well. Try either, try both-- the batter is light and flavorful, the cod comes out flaky, and I promise, only the fish will wind up fried and crunchy.

Freshly fried fish.

The Fish
Serves 4 for 1 meal or 2 for 2

1 pound cod
vegetable oil for frying

Batter (adapted from All Recipes "Beer Batter Fish Made Great"):

1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for adjustments
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon cumin (fresh ground if possible)
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1 egg, beaten
1 (12 fluid ounce) can or bottle beer

Cut fish into pieces no more than three inches long and 1.5 inches wide. Pat dry. Season the fish with salt and pepper to taste. Spread out on a plate or piece of parchment paper.

Combine dry ingredients for batter. Stir in beaten egg. Slowly stir in beer. Let sit up to several hours; if you are pressed for time, it can be used immediately.

Half-fill a sturdy Dutch oven with neutral oil and turn on high heat. To test for optimal frying temperature, place the handle of a wooden spoon into the hot oil. When bubbles form around the spoon, the oil is hot enough for frying. Prepare a draining rack for the fish: Cover a plate or pan with paper towels, and place a wire or metal rack (the kind that comes with a toaster oven is fine) above it.

Using sturdy metal or wooden tongs, dip one piece of fish into the beer batter. Shake gently to remove excess batter, but make sure not to shake off too much. Drop into the oil and have a slotted spoon ready to remove as much loose batter as possible from the oil. When the test piece is brown, remove it from the oil. The piece should be uniformly coated in a thin yet crisp batter. If bits of fish are uncovered or the batter looks too thin, stir in more flour. If the batter is thick or soggy, add more beer or seltzer water. If using fresh oil, the first few pieces may be pale in color - this is normal.

Working a few pieces at a time, dip the fish into the batter, gently drop it in the oil, and monitor it until it is brown and ready to be removed.  (This process is easier with two people: one person dipping the fish and placing it into the oil, and one person scooping the batter bits and removing the fish when it is ready.) Removing the batter pieces buys you more time; eventually, burned bits in the oil will start to smoke or give the fish a burned flavor, so work quickly. When all the pieces are fried, let stand until cooled down enough to eat and thoroughly drained of oil.

A note for those hoping to get two dinners out of this recipe: Resist the urge to fry all the fish at once. It will be fine this way, but the second night, you'll lose the freshly fried crispness. Instead, save the leftover batter in the fridge. It may separate, but whisk it back together and try the test piece technique as above. The oil can be saved as well; let it cool and filter it through a fine strainer to remove as much debris as possible.

Now, on to the recipes.

Fried Cod Tacos
1/2 recipe Beer-Battered Fish, above
12 corn tortillas (6 if you want single-ply tacos, but don't say we didn't warn you)
1 red bell pepper
Olive oil
1 recipe Guacamole (see below)

Sour cream
Salsa of your choice (we like salsa verde)

Split the red pepper down the middle and remove seeds and ribs. Brush lightly with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt. Roast under the broiler in an oven or toaster oven until the pepper is soft and its skin is thoroughly blackened. Place in a zip-top bag for 10 minutes. Peel off the skin (which will come off easily) and slice into strips.  To warm tortillas, place on a pan in a 300-degree oven or toaster oven for 5 minutes, covered with a damp paper towel.

To serve: Stack two tortillas, top with guacamole, and place fish on top. Add pepper strips, and toppings of your choice. Besides the ones we used, you could also add some mild cheese like cotija or queso fresco, or a quick-pickled vegetable like cabbage or red onions, or hot sauce... go wild, but make sure all the individual flavors have the chance to shine. Serve with cold beer.

A delicious taco with all the fixings.

2 avocados
Juice of 1 lime
1 heaping tablespoon cumin (fresh ground if possible)
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
Small handful cilantro, chopped
1 small tomato, cored and chopped
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 cloves garlic, minced
Hot sauce to taste
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in bowl and mash with a potato masher or other heavy implement. Taste and adjust seasonings. Chill in fridge for as long as possible before serving. Leave in avocado pit and cover with plastic wrap to prevent browning.

Mexican-Style Fish Sandwiches

1/2 recipe Beer-Battered Fish
2 torta rolls or 4 slices sturdy bread
1 cup arugula
Sprinkling of romano or parmesan
Juice of 1/2 lime
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon mustard powder
Salt, pepper, sugar to taste
1 recipe Black Bean Spread (see below)
1 recipe Adobo Aioli (see below)

First, dress the arugula. Combine lime juice, olive oil, garlic powder, and mustard powder. Adjust salt, pepper, and sugar to taste. Toss the arugula and romano in the dressing.

*horn noise* A-ruuuu-gula! A-ruuuu-gula!

Lightly toast the bread. Spread a layer of black bean spread on each side. Place half the dressed arugula on each sandwich. Just before eating, add the fish and drizzle with aioli. Top with other slice of bread and serve immediately, with cold beer.

Black Bean Spread
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 avocado
2 cloves garlic
1 chipotle in adobo, diced
Handful of cilantro, washed and chopped
Juice of 1/2 lime
1 tablespoon cumin (freshly ground if possible)
Olive oil
Red wine vinegar, worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients except olive oil in food processor. With motor running, drizzle in the olive oil until a smooth paste is formed. Adjust seasonings to your liking.

Adobo Aioli
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons adobo sauce (reserved from can of chipotles in adobo)
Zest of 1 lime
1 tablespoon lime juice
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients until a thin, creamy texture develops. Chill until sandwiches are ready to serve.

Sandwich assembly.

If you've read down this far, another super-secret hint: In case you haven't figured this out by now, you could easily swap the toppings for the tacos and sandwiches. Have fun, and happy frying.

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