Thursday, July 3, 2008

Live Fish Tacos

When I first arrived in California, and in many respects this still feels like a foreign country, I could have sworn I saw a sign that said Live Fish Tacos. The image of a large flapping mackerel in a little taco, being stuffed in someone's mouth has still not left me. Bubsequently (or subsequently) I was disabused of the idea - it was Fresh Fish Tacos, I'm sure. And I tried them. Fresh? Well breaded and deep fried, with cole slaw. What were they thinking? Not exactly bad, but not exactly good either.

Today I realized I have never tried to cook a fish taco. I've been on my own this past week at home, an odd experience in itself, so I decided, why not? There was a catfish calling, and some flour burritos. Now I"m not saying this is any better for you than the deep fried version, let me be clear. Nor any less perverse. But it really worked.

So, season the catfish filet with salt, dill, smoked pimenton de la vera and a little crushed cubeb. Ok, I was out of black pepper, that's the only reason. And I like the resiny flavor of cubebs anyway. This goes in a cast iron skillet with some bacon grease. OK, I had a few slices of bacon this morning with soft boiled eggs. OH MAN, they were good. With ends of an Acme levain bread. See, you get to cook whatever the hell you like on your own.

Then chiffonade some Chinese Bok Choy (a friend brought it over a few days ago, I think it is in the turnip family, more like a chard than flavorless cabbage) , sautee in olive oil, with a sprinkle of sesame seeds and sea salt. Until seriously dark, and crunchy. You want a little bitterness.

Then toast the burritos over the open flame of the burner. Little black spots are ideal. When cool, spread with the tiniest dollop of mayo (so the ingredients stick) and some furikake - seaweed flakes with bonito and sesame seed.

Crumble the fish and bok choy stuff onto the seasoned burritos, then a hint of cruncy Thai peanut sauce. Not smooth. Whole peanuts in a kind of chili sauce. Forbidden City Fusion sauce is the brand. And OH MY!

Roll it all up. Meal unto itself. It is sublime.

10 comments:

Hungry Passport said...

Oh thank you & bless you a million times over, Ken! This little Tennessee heart of mine is always grateful to find catfish out here in this foreign land of California. It only makes sense to introduce it to Mr. Coffee-Can-o'-Bacon-Grease. (& my husband thanks you, too) Cheers! Carol

Ken Albala said...

Thanks Carol! Any other idea about what to do with a catfish? One of my funniest stories actually involves fishing for catfish with a one-time colleague in the economics department. He had never killed or cleaned a fish before, so I handed him a cleaver and said, go to. Start with the head. Either he was a complete wuss, or just plain weak. It took several hacks to get the head off, and by that time he was splattered with blood. I had to finish the gutting and skinning. And in the end it just tasted like mud. Oh well.

Hungry Passport said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hungry Passport said...

I think God invented catfish specifically to be deep fried. I've had it broiled and baked, and those methods just fancy it up a bit too much for my taste. Maybe you could try some Oh Yeah Seasoning on it! Check out my essay in Cornbread Nation 4: The Best of Southern Food Writing (how's this for a shameless plug?), and you'll see that how to COOK fish isn't always as crucial in the South as how to actually EAT it! http://www.hungrypassport.com/pdf/nobones.pdf
(Sorry for the delete--that's the editor in me tweaking every little thing!)

Heather said...

You mentioned furikake! That makes you my hero. Furikake is my all-time favorite Japanese comfort food. I will eat it with almost anything.
~Heather Mellon

Ken Albala said...

Heather, And I thought I was already your hero! Kidding. I also absolutely adore the stuff. With bonito flakes and sesame is my favorite - seto fumo furikake - made by a company whose label looks like "Shitakiku" I don't care how they make it, but the name is disconcerting. Try umeboshi plum, or shiso too, if you haven't.

Ken

Heather said...

Oooooh, I didn't know it came in pickled plum flavor! My mouth is already watering. I really like the tamago (egg) flavor, but my favorite is the bonito kind. I also am a big fan of the setofumi furikake. So few people are willing to try it if they didn't grow up with it!

Also - have you had tea rice? I think the packaging advertises it as seasoning for tea soup or something like that. It comes in several flavors, and my favorite two are ume and salmon. Very good for the wintertime.

Ji-Young Park said...

As a Californian I have to say that the rest of the country feels foreign to me. ;-)

Manhattan sort of feels normal.

As a Los Angelena, I always thought of fish tacos and seafood burritos as being more San Diegan. That's where I first had them about 20 years ago, then they started creeping up north.

Have you tried deep fried scallop burritos?

Ji-Young Park said...

As a Californian I have to say that the rest of the country feels foreign to me. ;-)

Manhattan sort of feels normal.

As a Los Angelena, I always thought of fish tacos and seafood burritos as being more San Diegan. That's where I first had them about 20 years ago, then they started creeping up north.

Have you tried deep fried scallop burritos?

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