This marks my final submission in the Alaska Fish Taco contest put on by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, which since it is also Cinco de Mayo is quite fitting. Our last and final challenge was to create the best fish taco. I will admit for the first time in the entire contest I felt intimidated. First, while I have to really love a recipe to put it on my site, I’d never go so far as to call anything I make the best. Maybe a recipe here is, but I’d feel far too arrogant to say so myself. Second, a win in this round would bring the most awe-inspiring prize – a trip to Alaska. I will admit I’ve never been and as someone who gets very geeked out about visiting the sources of her food, I think it’s something I’d highly enjoy.
For this taco I truly wanted to find inspiration in the unexpected. We are vying for a trip after all. This lead me to think of a fantastic restaurant here in Chicago called Mexique. Their dishes feature an unexpected marriage of French and Mexican cooking. Since I love both of these cuisines I thought it would be fun to do a French/Mexican fusion taco.
For my featured fish I chose salmon because it was the fish that surprised me most during this competition. Being less associated with Mexican food, for me, I was unsure of how it would truly play in a taco. The results made me a believer. Mexican flavors with their fiery chiles and nuanced spice blends can be so assertive and intense that they can easily drown out more passive flavors and textures. But salmon is uniquely qualified for the job. With its distinctive flavor and sumptuous, fatty mouthfeel it goes head to head with them without problem.
I gave the base of my taco a fusion flare by substituting a more traditional tortilla, again with a blue corn crepe. I thought that using blue cornmeal would pay homage to a taco’s more classical roots while a crepe would make the French influence undeniable. I love that it’s close enough in flavor to a real tortilla that it feels like a true taco, but different enough to have a sophisticated flare. I ended up cutting mine into mini crepes using a biscuit cutter, for more two-bite tacos because I adore anything miniature, but they are delicious full-sized too.
On top I added frisee lettuce because I associate it with French salads and because along with some corn, it provides great crunch. Next I layered some delicious Coho Salmon I picked up on sale at Whole Foods. I love cooking with this fish but imagine it would be equally delicious with another variety of wild Alaskan Salmon. Because this fish has so much flavor on its own that I grilled it simply with salt and pepper and a little oil to let it shine through.
And drizzled over the top, a luscious chevre fondue or queso, depending on the lingo you prefer. This sauce was directly inspired by something I had on the menu at Mexique. If it doesn’t sound seductive enough on its own keep in mind that it was also flavored with two of my favorite smoky ingredients: chipotles in adobo and bacon. The result is a nuanced sauce with the characteristic tang of goat cheese and subtle burn of the chipotles.
While a fondue might sound like an odd bedfellow in a fish taco, it works surprisingly well (think lox and cream cheese or my Salmon, Goat Cheese and Apple Maki) and really compliments the rich, fatty quality of the salmon. I’m already thinking it would be fun to make salmon nuggets in the future and use this sauce for dunking.
All together it made for a complex meal in a single taco. The crepe “tortilla” has a pleasant sweetness and the fondue accentuated out the taste of the smoke from the charcoal grill I used to cook the salmon. And the salmon, as promised, was robust enough to stand up to the assertive flavors, its luscious mouth feel refusing to be ignored. You gotta love the effect of all those Omega 3’s. The only thing that would make it more delicious is if it were enough to earn me a trip to Alaska. ::Fingers crossed!::
Serves 4, 2 tacos per person
-1/2 cup all purpose flour
-1/2 cup blue cornmeal
-1 1/4 teaspoon salt, plus additional for salting salmon
-2 tablespoons honey
-1 1/4 cup milk
-2 tablespoons melted butter
-16 ounces fillet salmon (can be one or multiple pieces), skin on
-Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
-1 tablespoon canola oil
-2 slices bacon
-1 medium shallot, chopped
-1/3 cup dry white wine
-1 12 ounce can evaporated milk
-1 tablespoons chipotle in adobo, minced
-1 teaspoon garlic powder
-4 ounces fresh chevre
-1 cup frisee
-1 cup corn, cooked
To make the crepes, stir together the flour, cornmeal, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, honey, milk butter until well combined.
Heat a lightly oiled griddle or frying pan over medium high heat. Pour or scoop the batter onto the griddle, using approximately 1/4 cup for each crepe. Tilt the pan with a circular motion so that the batter coats the surface evenly. Cook the crepe for about 2 minutes, until the bottom is light brown. Loosen with a spatula, turn and cook the other side until just lightly golden, about an additional minute. Repeat with remaining batter.
Begin preparing the salmon by heating a grill to high. Brush the salmon with the canola oil and lightly season with salt and pepper. Grill meat side down until golden brown and slightly charred, about three minutes. (Actual cook time will vary depending on the thickness of the fillet, but you’re looking for it to flake easily with a fork.) Remove from heat and heat and tent with foil to keep the fish warm until ready to serve.
To make the sauce, in a pan over medium-low heat, cook bacon until crisp on both sides. Remove from the pan and place on a plate lined with paper towels to drain. Pour off the bacon fat until the pan remains lightly coated. Bring pan back to medium heat and add shallots and cook until translucent. Deglaze the pan with the wine, cooking until all the liquid has evaporated.
Add the evaporated milk, chipotle in adobo, garlic powder, and remaining teasopoon sea salt to the pan. Cook until the mixture is gently bubbling, then reduce heat to low. Reduce by half.
Stir the goat cheese and half of the cooked bacon into the milk mixture and using an immersion or standard blender, blend on high until the mixture is smooth.
To assemble tacos, distribute frisee among the crepes. Break apart salmon (removing skin if attached) and place on top corn, a generous drizzle of the goat cheese fondue and remaining crumbled bacon. Serve immediately.
Thanks again to the people at Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute for the chance to participate. Even if I don’t win a single thing I have personally stretched my perceptions of the kinds of flavors that pair with seafood and work well in a taco. I know I had a lot of fun experimenting and I hope everyone who read along did as well.