Monday, August 22, 2011

Fish Tacos

"Fantastic!" the recipe now says, in Ben's careful handwriting. I'm encouraging him to write in cookbooks, because it's a good habit, don't you think? To make notes about substitutions or improvements, about whether or not you even liked something. My mother does this, and you can practically hear her crisp Britishness on the page when you read, next to a recipe heading, her damning "Not worth the trouble." 

But these fish tacos were a tremendous success: easy and fun and absolutely delicious. Ben picked the recipe out of Eat Fresh Food: Awesome Recipes for Teen Chefs, a cookbook that inspires him with its appealing, appealingly colorful meals. And, if the fish tacos are any indication, the recipes themselves are excellent. The fish was savory and well-seasoned and nice and brown-tasting, if you know what I mean, even though it hadn't been crumbed or battered before its time in the pan. I volunteered as sous chef, and so chopped tomatoes and onions and the like while Ben worked on the fish, and, as is always true for me, I loved helping. Partly it's because I love Ben's company and I love that he's cooking. And partly it's that helping signals that I'm not the one cooking. And I always love to be not the one cooking.

Fish Tacos
Serves 4
Eat Fresh Food serves these with Avocado Mayonnaise, which looks super-interesting--a version of mayo made mostly from avocadoes and buttermilk. However, Ben doesn't like avocadoes, so we swapped in our delicious chipotle-lime mayo, which was perfect.

For the tacos:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon chili powder (Ben used chipotle powder)
½ teaspoon kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
1 small garlic clove
1 ½ pounds halibut fillets (or any firm white fish--we used hake, because it was cheap, and it was excellent. Also, we only bought a pound which served the 3 fish eaters plentifully. Birdy had cheese instead of fish in her tacos.)
8 6-inch corn tortillas

For the taco bar:
2 cups shredded cabbage
½ an onion, finely chopped
1 cup chopped fresh tomato
1 cup diced avocado
½ cup fresh cilantro leaves
Lime wedges
Chipotle-lime mayonnaise made by whisking 1 teaspoon of chipotle puree and the juice of a lime into half a cup of mayonnaise.

Combine the olive oil, spices, and salt in a pie plate. Push the garlic through a press and add it to the bowl. Cut the fish into 1-inch strips and toss it in the spice mixture to coat. Set it aside while you warm the tortillas.

Heat an 8-inch skillet (ideally cast iron) over medium heat for 3 minutes. One at a time, crisp the tortillas on each side for about 30 seconds. Wrap in dish towel to keep warm.

Heat a large, nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, then cook the fish for 2 to 3 minutes on each side until opaque and flakey. Transfer to a large plate and break the fish into large chunks. (The fish helped us with this step by breaking itself into large chunks as we were transferring it. Full disclosure: Ben needed help getting the fish out the pan as it all started to happen a little too quickly at the end, and it was sticking a bit.)

Give each person two tortillas and let everyone assemble the tacos as they like.
One nice thing about Ben cooking is that he actually follows recipes. Unlike me. So, where I would have skipped the cumin because I got sick of it in the 1990s when we dumped a pound into every single pot of beans that we ate every single night, he used it--and it was perfect.

The fish did not gross him out, which was nice. I was honestly surprised that he picked this recipe because he  is not always wild about fish, but I concealed my surprise behind genuine enthusiasm.

Doesn't that look good? It got a little touch-and-go in the pan, which is why there's no photo of it actually cooking.

Taco bar. Any meal this colorfully interactive is bound to be a hit, don't you think?

That looks perfect to me, just like that.

But you know it's immoral not to add the rest--and then it really is even more perfect. Oh that chipotle-lime mayo! Don't skip it.

All of a sudden Ben is Mr. Raw Onion. I love the way their tastes evolve.



  1. I love fish tacos! I also loved "State of Wonder." I finished it last night. Patchett lets you figure out the rest, not tying it all up in a happy bow a the end (I don't want to spoil anything for those of you who haven't yet gotten ahold of it.) We're having turkey tacos tonight, but I may improvise and make some suggestions to it based on what you did here. Yum!

  2. Okay, Catherine, you've never mentioned your ability to read minds... right before you posted your corn tortilla recipe way back, I had thought to myself- why am I buying all these corn tortillas? can't I make them? I wonder if catherine knows how?
    And here lately, I've been thinking: I should ask her to post a fish taco recipe because I heart fish tacos but can't figure out the best way to make them.
    And behold.
    Now, I wish I had a million dollars....

