A fish expert shall we say, Bobby Cleveland gives us his take on fish tacos.
When it comes to cooking fish, I could easily be like Bubba in the movie Forrest Gump. You remember him, the likable south Alabama shrimper who started reciting all the ways his “mama ’n’em” cooked shrimp.
He went on for days, and I realized we shared something in common.
If there is a way to serve fish, chances are I’ve cooked it or had someone else cook it for me. A benefit of what I do for a living — writing about outdoor sports, especially fishing — is that I usually have an ample supply of fresh fish.
Catch and release may be the popular and politically correct thing to do, but, seriously …
I’d rather turn them into something delicious either baked, paneed, poached, fried, grilled, smoked, stuffed or cooked in citrus juice for ceviche.
They can be:
* covered in a nice crab and shrimp sauce,
* baked Portuguese-style like my friend Raad taught me with tomatoes, onions and wine,
* steamed atop a pan of shrimp creole,
* stuffed between two pieces of French bread and turned into a po-boy,
* or paneed and finished under a broiler with sliced tomatoes, basil and freshly-grated Parmesan cheese.
Most recently, to satisfy the tastes of my wife Pam, who must follow a gluten-free diet, I have started stuffing fish fillets into taco shells.
We first had fish tacos at Crabby Jack’s in New Orleans out on West Jefferson Highway, near Oschner’s Hospital. They used grilled cobia and served it with only minimal accompaniment — shredded lettuce, diced tomato and sliced avocado and regular taco sauce — inside blue corn shells made on site.
Pam fell in lust with the things, and I was simply happy that she, with her gluten-free needs, could enjoy one of my favorite po-boy places in New Orleans. So strong was her love of tacos that I began working on a fish recipe that would satisfy us both.
It is so easy, and a great way to serve a little bit of fish to a lot of people. Since I hate to freeze fresh fish, we usually cook it one or two ways listed above, saving the smallest fillets for tacos on the third day. It works well with any kind of fish, fresh or salt water, and you can prepare the fish fillets many ways, including grilled, baked or, as in this recipe, paneed in olive oil.
I prefer a verde sauce, medium or hot, which is made with tomatillos. Pam likes them without the sauce. To save time I buy pre-shredded bagged lettuce, and occasionally purchase my favorite restaurant-made guacamole to substitute for sliced avocado, use a mix of pepper jack and cheddar cheeses and get a box of the large flat-bottom taco shells now available at stores.
Because I don’t trust prepackaged taco seasoning to be gluten-free, I use a mix of ground roasted cumin seed, pepper, salt and chili powder to season my fish.
Corn Taco Shells, 10, prepared per instruction (soft is good, too, if preferred)
Fillets of 5 bass or crappie, or 10 bream
Shredded cheese (your choice)
Diced roma tomatoes, 2 should be enough
Sliced avocado or a cup of guacamole
Handful of chopped fresh cilantro leaves
Salsa verde, either homemade or restaurant- or store-bought
Either one pack of taco seasoning, or substitute 2 Tbs ground cumin, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp black pepper, ½ tsp chili powder.
Place fillets in a bowl and drizzle with olive oil. Toss the fish to evenly coat with oil and then add the seasoning and toss to coat evenly. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and remove from refrigerator 15 minutes before cooking while you prepare all the accompaniments. Using a large non-stick pan with a light coat of olive oil over medium high heat, cook each fish fillet for two minutes on each side. Do not overcrowd pan, and cook in batches if necessary. I usually have two pans going for a large crowd. Remove from pan to a plate until all fish is cooked. Depending on size of the fish fillets, it might be necessary to slice them into smaller pieces to fit in the shells. Add the toppings and finish with the salsa verde.
An ice cold Dos Equis with a slice of lime works well.