A Perfect Fish Taco in Beer Batter


Even before I stepped foot on Mexican soil I knew that my pedal powered culinary search would become more of a culinary bombardment once I rode south of the border. The abundant influence of Mexican cuisine in California made it very clear to me that I was entering into a world where food and its consumption were taken very, very seriously, and after a month here I have not been proved wrong. Initially overwhelmed at where to begin when writing about Mexican food, and having only experienced what the Baja has to offer, of which the fish taco is key component, I have decided to start at the very beginning with the wonderful and mystical ways of Mexico’s "numero uno" street food. The taco.
Stripped down to its basic ingredients a taco is no more than a corn (harina) or maize (maíz) tortilla filled with meat or fish, but as I have gone to work consuming taco after taco in the name of culinary research I have come to realize that there are a million and one factors that determine a bad taco from an explosion of tastes, so wonderful, that you become a complete taco junky in one bite.
So how do you go about finding that perfect taco?
Most Mexican restaurants will serve you tacos, and indeed I have enjoyed a couple at such enterprises but for a real taco experience it is important to eat at a taqueria. Coming in the form of either a hole-in-the-wall outfit or a free standing cart, taco vendors can be found in abundance in every village and town. To hone my taco hunting skills I have sadly had eat my way through dozens of sub-standard tacos so you don’t have. But for the novice about to embark on his first taco I offer this one pearl of wisdom. Revert back to your primate instincts. If there are lots of other beats feasting there, the food is good, so get over there quick.
So now you’ve decided you want a taco you have to decide what kind of taco are you after. Pretty much anything can be put into a taco but in Mexico there are two basic choices. Meat or fish. Meat tacos of which the “carne asada” taco is king, involves tender strips of beef, lightly grilled over mesquite coals being diced in front of your eyes before being placed in a tortilla that has been lightly warmed on the same grill. For the more adventerouse taco conniesure you will also find options of “entripe” (tripa) and cabeza (head) and “adobo”, pork marinated in pineapple juice. All firm favorites of the hungry cyclist.
The other choice available to the taco hunter is fish. Contrary to the belief of many paranoid tourists who caravan down the Baja of California in search of sun and Margaritas Mexicans take great pride in eating and preparing clean fresh food. This reassuring culinary concern is made perfectly clear by the fact that it is impossible to get hold of a fish taco after one in the afternoon. This makes taco eating decisions very simple. The afternoon and evening are reserved for meat tacos while breakfast or a mid morning snack are set aside for fish tacos.

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Like the meat there are options with your fish taco. Pescado the popular choice, langosta (lobster), almejas (clams), pulpo (octopus), marlin, callo (scollops), mantarayha (manta ray) camarón (prawns), cangrejos (crabs) are all available at a good taco stand and the chose is yours. So you’ve picked your taco stand and are now propped up on a wonky stool at the bar with a warm taco nestled in your hand. The ingredients are as fresh as they can be; the tortilla is soft and made in front of your eyes but now comes the most important part – the condiments. At a good taco stand they are fresh and home made. After all a taco stand has no fridge so every mouthwatering spoonful of salsa or guacamole has been made then and there by the proud owner or most likely his wife.
I like to apply a little guacamole first of all as it works as a good bonding agent for the piles of other treats that are to come. Some stands will try and get away with serving sub standard watered down grey slime that has the consistency of baby food; these places are to be avoided. Guacamole is made from nothing more than avacodos a pinch of salt and a squeeze lime juice. Next it’s your cilantro (coriander) freshly chopped, a good pinch should suffice and again avoid anywhere where the leaves look like the have been sitting there longer than you have. Most taquerias will have a large selection of homemade salsas and depending on what you have in your taco, fish or meat, and your resilience to chili, will determine which you apply. “Salsa rojo”, “salsa veered”, “salsa ago” will all come in various strengths, but watch out some are very, very hot. And last but not least are the sides. Radishes sprinkled with lime juice and a pinch of salt, a few refreshing slices of cucumber all help to clear the palette ready for another tortilla wrapped piece of heaven. 

