Discovering fish tacos

Posted on June 3, 2007 by Aun

fishtaco1.jpg

A few weeks ago, I wrote that some of the very best food that my wife S and I ate while visiting California on our recent trip were a number of fish tacos. Truth be told, devouring this deceptively simple but delicious dish was no accident. Because we were going to be in Orange County for two days, we had very purposely decided to set aside some time to go searching for some (good) fish tacos.

I first heard about fish tacos from my brother. He’s lived in both Los Angeles and San Diego and became particularly fond of them when living in the latter, where they are especially popular. He talks about them with the same passion and obsession he reserves for only a few other foods. A few years later, I read a wonderful essay about fish tacos in Calvin Trillin’s excellent Feeding a Yen, one of the books that I recommended in a previous post. Having never had one, I became particularly intent on tasting one at some point in my life.

On a particularly gorgeous Spring day, armed with a map of the stretch of Orange County between Newport Beach and Dana Point and a few recommendations from a really nice guy we met in the lobby of the Ritz-Carlton Laguna-Niguel and the hotel’s concierge, S and I set off in our rented convertible for our first taste of fish taco. Our first stop was a small, clean and busy branch of Baja Fish Tacos, located in a mini-mall off of Crown Valley Parkway. We tried a blackened fish taco and a charbroiled fish taco. After scarfing these down, we jumped in our car and made our way over to Papa’s Taco’s (31622 Pacific Coast Highway, Tel: +19494999822), a cute and very popular roadside eatery just a few minutes away. We had a fish taco (of course) and, at the recommendation of the staff, also ordered a shredded beef taco. Once these had found their ways into our bellies, we drove over to La Sirena Grill (347 Mermaid, Tel: +19494978266; 30862 S. Coast Hwy; Tel: +19494992301), a rather up-market, organic cafe and devoured three more tacos: fish, pulled pork and chicken. We washed these down with a watermelon-strawberry juice and a delicious, rather chi-chi version of Horchata, which had been spiked with organic milk.

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All the fish tacos we tried were great. I was surprised though that at all three places we visited, there weren’t any tacos made with fried fish on the menu. Both the tacos that my brother spoke of and the tacos that Trillin had written about were made with battered and deep-fried fish. All the tacos that we tried were made with grilled fish. S enjoyed the charbroiled fish taco from Baja Fish Tacos the most. I liked the one at Papa’s Taco’s best. I also liked this place the most in general. It has a fantastic, local and laid-back vibe that you just can’t fake. While S loved the beef tacos at Papa’s, for overall experience, she’d pick the rather yuppie-ish La Sirena Grill.

I’ve asked a very talented buddy of mine, Chef Ashley James, Executive Chef of the Four Seasons Beverly Hills to share his recipe for fish tacos with us. Ashley worked in Singapore years ago as the head chef at Maxim’s, which was at the Regent Hotel. He’s a wizard chef and has spent a lot of time in Latin America. He serves his rather exceptionally delicious version, made with Mahi Mahi, at his hotel’s poolside cafe. S and I had them one day for lunch and they were pretty darned outstanding. I’m really glad he’s given us this recipe –I think, though, I made quite a pest of myself. I emailed him repeatedly, asking him for it, for two weeks straight. Anyway, I hope some of you try it and enjoy eating these as much as I did discovering them. (Sadly, I can’t get anchiote paste in Singapore, so I won’t be making this anytime soon!)

Mahi Mahi Fish Tacos
Yield 4 servings 3 tacos each

12 corn tortillas
1 pound Mahi Mahi, sliced into thick 1 cm slices
(if you can’t get Mahi Mahi, you can use mackerel, tuna, bluefish, mako shark, pompano, swordfish, or any other grilling fish, adjusting the cooking times accordingly)
Tapatilo hot sauce, to taste
Olive oil
Lemon juice, to taste
Salt and pepper
Shredded cabbage, to taste
Julienne of crispy tortillas
4 ounces chopped cilantro
Guacamole
Lime wedges

Achiote marinade sauce
½ onion chopped
2 ounces red achiote paste
1 piece of chopped garlic
2 tablespoons chipotle chile
1 cup orange juice
1 cup grapefruit juice

