Corn-Crusted Fish Tacos with Jalapeno-Lime Sauce and Spicy Black Beans...
I've always been a person of strong conviction. Someone who carefully, thoroughly, weighs out the attributes of a certain belief or feeling, then makes a determined resolve about the matter. I'm not rigid...I don't think. I love to listen and discuss other mindsets and points of reference. But afterward, I usually feel just as emphatic about the ideal I hold. As a child I decided there was something entirely wrong with WET bananas, and wouldn't eat fruit salad for years! Certainly, no one has ever accused me of being wishy-washy!
Truth be told, I hate to deep fry. HATE. IT. You could say it's a conviction. It's a matter of health. It's the lingering smell of dirty oil in my house that seems to hold its ground for days. It's the splatter clean-up afterward, and the fact that I ALWAYS end up with little grease spots on my shirt. It's the idea that it takes a WHOLE bottle of oil to fill a pan...then you are supposed to strain and reuse your filthy oil when finished. Does anyone actually do that? I'd love to know! All things considered, I don't like it, and therefore seldom do it!
I realize this contradicts my efforts of becoming a good southern cook--but I don't care. Frying gives me HIVES! I avoid it at all costs! I simmer, sear, poach, roast, broil, and grill with the best of them, but I don't fry.
In the last several years, I've developed a love-affair with cast-iron skillets. Iron skillets, as you know, were made for frying, and I sometimes feel mine get the short end of the stick. This has caused me to rethink my intense disdain for frying. Will I ever deep fry again? Maybe not. But I have given "pan frying" a second chance. After all, I tell myself, it really isn't any different than sauteing...
Things I have decided to pan fry... HERBS. I do this to flavor oils, as well as to crisp up the herbs for an unexpected garnish. Flash-fried sage, rosemary and basil leaves are divine sprinkled over just about anything! CHEESE. Breaded, pan fried cheese is wonderful as an appetizer, on top of salad, or floating in soup. FISH. Although, I enjoy grilled and roasted fish just as much, there are times when a lightly fried fish fillet is necessary for a dish to reach its full potential.
Fish Tacos, for example, would represent one of these times. Of course, you could grill your fish for the tacos. I have done this many times. Yet, there is no substitute for that crunchy FRIED crust, holding in all the moisture, keeping the essence of the fish intact, separating the cold veggies and sauce from the hot fish! Why would you want to mess that up? I surely don't.
Cornmeal is my weapon of choice for breading fish. It creates a thin coat with a rustic texture. I also like to select a fish that has thin fillets. Although I love halibut and mahi-mahi, when I'm frying...even just pan frying...I want it to be done already. Thin fillets cook up quick! Top your perfect pan fried fillets with shredded cabbage and jalapeno-lime sauce. Viola! Proof that there ARE times (be-they-few) that one must question one's convictions.
Corn-Crusted Fish Tacos with Jalapeno-Lime Sauce and Spicy Black Beans
1 ½ lbs. tilapia (catfish and swai work too)
½ cup cornmeal
4-5 Tb. olive oil
8-16 tortillas (white corn tortillas are traditional)
1 ½ cup shredded red cabbage
2 large tomatoes, chopped
¾ cup chopped cilantro
2 limes cut into wedges
Bottled hot sauce
2 cans black beans, drained
½ cup chopped green onions
½ tsp. cumin
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
2/3 cup light mayo
1-2 Tb. lime juice
1 chopped jalapeño (pickled if sensitive to heat)
Mix the mayo, lime juice and chopped jalapeno in a small bowl. Salt and pepper to taste, then put in the fridge. I use a pickled jalapeno when I’m serving this to children because it provides great flavor, but isn’t as hot as a fresh jalapeno.
Chop all veggies and set aside.
Add 1 Tb. of oil to a small pan over medium-high heat. Add the green onions and allow them to sauté for 1-2 minutes. Pour both cans of drained beans into the pan. Bring to a simmer and add the cumin, cayenne and ½ tsp. of salt. Squeeze a couple of lime wedges into the beans. Cook for 5 minutes longer. Cover and set aside. Top the beans with cheese when you are ready to serve them.
Heat a large skillet to high heat. Cut the fish into 1 X 3 inch strips. Drizzle oil on the fish, then salt and pepper both sides.
Pour the cornmeal into a pie pan. Roll the fish strips in cornmeal, shaking off the excess.
Add 2 Tb. of oil to pan. When it’s hot, cook half the fish strips 1-2 minutes per side, until opaque and flaky. The cooking time will depend on the thickness of the fish. Remove the fish from the pan and place on a paper towel-lined plate. Repeat.
Warm the tortillas in the microwave. Divide the fish between 8 tortillas. (You can double up the tortillas so they won’t break!) Then top each with cabbage, tomatoes, cilantro and jalapeno-lime sauce. Serve with lime wedges and hot sauce—black beans on the side. Serves 4.