I have fallen in love with the taco and there is no place I would rather be on a Saturday evening than sitting in the warmth of a Mexican evening enjoying a brace of succulent carne asada tacos smothered in fresh guacamole and home made salsa veered. On many occasion I have had to exert huge amounts of a will power to pull myself away from a taco stand. It’s just too easy to slip your hand into your pocket scrape together another ten pesos and order "una mas por favor"

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As with all great street foods the taco really comes into her own in the early hours of the morning. An exhausting night spent dancing to music that makes our limbs move in ways you didn’t think were possible has to come to an end when the Mexican lady you are dancing with, who is almost old enough to be your mother, asks you to go home with her. Into the fresh air the hunger hits you like a drug. You have to eat but no appetite could tempt you to part with 10 pesos for a sweaty looking hot dog from equally sweaty looking vendor outside the club. You need to find a taco stand. Walking home through the dark back streets you have almost given up hope
and then the smell hits you…
"Where is it? – It's here somewhere…” Following your nose up a quiet street you can see the distant flicker of a black and white TV set, closer still you can see some smoke rising from a grill and even closer you hear sound of the knife hitting the wooden chopping board. Homing in on your target your body goes into taco auto-pilot and the next thing you know you are ordering two more and are in Taco heaven! Here is a fish taco recipe from my time in the Baja.

  • 1 lb of very fresh fish fillets cut into chunky 1.5 inch strips (good fish for tacos are firm fish like swordfish, shark or cod)
  • cooking oil
  • 10 corn tortillas 
  • one ripe Avocado
  • 1  cup all-purpose flour
  • 1  cup Mexican beer 
  • fresh cillantro chopped 
  • one white cabbage (or Iceberg lettuce) shredded
  • white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 red onion, cut into thin strips  
  • 1  teaspoon  salt
  • 1/2  teaspoon  baking powder  
  • 1  teaspoon  sugar 

1. First prepare the cabbage and avocado. Thinly slice the cabbage and put it in a small serving bowl. Sprinkle with a splash of white wine vinegar and a healthy pinch of salt and mix gently in your fingers. Peel your avocado and remove the stone spoon into another small bowl with a small pinch of salt and the juice from half a lime. Mash with a fork until you have lumpy paste –  This is your guacamole. 

2. Now unless you have been brave to make fresh tortillas your shop-bought tortillas will need to be warmed and softened. To do this heat a well seasoned skillet or heavy frying pan to a medium heat and add a teaspoon of cooking oil. Place your first tortilla in the pan and as it sizzles, flip it with a spatula. Continue to flip and turn with your fingers until the tortilla begins to develop air pockets then remove from the pan and place flat on a warm plate. Continue until all the tortillas are warm and set aside on a plate and wrap in a tea towel of napkin.

3. No make the batter. Add the flour, baking soda, salt, sugar and beer to a medium mixing bowl. Whisk until you have a smooth and creamy batter. Place the fish chunks in the batter and make sure each piece is well coated. 

4. Fill a heavy saucepan with 1.5 inches of cooking oil and heat to 360 degrees ( a small piece of bread will brown in 30 second). Once hot lower the battered  fish in the hot oil and fry for 3-4 minutes of golden brown. Remove with a spider and set aside to cool on a paper towel.

5. The perfect fish taco is all about assembly and everyone has their own technique. Her are the basics. Take a warm tortilla in the palm of your hand. Add a spoonful of guacamole, a couple of fried fish chunks, a squeeze of lime, a pinch of cilantro, a drizzle of red salsa, a small pinch of red onion and a large pinch of cabbage. Shake on a little hot sauce and demolish. 


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The Hungry Cyclist Taco Awards 2008

The Hungry Cyclist award for best taco in the fish category

  • Super Tacos de Baja California Sur. Hnos Gonzales

The Hungry Cyclist award for selection of condiments at a taco stand goes to 

  • Mc Lulus Taqueria, Loreto

The Hungry Cyclist award for tacos in a meat category

  • Taqueria Arandas, Ciudad Constitucion


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This entry was posted on Wednesday, December 17th, 2008 at 20:19 and is filed under Cycle Touring, Mexican Recipes. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed or trackback from your own site. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

3 Comments

  1. I am big fan of seafood and to compelment the seafood taco is the excellent choice. This is one of the best combination of fish with taco. Cilantro and cabbage makes the dish healthy as well! Thanks for a delectable Mexican treat!

  2. Rob Pittaway

    Having made these fish Tacos in my tiny ‘English’ kitchen recently, I can honestly say it was one of the best meals I have ever had… I am not exagerating either. I was blown away by the simplicity and yet powerful and fresh flavour. Only wish I could have the real deal now!!! Well guess I will have to find a bike and start pedaling!

  3. Glad you enjoyed them – it seems they are by far and away the favorite recipe from my trips – not sure when i will get back to Mexico for another one.
    Viva el Taco!
    Tom Kevill-Davies 
    The Hungry Cyclist – Pedalling The World For The Perfect Meal
    t. 0789 621 5282

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