Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Tacos, salsa will help spice up fish during Lent

Here's How

By Marilyn Harris
Enquirer contributor

If you plan to eat more fish during the Lenten season there's no reason to settle for bland fish sandwiches. Try a flavorful spicy fish taco instead. This Mexican-style sandwich definitely falls into the category of "fun food" and a couple of fish tacos with our fresh salsa makes an easy, complete casual meal.

I'm not sure about the origin of fish tacos, but I ate my first one in Texas and thought it was a great idea. That first taco was made with an unidentifiable mild white fish that had too much breading and was too greasy. But despite that, I thought the combination was tasty.

Back in my own kitchen, I was happier with my first attempt at re-creating the dish and changing it to my own taste. I used farm-raised catfish fillets, which have a mild flavor and delicate texture. I added cayenne tempered with sweet Hungarian paprika along with garlic-salt paste to add zesty flavors, but not so much to overwhelm the fish. Instead of a thick breading, I dredged the seasoned fillets in flour to seal the exterior and enhance the browning. After all, fish in a taco doesn't need extra breading. Please note to always use corn tortillas for making these tacos and, as you see from the directions, they are served steamed and soft rather than fried crisp.

This salsa is perfect because cherry tomatoes are the one variety you can count on to have flavor this time of year. The little grape tomatoes are usually even sweeter and more flavorful. Be sure to use a sweet salad onion. Taste it first and if the flavor is too strong, slice it into thick slices and soak in ice water 30 minutes, drain and chop. If you chop the onions in the food processor be sure to pulse on and off as rapidly as possible and take care not to chop them too finely.

I like to finish my tacos with a large dollop of sour cream on top of the shredded lettuce. I use romaine instead of the usual iceberg because it's more flavorful. Shredded green cabbage is another option, but then I top it with a dollop of mayonnaise.

Fish Tacos with Cherry Tomato Salsa

1 pound farm-raised catfish fillets

1 large clove garlic, peeled

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon cayenne

Flour, for dredging

Olive oil or vegetable oil for frying fish

8 corn tortillas

1 small head romaine

Cherry Tomato Salsa

Sour cream

Make Cherry Tomato Salsa according to recipe. Cover and chill until fish is ready to serve.

To prepare the fish: Pat fish dry with paper towels. Cut into strips. Put garlic on the cutting board and spoon salt over it. Using the blunt end of a table knife, scrape the garlic into a paste using the salt to turn it into a creamy mixture. Mix the paste with the olive oil. Stir well and set aside.

Add the paprika and cayenne to the oil mixture and stir to mix well. Rub both sides of the fish with the flavor mix.

Place tortillas in heavy-duty foil. Sprinkle lightly with water and seal tightly. Before serving, place in a 350-degree oven 15 minutes or until warmed. Wash, dry and chill the romaine. Shred into fine shreds and keep chilled.

Dredge the fish in the flour, shaking off the excess. Heat about 1/2 inch vegetable oil in a large nonstick skillet. Fry the fish over medium heat until golden brown and cooked through, turning only once. Drain on paper towels.

To serve, place two or three (depending on size) of the fish fillets in a warmed tortilla. Top with romaine and spoonful of salsa. Add a dollop of sour cream if desired. Roll and eat warm. Makes 8 tacos.

Cherry Tomato Salsa

1 pint cherry tomatoes

1/2 cup chopped cilantro

2 tablespoon fresh lime juice

2 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 cup chopped sweet salad onion

1 1/2 teaspoons salt, or to taste

Wash and chop tomatoes by pulsing on and off in the food processor and stir together all of the salsa ingredients. Cover and chill until ready to serve.

Contact Marilyn Harris by mail: c/o Cincinnati Enquirer, 312 Elm St., Cincinnati 45202;

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