An Obsession with Fish Tacos

Categories: news — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — Posted by: Grant @ December 3, 2008 : 2:32 am
Some home made fish tacos

Some home made fish tacos

I’ve had an interesting path in life that led to my eventual love affair with fish tacos. It started in the town of Portland, Oregon, where I grew up. Back then, there weren’t a huge amount of Mexican restaurants, short of chains like Azteca, Chevy’s, Mazatlan and the various fast food establishments. When a Taco del Mar opened up around high school, I dropped by and was intrigued by the fish tacos being advertised.

A friend who was with me scoffed (and happened to be part Hispanic), claiming that fish tacos were a Western invention and not “authentic” Mexican food. Of course, I know that’s complete bunk now, but being an impressionable 16 year old at the time, I believed him and opted for a chicken burrito instead. It would be years later on a plane ride to LA, that I had a pleasant conversation with an elderly gentleman on his way to Mexico, who happened to be a historian of sorts. He explained the rich seafood tradition of the country and also that I absolutely had to try some the local seafood should I find myself there – but especially in Ensenada, the home of the fish taco. So, I did.

While stopped in a port city on a cruise, I walked straight past all the drunk college kids at the Hard Rock and went straight into the inner parts of the city with my two years of fragmented high school Spanish and sense of adventure. After a moderate walk, I found what seemed like a restaurant popular with the locals, found the “tacos de pescado” on the menu and have been hooked ever since.

I’ve heard claims from some uppity California folk that Seattle has no good fish tacos. Oh please. I would easily eat at Ooba’s, Cactus or Agua Verde any day, though I might avoid certain others – at least for the fish tacos.

Pico de gallo ingredients - onion, cilantro, tomato

Basic pico de gallo ingredients - onion, cilantro, tomato

It would seem to me that fish tacos depend on three absolute things to work well: the sauce, the pico de gallo and the battered fish. I almost don’t want to include the pico because that is near impossible to mess up, though it has been done before. This really leaves the fish – which is really just a beer battered white fish – and the sauce, where in my opinion, the magic happens.

I wanted to experiment for myself on what exactly goes into the sauce for fish tacos, and found via Google that common ingredients are: sour cream, mayonnaise, yogurt, lime and chipotle. As with all recipes, the formulas vary, but these had the most mention. So, I ran off to the store and grabbed a few ingredients and tried my own concoctions.

Sauce #1: Organic limes, Nancy’s sour cream, organic mayo
This was my baseline sauce. While it wasn’t bad, I felt it was a bit simple in terms of flavor. The problem I found is that the sour cream and mayo make for a chunky sauce, so it took a high ratio of lime juice in order to make it a spoonable sauce rather than globs of stuff. As such, it was pretty heavy on the lime side – which as a lime and citric fruits lover – says a bit. If you use lime in your pico, then this might be just a bit too tart for taste.

Sauce #2: Organic limes, Nancy’s sour cream, lemon-pepper mayo, Rachel’s Kiwi Passion fruit Lime yogurt
I like Rachel’s yogurt, which I saw once at Whole Foods and buy on occasion. My thinking was that it would work great for sauce because the yogurt is naturally a bit more runny than normal. The end result worked well; much more balanced and with less lime use and about equal parts of cream, mayo and yogurt. This is a good mix of tart, sweet and still a smoothness that I think compliments the fish and other ingredients well.

Sauce #3: Organic limes, Nancy’s sour cream, Greek God’s honey yogurt, chipotle peppers
If you haven’t had Greek God’s brand yogurt, here’s a warning: it is rich. If you have any concerns about your health at all, don’t even come near this stuff. If you closed your eyes, you might think you were eating a soft and lighter version of cream cheese. But man is it good! This ended up tasting as a complete contrast to sauce #2, as the flavor was much more in your face, with a distinct, velvety kick that had big American taste all over it. It made me feel like the fish and other ingredients were a delivery vehicle for the sauce.

