Back in my days in the U.S. Marines, when I was stationed in Southern California, I used to take weekend trips with some friends down to Rosarito Beach, Mexico. Among all the wonderful things that Rosarito Beach had to offer, one of my first stops was to this little taco stand across from the hotel we always stayed at. Although I do not remember the name of the place anymore, I certainly do remember the flavors! The fish tacos were unlike any I have ever tasted, fried in a rich batter, served with fresh, handmade, corn tortillas, cabbage, salsa, and a delicious mayonnaise, served with a ice cold Pacifico clara! To me, this was the ultimate weekend getaway!
These flavors were all but forgotten until I watched an episode of Rick Bayless’s outstanding series, Mexico: One Plate at A Time. There he was making what sounded like the same fish tacos I had fell in love with all those years ago! I instantly placed a sticky note in my head to test out this recipe and share the recipe with you!
I made a few modifications to his recipe for my tastes, but if you want the exact recipe, you can find it at his website under Classic Ensenada Fish Tacos. I left out the baking powder, as I found that the batter became very “puffy” while frying and I added some lime zest to bring a bit of citrus flavor to the beer batter. You can experiment with different types of beers also, a deep amber beer will give this batter a great nutty flavor, almost any type of beer will work, but I would avoid using a wheat beer, as it tends to alter the consistency of the batter. You will also find that my salsa is different than his, I am using a classic salsa recipe that I learned from my wife. Finally, I use a chipotle sauce rather than a plain jane mayonnaise based sauce. I just like the smokiness of chipotle with the citrus flavors of the fish. None of these modifications are to say that I know better than Rick Bayless, I just wanted to add a bit of my own flavors to his great recipe!
One of the best things about testing out a recipe is getting to eat the finished product. I cracked open a cold bottle of Corona and took a bite of my fish taco. I closed my eyes and was instantly transported back to that little roadside taco stand in Rosarito Beach…
Baja Fish Tacos
(Adapted from Rick Bayless’s Ensenada Fish Tacos )
- 1 pound boneless, skinless fish fillets (I like halibut or cod, but you can use just about anything)
- 1 tablespoon yellow mustard
- 1/2 teaspoon Mexican oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh black pepper
- 1 teaspoon chicken-flavor powdered bouillon (I use Knorr)
- 1 cup beer
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 garlic cloves
- Lime zest
- Vegetable oil to a depth of 1 1/2 inches for frying
- ½ head savoy cabbage, thinly sliced
- Salsa de Chile Arbol (see below)
- Chipotle Sauce (see below)
- Lime wedges
- Finely mince the garlic, sprinkle generously with salt, then mash back and forth with the side of a knife across a cutting board until it makes a paste.
- Put the garlic paste into a medium bowl and add the oregano, black pepper, mustard, bouillon, beer, lime zest and 1/2 teaspoon salt.
- Add the flour to the wet ingredients and whisk just until combined.
- Heat the oil in a heavy skillet or dutch oven to 370 degrees.
- Cut the fish into pieces about 3 inches long by 1/2 inch square
- Take a piece and dip it completely into the batter, then lay it gently in the oil.Keep going with a few more pieces (4 at a time). Fry, turning regularly, until they are a deep golden brown and crisp, about 4 minutes.
- Drain on a paper towel and then place in a warm oven on a wire rack over a sheet pan while the rest of the fish are frying.
- Set out with cabbage, salsa, warm corn tortillas, limes and the crispy fish for everyone to make tacos.
Salsa de Chile Arbol
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 peel of onion
- 1/4 cup cilantro leaves, loosely packed
- 1/2 ounce (15-20) dried arbol chiles
- 1 roma tomato
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- In a small saucepan, bring about 1 1/2 cups of water to a boil.
- Remove the stems and caps from the chiles.
- In an ungreased skillet over medium heat, toast the chiles, toss constantly to avoid burning, until the chiles fill the kitchen with their toasty aroma, about 1 1/2 minutes.
- Once the chiles are toasted, put them in the boiling water with the tomato and boil for about 5 minutes.
- Drain well and place in a blender or a food processor with the garlic,onion, and cilantro. Pulse until nearly smooth.
- Add the salt.
- 1/3 cup Chipotle Mayo
- 1/3 cup sour cream
- 1/3 cup milk
- Whisk all ingredients together until you make a smooth sauce.
- ¼ cup grapeseed oil
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 egg yolk
- ½ tablespoon lemon juice
- ½ tablespoon water
- ½ tablespoon chipotle chile powder
- 1/8 of a teaspoon salt
- Using an immersion blender in a deep cup (I use a Pyrex 4 cup measuring cup), blend the yolk, liquid, chile powder, and salt.
- While still blending, start incorporating the oil mixture a bit at a time (What I do is put the oil in a squeeze bottle).
- Once all the oil is incorporated, you will have a nice, thick, mayo.