Multicultural Fish Tacos

September 23rd, 2008

Some would say that Fish Tacos are already multicultural, speculating that they may have originated when Japanese tempura met Mexican tacos. Last night we mixed it up even further, adding Trinidad Pepper Sauce and Salvadoran Curtido to some cornmeal-crusted cod for some very tasty tacos.

First off, I made a small trial batch of Nicole’s sister’s Trinidad Pepper Sauce. I didn’t grow Habaneros this year, but I thought I could approximate the taste by combining Aj√≠ Dulce peppers (which taste like Habaneros with no heat) with the hottest peppers I had available – Lemon Drop, Prik Ki Nue, Bellingrath Gardens Purple, and Purple Cayenne. I was trying to stay with ripe peppers, but not enough of the very hottest ones are ripe yet so I had to use a few green ones as well. And I was afraid that too many green peppers would muddy the color of the sauce, so I used some of the less hot varieties – Serranos, Czechoslovakian Black, and Fish – which were ripe. This is the 4 ounces of peppers needed to make the recipe at 1/4 the original amount.

This turned out to be a hot sauce, but not as hot as it would have been with all Habaneros. And that may have been a good thing because we used it somewhat generously on the fish tacos and thought it was just right. I plan to make another batch when I can fill the hot pepper quota with ripe Lemon Drop and Prik Ki Nue peppers, and that should be closer to the habanero heat level.

When we were first introduced to fish tacos, they were topped with thinly sliced raw cabbage, but one of our favorite Mexican restaurants serves marinated cabbage as a side dish with their fish tacos. I assume it’s the same as Salvadoran Curtido. My version was a little different in that I used very little vinegar. I thinly sliced one quarter of a small head of cabbage, salted it and left it to drain in a colander for about half an hour. I then rinsed it, squeezed it as dry as I could, and mixed it with thinly sliced yellow onion (about 1/4 large onion) and one green Serrano pepper, sliced paper thin using a Benriner mandoline. Then I added just enough rice vinegar to moisten, and a small amount of sugar. This mixture stayed almost as crunchy as raw cabbage (even overnight) but much more flavorful.

The fish got a Southern US treatment – dredged in cornmeal and deepfried. I cut a fillet of cod into strips about 1/2 inch wide, patted them dry and coated them with cornmeal. Nothing else. Sometimes I season the cornmeal, but this time I just salted the fillets lightly after they were fried.

The final step for the cook was to heat some corn tortillas. Around here each diner is responsible for his/her own tacos after that, assembling them with one or two pieces of fish, some hot sauce and the marinated cabbage.

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