I liked #2 the best, for an overall package, but Steve was floored by #3, which he thought was easily good enough to serve in a restaurant. So, while sauce is obviously subjective as well, I’m going to keep tinkering around to try and find the “best” fish taco sauce around. If you have any fish taco recipes of your own however, I would loooove to hear them!

(In case anyone wonders: I used pico, green and red cabbage, shredded carrots and Pumpkin spiced beer battered cod as other ingredients. And since you’re going to ask, the Pumpkin spiced beer was not some culinary experiment, but just what happened to be what was left in the ‘fridge.)

Real Wasabi Paste – Not Horseradish and Green Food Coloring

Categories: food — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , — Posted by: Grant @ November 7, 2008 : 7:30 pm

Following up on our recent sushi article, here’s a picture of some real wasabi paste, rather than the green dyed horseradish stuff that you get in sushi restaurants. These wasabi tubes were purchased from Pacific Farms, a company based in Florence Oregon that until recently, grew their own wasabi. The website is somewhat vague about where their obtain their wasabi now, but they were one of the few (if only) commercial growers of wasabi in the US.

From the picture, you can see the texture is more chunky with fibrous root material. The green is more of a pastel shade and less tennis ball green that you get in restaurants. The taste is immediately discernible, as there is a subtle, yet sweet flavor. The “kick’ that wasabi is known for is more powerful as well, though in a dull and prolonged manner versus the sharp, eye-watering kick of horse radish.

In reality though, real wasabi paste is more of a novelty if you aren’t making your own sushi, as you’ll be hard pressed to take your own tube of wasabi into a sushi restaurant without looking quite odd. In addition, real wasabi only keeps fresh for so long before spoiling, so you either need to use it quite quickly in the refrigerator or keep it in the freezer for storage.

Nonetheless, it was a fun lesson in learning what real wasabi tastes like. You might be able to get real wasabi in high end restaurants outside of Seattle, but we don’t know any Seattle restaurants that actually offer this, due to the price and extremely low demand.

Kayaking and Camping at Baker Lake

Categories: seattle — Tags: , , , , , , — Posted by: Grant @ May 27, 2008 : 9:05 pm

This is a short video taken this past weekend of Bryan and I at Baker Lake. This was my first time attempting the kayaking and camping combo, so I was quite excited about the trip. I had never been to Baker Lake, so I took my time carefully selecting my camp gear on this particular trip, as there were quite a few unknowns to deal with. Bryan and I decided early on that though there were three managed (aka comfortable) camp sites on the West shore of Baker Lake, we would try to do the “Seattle” thing and camp in whatever primitive spot we could find while sploshing around on the water.

Gathering my gear, I quickly realized our kayaks could hold perhaps half the gear I would like to bring. Many modern campers swear by the trek lite method of camping, which utilizes the bare minimum to ensure a quick in-and-out approach. I, however, prescribe to the school of everything and the kitchen sink, which in this case would mean successfully sinking my kayak to the lake bottom the minute it touched water.

On the first night, my regrets materialized when I woke up every hour tossing and turning due to the hard sand that doubled as my bed. I shouldn’t complain however, as we snagged one of the best primitive spots on the lake, a protected sandy bed next to a creek. We even had fish biting all around our secluded point that morning, but couldn’t quite snag enough luck to have grilled trout for lunch.

We had to depart early the next day due to thunderstorms that started rolling in. It was unfortunate, as we had kayaked the entire lake that morning and our arms were sore, but rather than brace a miserable night with limited rain gear short of our tent and jackets, we packed up and took off.

All in all, Baker Lake is a great destination for a summer camping trip. It is crowded however, but there are multiple managed camp sites with quite a few spots at each site. The type of people we saw were primarily family campers and younger groups of teens on motorboats, but no unsavory elements as far as we could tell.

FYI, the video is a bit choppy, as it was taken with my new and experimental Oregon Scientific Action Cam. It’s an enclosed video camera that is waterproof and the size of a monocular that fits in your hand and can record up to an hour of video (with a 2GB memory card). I’m playing around with it for a bit, but it seems pretty useful so far.

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