Pico de gallo
3 ripe Roma tomatoes, diced
½ chopped onion
2 limes juiced
1 chopped jalapeno
½ bunch chopped cilantro

Marinate fish in the achiote sauce and place in the refrigerator for 4 hours. Heat a nonstick sauté pan over medium-high heat. When warm, add 2 teaspoons of olive oil and coat the pan evenly. When the oil starts to smoke, add the fish and sauté gently; avoid pushing the fish around too much as this will cause the fish to break up. When the fish is almost done, deglaze the pan with the pico de gallo. Season with salt, pepper, and Tapatilo. On a warm griddle, heat the corn tortillas for a couple minutes on each side. In a bowl, add the shredded cabbage and mix in lemon juice, salt, pepper, and olive oil. Place the seasoned cabbage in the warm tortilla. Add the cooked fish and include any juices left in the pan. Garnish the tacos with a julienne of crispy tortillas and chopped cilantro. Serve fresh guacamole and lime wedges on the side.

About Aun Koh

Aun has always loved food and travel, passions passed down to him from his parents. This foundation, plus a background in media, pushed him to start Chubby Hubby in 2005. He loves that this site allows him to write about the things he adores--food, style, travel, his wife and his bouncing baby boy!

What Others Are Saying

  1. matt June 4, 2007 at 12:52 am

    A & S,

    Next time you’re in So Cal we must must must take you to our two faves where you’ll have your choice of grilled or fried fish tacos. I do wish I could say I prefered the healthier version, but alas, give me fried!

    (although I’d never EVER turn down a grilled fish taco. ever.)

  2. Everyday Foodie June 4, 2007 at 1:44 am

    I’ve been looking for a grilled fish taco recipe and this one looks to be very flavorful. I plan to make this recipe before the week is out and will report back post-nosh on the outcome.

  3. Maninas: Food Matters June 4, 2007 at 5:56 am

    God, this looks and sounds sooo yummyyyy!

  4. Chubby Hubby June 4, 2007 at 9:16 am

    Matt: You’re on!

    Natanya: Good luck. I hope it works. Usually, we won’t post a recipe we haven’t tried, but as I wrote, I’m kind of missing an important ingredient. Looking forward to your report.

    Maninas: Thanks.

  5. Sylvia June 4, 2007 at 9:21 am

    Fish taco was new for me.but the recipe looks very tasty,I will try someday.

  6. Melissa June 5, 2007 at 12:23 am

    Oh yummmm! Fish tacos are truly one of the great ‘must eat before you die’ foods. And like Matt, I’d never turn one down, but if given a choice I’d take fried over grilled any day.

    That said, I’m definitely trying this recipe. I only wish you could too, but that can be easily solved if I pop some achiote paste in the mail to you. Who knew Mexican food was easier to find in Scotland than in Singapore?

  7. GT June 5, 2007 at 12:41 am

    I love fish tacos at the hole in the wall places and sometimes even in the taco trucks (aka roach coaches). For me, it’s all about the tortilla. If that’s made well, the whole thing comes together well.

  8. Lisa (Homesick Texan) June 5, 2007 at 12:44 am

    Growing up, all the fish tacos I ate were with fried fish. I can appreciate the grilled version, but like Melissa, I still prefer fried. There’s just something about that extra crunch that makes for a more satsifying mouth feel.

  9. Fred June 5, 2007 at 3:43 am

    Hey bud! Long time no see! Been busy workin’ and movin’ to Shanghai soon. Anyways, thats ALOT of tacos you guys ate in the US. hahah…
    Any tips on where to get the more.. exotic ingredients from the recipe in singapore?

  10. Roselyn June 7, 2007 at 4:40 pm

    Spending part of my summer in Laguna and will definitely try those fish tacos. Thanks for the tips!

  11. Chubby Hubby June 11, 2007 at 1:52 pm

    Melissa, sorry for the late reply. We’d be eternally grateful if you could… but if it’s troublesome, please don’t bother. :-)

  12. Equalizer June 12, 2007 at 6:37 am

    Iv’e always seen Wahoo’s Fish Tacos in Denver since 10 years back thinking its a weird thing to try, but never got to actually try fish tacos since last year in Dubai! I love the concept so much that I can think of thousands of combinations. The recipe sounds great but getting those ingredients is difficult!

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