April 28, 2016

Blackened Fish Tacos

Cinco de Mayo is one of those holidays that's just fun to celebrate. All you have to do is eat yummy Mexican food, which--Hallelujah!--can involve carbs (can you tell I'm still bitter about Passover?). Unfortunately I'll still be stuck in Europe with my final exams, but there's no excuse for all of my American readers (aka the vast majority of you) not to celebrate. And what better way to celebrate this culturally appropriated holiday than by eating your body weight in tacos, especially secretly healthy spicy fish tacos?

Blackening is one of the most underrated methods of cooking fish. It involves crusting the fish in a mixture of spices and searing in a skillet--preferably cast iron--until, well, black. However, there's a difference between blackening and burning; proper blackening technique should toast the spices to make them more fragrant and draw out more flavor without actually burning them. This is a very delicate balance, but it's worth the effort to perfect it.

My sister complained that my spice mixture was a little too spicy for her taste. As a result, I adjusted it accordingly, but feel free to change it to your family's tastes. I use a blend of paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, brown sugar, cayenne, chili powder, cumin, oregano, thyme, salt, and pepper. There's notes of heat as well as notes of sweetness with some other spices in there to balance things out. Once they hit the hot pan, these spices become extremely aromatic and flavorful, which is perfect for tacos.

Of course, it also matters what you're blackening. I like to go with mahi mahi since it's a firm white fish that stands up to the spice and the cooking technique. It flakes easily enough to break into pieces when assembling the tacos but doesn't fall apart when you're eating it. If you can't find mahi mahi or it's just too expensive, you can substitute halibut, cod, catfish, or tilapia. You can even try this recipe with shrimp or chicken if fish isn't your thing.

To assemble the tacos, you can use any kind of tortilla you prefer: flour, hard corn, or soft corn. I went with the traditional soft corn tortillas warmed in an oven for a few minutes to soften them. I normally love cheese on tacos, but I'm not a big fan of seafood and cheese together so I skipped it here. I did make a quick slaw with cabbage, carrots, and jicama for crunch and to cool down the heat of the blackening spices. Guacamole is good on pretty much everything, and it's particularly delicious piled onto these fish tacos. I also have a bunch of salsa recipes online, including corn and tomato salsamango salsa, and pineapple rum salsa that would all be fantastic complements to the spicy fish. Just channel your inner Chipotle (minus the food poisoning) and go all out with your tacos. It is Cinco de Mayo, after all.

1 1/2 lbs Mahi Mahi or Other Fish/Protein
1 T Paprika
2 tsp Garlic Powder
2 tsp Onion Powder
2 tsp Brown Sugar
1 tsp Cayenne
1 tsp Chili Powder
1 tsp Cumin
1 tsp Oregano
1 tsp Thyme
1 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Pepper
Tortillas and Taco Toppings, for Serving

Whisk the spices together. Pat the fish dry, then toss in the spice mixture until coated.

Heat some oil in a skillet. Cook the fish on both sides until crisp and cooked through, about 4 minutes per side.

Cut the fish into large chunks and pile onto the tortillas. Top with vegetables, guacamole, or anything else you have on hand.

Serves 4

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