Baja California is an 800-mile-long peninsula, known for its varied geography, beautiful beaches, and delicious cuisine. Baja California, about 15 miles from downtown San Diego, is south of the California border and is part of the country of Mexico.
A few years ago we visited the area and had some of the best fish tacos we have ever had. While Baja is part of Mexico, Baja cuisine is distinct from mainland Mexican cooking. Since virtually all points on the peninsula are no more than 50 miles from a body of water, seafood plays a starring role in many dishes. Also, its physical separation from mainland Mexico has allowed Baja cuisine to develop independently.
Many ethnic influences helped shape Baja’s culinary point of view. Sixteenth-century Spanish explorers went to colonize Baja because they believed it was an area rich in jewels. Both Asian and European seafarers visited Baja on fishing and trading expeditions. So, eventually, a cuisine of Mexican, Spanish and Asian influences emerged and that eventually led to tacos.
In its simplest form, a taco is a tortilla wrapped around a filling. Most food historians speculate that the fish taco emerged when Asians introduced Baja natives to the practice of deep-frying fish. When this battered fried fish was combined with traditional Mexican toppings, the fish taco was born.
Modern fish tacos emerged in the 1950s in the Baja city of either Ensenada or San Felipe; it’s an ongoing debate, with both cities claiming to be the “home” of the fish taco. From their tiny stands, street vendors in these cities produce simple, inexpensive fare fast. The fish taco is hot, fresh and delicious — the perfect combination for hungry workers and market goers.
While I do not deep fry the fish in my recipe, these tacos are delicious and come close to what I remember eating on my visit there.
Baja California Style Fish Tacos
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/3 cup dark beer
12 ounces firm fillets of mild, white fish, cut crosswise into 1-inch wide strips
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4-6 small corn tortillas, warmed
Tomato Salsa, recipe below
White Sauce, recipe below
Combine flour, cumin, garlic powder, salt and cayenne in a medium bowl. Whisk in beer to create a batter.
Coat fish in the batter.
Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.
Letting excess batter drip back into the bowl, add the fish to the pan; cook until crispy and golden, 2 to 4 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels.
Makes about 1 1/2 cups.
2 medium tomatoes, seeds removed and chopped
1/4 cup minced red onion
1 scallion finely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped pickled jalapenos
1 small clove garlic, grated
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
In a medium bowl, mix together tomatoes, red onion, scallion, jalapenos, garlic, cilantro, oregano and lime juice.
Season with salt and pepper and chill until serving time.
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoons milk
Whisk all ingredients together in a bowl. The sauce can be made and refrigerated up to 2 days in advance.
Assemble The Tacos
Serve the fish in warmed tortillas topped with salsa and drizzled with white sauce.