  3. Can't do this tonight, but I think tomorrow it's perfect for the 12 year old at my house. I always want interesting ways to serve fish, this looks and sounds awesome, and a thumbs-up from Ben can only mean that it will be a hit at our house as well! thanks. Glad to be back enjoying your family some more. :)

  4. I love, love, love to write in my cookbooks. These look yummy, too!

  5. Always write in cookbooks. It's good for the soul. :) Ps...when we all moved out of the house, my mother gave us a recipe box of our top family foods. I still open that thing during the holidays and winter months looking for comfort foods.

    ps...I'm sure you've posted it before, but is the chipotle lime mayo just those three ingredients?

  6. My mom wrote in her cookbooks and has since passed away. What a wonderful way to remember her - to see her handwriting on the recipe!

  7. Anonymous8:39 PM

    I love to find notes that my Mom had written in her cookbooks so I do the same thing as well. Those tacos look delicious!

  8. dale in denver12:24 PM

    Those tacos were fantastic.

    I cannot follow a recipe to save my life - I frequently "personalize" them to our tastes. One too many times of my husband saying, "This is fantastic - can you make it again?" taught me my lesson. Now I make note of modifications that were successful - or not.

  9. We have not only ordered Chop Chop, but my son (age 7) made the salsa recipe in there. Not only was I *not cooking* (hooray), I was not helping either! My husband took over that job. Talk about fantastic!

    So, with these tacos, could you substitute tofu for the fish? Or would that stick even worse?

  10. Hally, the may is just those three ingredients! And Sew, I don't see why tofu wouldn't work beautifully. I would just cut it nice and slim so it fries up fast.

  11. lorak1:29 PM

    I love it. Ben's a cook, and engaged one with opinions no less. It makes me feel so old and yet hopeful for the future thinking about how my own little ones will eventually take over the reins in the kitchen.
    As far as writing in cookbooks goes, I've already claimed my mom's 1970's version of Betty Crocker which is crammed with torn out magazine recipes, hand-scrawled comments, and the trace evidence of our family's cooking. It is something I will treasure forever. It's a cross between an archelogical tell and a handbook on maternal love.
    I adore fish tacos and I think I'll try and make these.

  12. Oh my gosh, a personal reply from Catherine!! I feel honored! Really, too excited about this. We will try the tacos with tofu.

    Here's something cool to do with writing in cookbooks. One summer I cooked my way through every menu in Mollie Katzen's great book, Still Life with Menu, and made lots of comments in the book. Then I copied the comments into a new copy of the book and gave it to my parents. They still talk about this as one of their favorite gifts ever. Obviously this would also be good if one were less obsessive about trying all the recipes first.

  13. These look grand (and I love writing in cookbooks!), but what I really want to say is that my spouse listened to me and got me a Whirley Pop popcorn maker for my birthday last week and I am in love. Thank you!

  14. Can you comment on mayo versus his reduced fat brother? Because honestly? I have both. One for when I am trying to shed the last of my post-baby pounds and one for when I just want the real stuff. Can I make this chipotle lime mayo and have it be just as good without sending it directly to my butt?

    Also, we tried to make our own mayo a few weeks ago and it was a total disaster (think trying to spread cloudy oil on your BLT). So do you have a "from scratch" mayo?

  15. Tell that boy that we are ready for him to make these for us any time he is feeling the urge to eat 'em. Just call. We'll refrigerate our rice and beans and come over (or we'll bring the rice and beans).

  16. Anonymous1:59 PM

    Looks great! I'm starting to give my son more independence in the kitchen and your posts are inspiring.

  17. Anonymous12:38 AM

    I just wanted to say... your food photography has blossomed since you first began. Especially in the meat/fish/fowl department. The fish looks amazing. Makes me so ungrateful for my late night cereal snack.

  18. Anonymous6:01 AM

    Did you know that according to my husband in Australia a fish taco is slang for vagina? I had no idea until recently, when I mentioned that my American friend (a mum from school) was making fish tacos for dinner he was horrified :-) I'm banned from ever making them, which is sad as they sound delicious.

    PS I've been rereading "Bringing up Ben and Birdy" in the loo of an evening and luckily I was already there as a few times I have almost wet myself laughing. You funny woman!
    Loretta x

    1. Lesbian4:50 AM

      It's true! I can't do the usual facebook or twitter thing of telling everyone what I made for dinner on taco night, otherwise the fish tacos jokes are never ending!

  19. Allison4:56 PM

    Just made these over the weekend, and everyone loved them. Thank you! Will try the eggplant next!