Crispy Fish Tacos

I’ve had quite a number of requests for the recipe for fish tacos that I served as my “signature dish” on MasterChef.  It’s certainly not my signature dish, but it’s one of the only things I make that could be made in an hour, so that’s what I made!  Fish tacos are one of the joys of traveling in coastal Latin America.  Every region has its own unique way of making them.  These are modeled after northern Baja fish tacos, but they are definitely all my own.  There are lots of components in these tacos, so we’ll take it piece by piece.

Chipotle Crema

This component can be made a day or two before, if you like, and the leftovers are delicious as a dip or salad dressing.

1 cup crema de Mexicana (if you can’t find it, get sour cream)
1 Tablespoon of adobo sauce from a can of chipotles in adobo
2 teaspoons lime juice
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
salt to taste

Stir together and store in the fridge until you’re ready to use it.  If you like things really spicy, dice up a chipotle pepper from the can and add it to the sauce.

Jicama and Red Cabbage Slaw

The slaw can also be made ahead of time, dressed, and stored in the fridge, and it will only get better.  First, whisk together a dressing of:

1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup IPA beer
2 teaspoons lime juice
1 teaspoon chili powder
salt and pepper to taste

In a large bowl, combine:

1 cup jicama, julienned (cut into small match-sticks)
1 cup red cabbage, chopped
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
2 green onions, white and green part, chopped

Toss the slaw with the dressing and keep in the fridge until ready to serve.

Crispy Fried Pumpkin

Technically you can make this ahead of time, too, but it’s best fresh from the oil.  The trick to perfect crispy fried pumpkin is to use a slightly older, softer pumpkin, and preferably one of the larger varieties like you use for jack o’lanterns.  Small sugar pumpkins are too fine-textured to separate easily into strings.  Cut the pumpkin in half, scoop out the pulp and seeds, and then use a fork or your fingernails to begin stripping off strings of pumpkin flesh from the cut edge of the pumpkin.  You should be able to peel off big strings of it, like string cheese.

2-4 cups pumpkin strings

Now heat a small pot about half full of oil (I use canola) to 350F.  Working in small batches, sprinkle the pumpkin strings into the hot oil and fry until crisp.  Remove them to a sheet lined with paper towels and immediately dust with salt and a little chili powder to season.  Repeat until all the pumpkin is fried.

(***NOTE:  I only make the crispy pumpkin strings in autumn and only for special occasions.  The tacos are perfectly yummy without them.)

Crispy Tilapia

Tilapia is the fish of the future.  It is a freshwater fish that can be farmed very intensively without harm to the environment.  It is highly productive.  In Hawaii, many folks have a tilapia tank in their back yards.  The tilapia eat mosquitos, and the water can be siphoned out of the tank and used to fertilize hydroponic vegetables, which suck out all the nitrogen from the tilapia’s waste, and return the fresh clear water to the tank.  In this way, a closed system can raise enough veggies and fish to sustain MANY families, on a very small scale.  It’s pretty cool.  Long after the oceans are fished clean of tuna and cod and sea bass, tilapia will be plentiful and cheap.

1 tilapia fillet per person

Place the fillets into a ziploc bag with:

1 cup IPA beer
juice of 1 lime
1 Tablespoon chili powder
1 Tablespoon olive oil

Let the fish marinate for 1-4 hours in the fridge.  (On MasterChef it only marinated about 20 minutes.)

Into a gallon-sized ziploc bag, place:

1 cup flour
1 Tablespoon garlic powder
1 Tablespoon onion powder
1 Tablespoon chili powder
1 Tablespoon cumin
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper

In a deep dish pie plate, crack and whisk:

2-3 eggs (depending on how many fillets you’re breading)

In another deep dish pie plate, toss together:

2 cups panko bread crumbs
1 Tablespoon garlic powder
1 Tablespoon onion powder
1 Tablespoon chili powder
1 Tablespoon cumin

Place a few fillets into the ziploc bag and seal all but the very corner.  Inflate the bag, then seal it.  Shake the bag gently to coat the fillets in seasoned flour.  Gently remove one fillet and shake it to remove excess flour.  Then dip it in the egg wash until it’s completely coated on all sides.  Lay the fillet into the seasoned bread crumbs and heap crumbs on top of it, gently pressing the crumbs to form a solid crust all around the fillet.  Then remove it to a baking sheet or part of your countertop covered in parchment or wax paper.  Repeat until all the fillets are breaded.

There are 2 ways to cook the fillets…you can pan fry them for a few minutes per side until the crumbs are golden brown.  (This is how I did it on MasterChef.)  When I make them at home, I oven fry them, because it’s faster and healthier than frying up 10 tilapia fillets.  To oven fry, preheat a rimmed baking sheet in the oven at 425F for 15 minutes.  Add about 1/4 cup of canola or olive oil to the hot baking sheet and gently place the fillets onto the sheet.  Bake for 6-8 minutes per side, until the crumbs are golden brown and the fish is cooked through.

Season the fillets with salt as soon as they are done, and let the fish cool for a few minutes.  Then chop the fillets into thick strips.

To assemble the tacos, warm corn tortillas in the microwave or oven until they are soft and pliable.  Lay a few strips of fish on the tortilla, top with the slaw, a generous drizzle of chipotle crema, and top with the crispy pumpkin strips.

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