A Tale of Two Tacos, Pt. 1

I’ve got fish tacos in my blood.

No, really. Growing up in San Diego, I think I’ve enough consumed enough of these things that you can find trace amounts of beer battered yellowtail in my lab results. It's a legitimate medical condition.

No matter where I am in the world, a well-made, Baja-style taco can instantly transport me back to the sunny beaches of Southern California. It’s a true culinary journey, one that I’ve been taking for years now. I’ve made these tacos with Calico bass caught in warm water kelp forests, mahi mahi and yellowtail caught in blue water far offshore, and even rockfish and lingcod pulled from out of the frigid waters off Northern California’s rocky Mendocino coast. Despite their geographical difference, what all these species have in common is their firm, clean-tasting white meat. This recipe has produced amazing results with any fish whose flesh fits that description, but I had a feeling that it could do more.

Maybe it was time to branch out a bit.

If you wanted to deviate from clean-tasting, white fish, you couldn’t possibly pick a better candidate than the common carp. For starters, it’s an oily fish. Trust me, after taking off your first fillet, you’ll no longer need to ask what that means. Carp also has a reputation of tasting muddy, and even has a string of dark red meat running down the middle of its fillets, affectionately known as a “mud vein.” To make this recipe work, we have to be a little bit choosy when it comes to picking our fish. If the fillets are too dark, save them for the grill or the smoker. On even the lightest fillets, you’ll need to trim away the darker meat.

We also “whiten” the carp meat by letting it sit in a bath of lime juice. Not as long as you would for a ceviche, but long enough that it firms up a bit and takes on a lighter hue.Oh, and one more thing. Carp have bones. A lot of them. When choosing your cuts for these tacos, do your best to cut them out, as they won’t be cooking long enough to dissolve any lingering bones.    

Prep time: 30 minutes

Cook time: 30 minutes

Ingredients:

6 fingers of carp meat, roughly 3in x 1in

4 limes

½ cup flour

1 teaspoon cayenne

2 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

1 teaspoon salt

Vegetable oil

6 small corn tortillas

2 cups cabbage, shredded

Sriracha chili sauce, for serving

Batter

1 12oz beer

1 ½ cup flour

White Sauce

4 tablespoons mayonnaise

Juice of 1 lime

½ teaspoon cayenne

The first thing you’ll want to do is get your carp meat into a lime juice bath. Juice your four limes into a small bowl and add your carp meat. Let soak for an hour, turning the meat at the 30 minute mark to ensure even soaking. When the carp has finished soaking, add your flour, cayenne, salt and pepper into a bowl and dredge the fish in the spiced flour mixture.

Add the beer and flour for the batter into a separate bowl and whisk together until it reaches a thick consistency. You’re going for something slightly thicker than pancake batter. Feel free to add more flour if necessary. Toss the dredged carp into the batter and fully coat. In the meantime, add your vegetable oil to a saucepan, enough that you will be able to fully submerge your battered fish. Place the oil on high heat.

As you wait for your oil to heat, go ahead and prep your white sauce. The sauce is really the magic behind these tacos and is mind-numbingly simple to make. Add your mayonnaise to bowl and gradually add the the juice of one lime. Stir and continue to add the juice until your sauce has reached a yogurt-like consistency. Mix in your cayenne and the sauce is good to go.

When the oil is shimmering, add your battered carp. Typically, I’ll need to give them a nudge to get them off the bottom of the pan, once they’re floating in the oil, let them cook for about 5 minutes, or until the batter has turned a nice golden brown. Remove the fish from the oil and place on some folded paper towels to drain. While they drain, warm up your tortillas in a lightly oiled frying pan.

When it comes time to put it all together, take one tortilla, add a finger of fried fish, some shredded cabbage, a dash of Sriracha and a healthy portion of the white sauce. Serve with some extra wedges of lime, a lawn chair and a stretch of sun-kissed beach.

If you don't have those handy, a cold beer will do you just fine.