The first time I had fish tacos was 20 years ago as I was biking though the dusty town of Guerrero Negro in Baja California. I met an adorable young Mexican girl, who showed me the sights around town, of which there were only three. (1) the lagoon where gray whales give birth to their young each February (kicking myself for visiting in October); (2) the massive salt works that, at one time, was the largest producer of salt in the world, and (3) awesome fish tacos for just a few pesos each.
While no fish tacos will ever compared to the memory of my fish tacos in Guerrero Negro, the Latin-themed issue (September/October 2014) of Cook’s Illustrated definitely put this recipe on my “to do” list. While Chris Kimball’s Mexican recipes are usually quite tame, he nevertheless promised fresh and bold flavors. Because fish tacos are usually much more subtle than other types of tacos, I had high hopes that his Yankee-palate could still yield ideal fish tacos. Grilling the fish definitely added flavor, and I was surprised at how well the 1″ fish slices held together on the grill. Not using flaky-fish is very important to this recipe. The fish is served with a pineapple/pepper salsa.
The tacos are very good. The marinade imparted good flavor to the otherwise subtle fish flavor, but without over powering the fish. Ultimately, however, I think that these tacos are not worth the effort or expense. $41 makes this the most expensive recipe I’ve every made (this was previous most expensive). The recipe was also a little fussy; using two types of chile powder (neither of which I could find). While I liked the Pineapple/Pepper salsa, I also felt that a little more raw heat would have made the tacos more successful. While I wanted to love them, I can only give them a luke-warm 3-1/2 starts. Your best bet is to travel to Mexico.
- The recipe requires you to avoid common super-market fish, as they are too flaky and will fall apart as you cook them on the grill. Chris Kimball recommends using swordfish, mahi-mahi, tuna, or halibut fillets. My supermarket only had the requisite 1″-thick fish as swordfish; at $15/lb.
- The recipe calls for ancho chile powder and chipotle chile powder. Unfortunately, I didn’t find either variety in my supermarket, nor where the whole, dried peppers in stock. I would have gladly made my own. In the end I used half regular chile powder, which contains ingredients other than just dried chiles. Cook’s Illustrated did a taste test on Chili Powders here.
Rating: 3-1/2 stars.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess? Medium.
Start time 4:00 PM. Dinner at 6:00 PM.
Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. The descriptions of how I prepared it today are given below:
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon ancho chile powder
2 teaspoons chipotle chile powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground coriander
2 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons lime juice (from 1 lime)
Tacos and Salsa Ingredients:
4 tablespoons lime juice (2 limes)
2 pounds skinless swordfish steaks
1 jalapeño chile
18 corn tortillas (6-inch)
1 red bell pepper
2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro, plus extra for serving
1/2 head iceberg lettuce
1 avocado, halved, pitted, and sliced thin
- Peel and mince 2 garlic cloves. Squeeze juice from 1 lime into a small cup.
- Place an 8″ skillet over medium burner and pre-heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil. Add the 3 tablespoons chili powder (ideally 1 tablespoon ancho chile powder and 1 tablespoon chipotle chile powder); cooking and stirring for 2 to 3 minutes until bubbling. Add 1 teaspoon dried oregano, 1 teaspoon ground coriander, 2 minced garlic cloves, and 1 teaspoon salt. Continue cooking for 30 seconds.
- Mash 2 tablespoons tomato paste into mixture in the skillet and cook for 2 seconds, then mix in 1/2 cup orange juice and 2 tablespoons of lime juice. Allow to reduce slightly while constantly stirring for 2 minutes. Empty mixture into a medium bowl and allow to cool for 15 minutes.
- When cooled, cut fish lengthwise into 1″-wide strips and add to bowl with chile mixture. Use a rubber spatula the carefully coat fish. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for between 30 minutes and 2 hours.
- Prepare your charcoal grill by opening all bottom and top vents completely. Fill and ignite a chimney starter mounding with briquettes (7-quarts). After 20 minutes or so when the top coals become partially covered with white ash, empty lit coats evenly over entire grill. Set grill grate in place, cover and allow to pre-heat for 5 minutes.
- While the charcoal ignites, prepare the salsa ingredients. Peel the pineapple and cut lengthwise into quarters. Cut away the core and the cut each quarter in half lengthwise (resulting in 8 pieces the full length of the pineapple). Remove the stem and seeds from your bell pepper, cut into 1/4″-wide strips then cut cross-wise into 1/4″ pieces.
- Also prepare a plate with lime wedges, extra cilantro, thinly sliced iceberg lettuce,
- Clean the pre-heated grill grate by brushing with well-oiled paper towels. Repeat the process 5 to 10 times until the grate becomes glossy and black.
- Put the fish on half of the grill. Brush both side of the pineapple with a total of 1 tablespoon vegetable oil. Put pineapple and whole jalapeno on the other half the grill.
- Cover grill and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, until the first side begins to brown. Use a thin spatula to carefully flip fish, pineapple and jalapeno. Re-cover and continue cooking for 3 to 5 more minutes until the internal temperature of the fish reaches 140-degrees. Put fish on a large plate, flake it breaking into pieces, then tent with foil. Put pineapple on cutting board.
- Briefly clean the grill grate, and warm the tortillas in batches for 30 to 45 seconds per side, until they are speckled with brown spots. Wrap tortillas in a dish towel or aluminum foil to keep warm. Repeat with remaining tortillas.
- Finely chop pineapple and jalapeno, and add to bowl you your peppers and cilantro. Stir in 4 tablespoons lime juice and adjust salt according to your taste.
- To assemble tacos, top the tortillas with fish, salsa, lettuce and avocado, serving with wedges of lime extra chopped cilantro.