When I was young, my family would have a fish fry every few weeks. Whenever my mother would bring home a few pounds of fresh cod and buttermilk from the grocery store, I immediately knew I was in for a treat. I used to love the process of it all, dipping the fish in the flour, then the buttermilk, and then the flour again. I loved listening to the oil pop and sputter, being to short to watch my father place the battered fish into the pot. There is such theatre to a fish fry, the purposeful steps forming a dance of comestible intent. The flurry of these dancers’ movement is scored by the scents and sounds of sizzling spiced batter and hot snapping oil. No one person takes a passive role in this dance, while the surrounding viewers may only first stand and watch in anticipation, they later become eager participants in the eating. Food is about more than just the things that we digest, it is also about the process, the participants, and the community that create it. These food traditions become an act of modern story telling, a form of ritual that groups use unconsciously to pass on the customs and teachings that make up a heritage.
I recently had the pleasure of revisiting this communal dance, as a friend came back from a trip with a Styrofoam cooler filled a handsome mishmash fresh water fish. The fisherman’s bounty, hooked from an Iowa river, provided the appropriate material for a fish fry. As this melting pot of fresh fish commingling in the cooler, we gathered our friends as willful participants in our own version of the dance of the fish fry. No one needed direction, everyone set into his or her decided roles, and guided by some preternatural memory we happily took to the task at hand.
Our own rendition of the dance of the fish fry took a modern southwestern theme, aiming to create fried fish tacos. I can’t say exactly when, where, or whom first created the recipe for fish tacos. Fried fish placed in a corn tortilla then topped with a spicy cream sauce and dry cabbage slaw seem such a natural combination that I wonder if any one person ever actually thought of it in the first place. Perhaps the intuitive roles chosen in the fish fry might serve as a mirror to the creation of this recipe. Nonetheless, here I share the recipe for some superb fish tacos, as documentation of my new family’s fish fry traditions. Enjoy!
Fish Tacos with Chipotle Sriracha Cream
For fried fish:
2-3 lbs of fresh cod or other fish for frying (we had used a combination of bluegill, catfish, and perch)
1 cup cornmeal
2 cups white flour
2 cups buttermilk
2 tablespoons adobo seasoning
1 tablespoon hot mustard powder
Canola, Peanut, or vegetable oil for frying
For Chipotle Sriracha Cream:
1 cup sour cream
½ cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons Sriracha sauce (a chili pepper sauce found in the Asian or International sections of most grocery stores)
1 ½ tablespoons ground chipotle chile peppers
the juice of 1 lime
1 tablespoon sugar
salt to taste
Pre-shredded dry coleslaw mix
Diced white onion
To fry the fish, first rinse fish fillets in clean water, then cut into pieces approxamitly four inches wide. Combine cornmeal with one cup of white flour, reserving one more cup of white flour. Mix adobo seasoning and hot mustard powder with the flour mixture. Place the one cup of plain white flour in a bowl. Pour buttermilk into a second separate bowl. Place flour and spice mixture in a third bowl. Fill a large pot with oil and heat to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Dredge fish pieces in white flour, then dip in buttermilk, then dredge again in the mixed spice and flour bowl. Place fish in the hot oil, just a few at a time to avoid crowding. Fry fish until the batter is light a light golden brown. Immediately place fried fish on paper towels to rest and drip off any excess oil. Be careful to monitor the oil temp while frying, adjust the burner to keep the oil between 340-350 degrees.
To make Chipotle Sriracha Cream, combine listed ingredients in a mixing bowl. Mix the mixture vigorously with a wire whisk until well combined.
To plate, heat tortillas in oven or in a cast iron pan. Serve with pre-shredded dry coleslaw mix, onions, and cilantro. Top with Chipotle Sriacha cream and a lime wedge. Enjoy!