Friday, February 19, 2010

Day 340 - Fried Fish, Fish Tacos, Tortilla Soup and Fried Tortilla Strips

It's not Cinco de Mayo, but it might as well be at my house tonight! I thought I'd knock out all the remaining Mexican dishes for a group of people I know will appreciate them: my friends from the TMLP. TMLP stands for Team Management Leadership Program, a course we all took together at Landmark Education in 2003. One of the things I learned in this course is how to create a project that inspires me and see it through to completion. It would be crazy to mention the TMLP (and Landmark) on this blog without acknowledging that I would never have had the vision, will, and follow-through to do a project like Jeff and Martha without that education.

Tonight, I've got Steve and Rory (yes, they're a couple and they've been together for about 100 years - amazing), and Vicki and Courtney (no, they're not a couple, but they act like they've been together for about 100 years). And they do like their Mexican food. And drink. Margaritas were the choice of the evening.

Fried Fish (p. 274)

I'm sure you're all tired of hearing me say how much I hate deep frying. I hate it so much that even though it's crazy to serve two big main courses to five people, I really wanted to kill two fried dishes with one fry stone. And since I was going to be frying tortilla strips, I thought, "Just do the fish too."

The batter is quite easy to put together. Cake flour, salt, beer, and eggs. Meanwhile, I was stalling to make the batter until the oil was ready, but then I reread the recipe and saw the part about refrigerating the batter for at least 20 minutes before using. Crap.

I can't believe how long I kept my friends waiting for this dish! Don't be afraid to make this batter in advance like I was! It can sit in the fridge for up to 2 hours!

One of the most maddening things about frying is keeping oil at a consistent temperature, something I definitely haven't mastered. In this recipe, Martha wants the oil to be 375° when the fish goes in, and between 350° and 375° for the duration of the cooking. My oil temp dropped way too low with the first batch. Accordingly, they were a little soggy. The second batch was a little better, but still the temperature was all over the place. The last batch was the best because I cranked the oil. Lesson: hotter is better.

Cod was the chosen fish tonight, and I was happy with the taste and texture of the cooked fish, but the batter seemed a little lackluster. I think it's probably a great batter for onion rings. It has that heavy/fluffy batter appeal. (This is a wet batter, i.e. dry and wet ingredients are pre-mixed, unlike a dip in flour, dip in eggs, dip in bread crumbs kind of frying.) I wonder if a little more salt would have resulted in a tastier breading....

PS Leftover update: reheating this fish in the toaster oven is very successful. They get crispy and brown with perfect texture. And a little salt solves the lackluster batter flavor issue.

Jeff: B- (bad temperature control, and points off for keeping friends waiting for food)
Martha: A

Fish Tacos (p. 276)

I've never eaten fish tacos before, so this uncharted territory for me. The garnishes are easy enough to put together. I already had the cilantro, lime, and cabbage on hand for the tortilla soup. The only extra things I needed to get were radishes and the cream. Martha doesn't specify amounts for the ingredients in the cream - she just says to add lime juice and chipotle adobo sauce to it. My ratios were roughly 1 C of sour cream, 1/4 C of lime, and 2 T of chipotle sauce, and Courtney, our resident fish taco expert, said that it was right on. For me, it was a little spicy, but I'm a wimp.

I don't know what a great fish taco is, but I don't think I served it tonight. My tortilla was a little tough. (Martha suggests serving double tortillas, but no one wanted that, and I don't blame them. Too much tortilla!) The fish wasn't crispy enough. And as much flavor as there was in the garnishes, it just didn't add up for me. Salting helped, but I couldn't find the "there" there. I can't help thinking that I'd prefer a fish taco with unfried fish.

That's Courtney, right, with a taco and some salad.

Jeff: B (tough tortillas and no "there" there)
Martha: B (we could have used more info about the sauce ingredient proportions)

Tortilla Soup (p. 47)

Here's another Mexican dish I've never experienced before. I took Martha's make-the-day-before option for this soup, and I'm so glad I did. This was a really interesting process to go through, with amazing results.

First of all, this soup starts with chicken stock and builds on top of that, so there's tons of flavor. First thing that happens is a cut-up chicken gets cooked in chicken stock. Then while that's happening, you make a puree out of sautéed onions and garlic, char-broiled tomatoes, and dried pasilla chiles that have been charred and then softened in water. Then you add this amazing-tasting puree to the super-enriched chicken stock. The resulting soup base is like nothing I've ever tasted before: smoky, complex, and delicious.

The cooked chicken gets shredded and refrigerated separately from the stock. Then on serving day, you reheat the stock and once it's hot, you add the shredded chicken and cook long enough just to heat through. I forgot to add the lime juice before serving (a common Jeff error), so I had to go around spooning lime juice into everyone's bowls. (Now THAT'S service.)

Survey says? Amazing. I was really proud of this dish. Even if there were no garnishes on hand, I would still stand behind this soup. I took a little poll of my guests how this compared to tortilla soups they'd had elsewhere, and the unanimous response was that this was definitely steps up from your average tortilla soup. (Go Martha!)

And everyone liked being able to choose their own garnishes - I served all the recommended ones in the book: onions, avocado, shredded cabbage, cilantro, lime wedges, tortilla strips, and cheese. I've never had cotija cheese, which I liked. That's Vicki with her soup, surrounded by garnishes.

Would I make this again? I just might. It's nice to be able to get the heavy lifting out of the way the day before. And as I said above, the flavor is stellar. I was worried about serving this a main course, but it's quite hearty, and I'd encourage others not to be self-conscious about that.

Jeff: A
Martha: A

Fried Tortilla Strips (p. 75)

Homemade fried tortillas! Nothing to it! As long as you're willing to heat up a huge pot of oil. I had some of the same temperature control issues here that I had with the fish, although tortilla strips don't bring the temperature of oil down as drastically as chunks of battered fish. FYI, I fried these before the fish - I thought I'd rather have tortilla-tasting fish than fish-tasting tortillas.

Not much to say here other than it was easy and delicious, particularly on top of my tortilla soup. That's Rory on the left and Steve on the right.

There's definitely something special about freshly fried corn tortillas. And it occurs to me that if I wanted to serve a really tasty snack, this would be a good one. I wonder how little oil I could get away with using?

Jeff: A
Martha: A

I made this Pumpkin Flan for dessert, which was delicious, but not what I expected. You can see my comments on the linked page.

Until we eat again....


  1. So many of my favorite people all in the same room! Having the west coast blues while reading this installment for certain!

    Good work knocking out a bunch of dishes at once... I think I would enjoy being with you on your last day when you combine the last ten disparate recipes into a feast! Or have you planned it all out?

  2. Hey Kathy-
    I should have invited you!! You wouldn't flown in for it, right? :-)
    Not sure how the last meal is going to work out... still weighing options. It is getting to be really slim pickin's, though!

  3. Jeff -
    I was thinking about the fish tacos, which thought were really good. The texture thing came from the corn tortillas - I think flour tortillas might have yielded a softer pallet texture and let the fish come through a little more.
    With that said, dinner was SPECTACULAR! Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. And no, I won't ask you to play at the wedding!

  4. Hey Courtney- Yeah, I too was thinking I might have preferred a flour tortilla here. Thanks for your comment and compliment! And for not asking me to play at the wedding. :-) xoxo

  5. Blumen! What a feasty-fiesta you cooked up. I'm so jealous. And I'm very impressed with your commitment to Martha over this past year. Inspiring! xo