Thursday, January 17, 2008

Fish Tacos & Guacamole

So, about a month or so ago, Ei-Nyung and I went to Tulum, Mexico with some friends, where we had an insanely good time marked by some extraordinary food. One of the best things we ate was also one of the simplest. Los Arrecifes, the place we stayed, had a small restaurant (what looked like one or two guys, tops) that had fish tacos.

Now, fish tacos aren't exactly complex, and they're certainly not new. Even in Oakland, there are more places than you can count that serve fish tacos. But I'd never had them before. If I had, it'd have been "Baja-style" fish tacos, where the fish is breaded and fried. These were different - simple.

The fish was pan-fried with some lime. The tacos consisted of two corn (and one time, flour) tortillas, a small pile of iceberg lettuce, a generous smattering of fish, some thin slices of tomato, and a thin slice of avocado. Pretty much exactly as it looks in the picture.

Whether these were the best tacos I've ever had on their own, or whether it was a combination of the absolutely gorgeous place, the perfect vacation, and the tacos I'll probably never know. But that said, after getting back from Tulum, we went out in search of fish tacos in Oakland.

Cactus, Baja Taqueria and Los Cantaros all have fish tacos, but they're Baja-style. Sonoma Taco Shop in San Rafael has non-breaded fish tacos, but they have beans, which throws the whole balance of flavors off. One night, Ei-Nyung made fish tacos using some cod she bought at whole foods, and they were delicious. A couple nights ago, I gave it a shot, also using cod, but that wasn't because it was the perfect fish (though it's close), it's because it was cheap at Safeway, and the only white fish they had.

Bascially, the process involved pan-frying the fish in some oil, squeezing some lime juice (in this case, half a lime) over the fish as it cooked, and seasoning it with some salt and pepper. I steamed some corn tortillas for about 30 seconds in the microwave, hacked up some iceberg lettuce, sliced up some heirloom tomatoes (the only even marginally ripe tomatoes the Safeway had), and chopping up some onions and a little cilantro.

In lieu of the thin slice of avocado, I went with a recipe for guacamole I've been making. I started with America's Test Kitchen's recipe for guacamole, then incorporated some of Rick Bayless' recipe. It's basically two medium-sized avocados, spooned out of the husk and mashed with a fork then mixed with the juice of half a lime, along with about two diced tablespoons of onion, a diced jalapeno (seeds and internal ribs removed), some chopped cilantro, a dash of ground cumin, pepper, salt, and a roughly diced tomato with the seeds and juice removed.

The cod is a pretty good fish for fish tacos. I have no idea whether it's specifically what they used in Tulum, but it has a nice, flakey, meaty consistency that's pleasant, and a flavor that's distinctly fish, without being overbearing. The guacamole's great with chips, but perhaps a little much for the delicate fish flavor in the tacos - still, I can't say I minded all that much. A dash of hot sauce, and you're off to the races.

For me, it's a meal that will forever be flavored with a great deal of affection and nostalgia. The week we spent in Tulum was one of the best times I've ever had, and this is one of those meals that will really be associated with a very happy time.


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