Fish tacos (tacos de pescado) are a delicious classic Mexican dish from Baja California, the Mexican state just south of the border with California.
I moved to the United States in 1999 and I have since mostly in Los Angeles, California, a state that belonged to Mexico until the mid-nineteenth century and whose cuisine is largely influenced by the Hispanic heritage.
Until I moved to Los Angeles, I knew very little of Baja California, a peninsula that extends south California and is part of Mexico. I had been to Tijuana a few times, the city that borders the US on the other side of San Diego and that most people would not really consider typically Mexican.
So I started traveling around my newly adopted city. A few weekends with friends have helped me discover the cities of Rosarito, 20 miles south of Tijuana or Ensenada, 70 miles from the border city.
History of fish tacos
It is in Ensenada, a fishing port on the Pacific coast of Baja California that the fish tacos (tacos de pescado) were born in the early 1960s.
The story goes that a fisherman whose nickname was Bachihualato was selling meat tacos (carne asada tacos) on the dock. He was often asked to deep fry freshly caught fish. One day, he decided to start selling a fish species widespread in Baja California but which was not especially popular: a type of called angelito or Pacific angel shark. Bachihualato’s tacos began to experience a huge success, especially with the tourist population.
The fisherman subsequently sought a method to prevent the fish from sticking to the pan. It was then that he began to use flour and eventually a batter composed of flour and beer akin to tempura batter which was probably inspired by the Japanese population that migrated to Mexico and particularly Baja California in the course of the twentieth century.
How to make fish tacos
I have made fish tacos at home for years, but I now have to admit they were not really authentic. In fact, I got carried away by the waves of adaptation of this dish by Californian chefs with the “quick and easy” trend that use grilled or fried fish, with just a few spices. Fish tacos are indeed very popular in California, and chefs have created variations as farfetched as fish tacos with mango salsa.
That was the first time I took the time to deep fry the fish with beer batter, similar to the batter used in the traditional English fish & chips. It was also the first time I prepared this typical white sauce made from sour cream, mayonnaise, milk, garlic and lime, and what a difference it makes!
Fish tacos are generally eaten with corn tortillas but you can also use flour tortillas. However, they must be small in size, about 4 inches diameter. The same recipe can be used to make shrimp tacos (tacos de camarones), also very popular in the California peninsula.
- 16 corn tortillas (or flour tortillas)
- ½ cup mayonnaise
- ½ cup sour cream
- ¼ cup whole milk
- 1 clove garlic , crushed
- 3 limes
- 2 cups flour
- 1 (12 oz.) bottle dark beer (e.g. Negra Modelo)
- 1 lb firm white fish (catfish, cod, halibut or tilapia), cut into strips 3 inches by 1 inch
- ½ head green cabbage , finely shredded
- 1 avocado (ripe), sliced
- ½ bunch cilantro
- Vegetable oil (for frying)
Combine mayonnaise, sour cream, milk, garlic and the juice of half a lime in a small bowl.
Cut the remaining limes into quarters.
Heat oil to 350 F in a saucepan over medium-high heat.
In a bowl, mix flour, beer, and salt. The texture should look like pancake batter.
When the oil is hot, dip the fish pieces into the batter and fry until golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes.
Drain on paper towels and season with salt.
Place the tortilla on a plate or taco rack.
Place a piece of fish on each tortilla.
Top each taco with a handful of shredded cabbage, some sauce, a slice of avocado, and a few cilantro leaves.
Serve immediately with lime wedges and a cold beer.