The Hidden Benefits of Being Incredibly Uncomfortable
It’s full-on summer, and like any red-blooded American, I want to grill. A cold beverage, a contained flame, an excuse to stand outside and blast Japandroids because they just get me. The “every day, a fresh new hell” landscape of 2017 has caused me to examine my entire life. Mostly: am I healthy? Is my wife healthy? I have kids – how do I take care of myself so I’m not the fat dad on the sidelines? And how do I do all those things and still enjoy all the things I love, like tacos?
So what are we going to do? We are going to make fish tacos because you want to eat healthy but you also want tacos. But we’re not grilling like you’ve done it before. No dried out fish that falls apart. Forget lame, limp toppings. We’re going to PAN FRY on a GRILL because tacos are FUN and this is going to be fun. A light, crisp coating of panko will make your mouth slap you in the face for not making these tacos sooner.
Before you start: buy a good cast iron skillet. For this recipe and others later this summer, I’ll be making everything in this Lodge – they also make great flat cookware too. For the price of a good bottle of wine, you’ll be buying a multi-faceted, invaluable cooking partner. You’ll also need one good steel spatula (plastic cookware will break down over high heat), tongs, oven mitts (unless you like singeing your fingers, you goober) and one beer koozie.
16 oz white fish (tilapia, cod or mahi mahi are all easy)
1 tsp sugar (do not substitute with Splenda, etc.)
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
8 flour tortillas
1/4 cup light oil (avocado, extra light olive or canola)
Black pepper and kosher salt, to taste
Grill: either charcoal or gas is fine. What we need is HEAT. Charcoal or pellet grills also add smoke, which I certainly love, but they are more temperamental and require a bit more time to cook. But far from impossible! You could do this with a Bunsen burner if you really wanted to, if you have a real hankering for science. I’m not going to judge you!
PLEASE READ ALL THE DIRECTIONS before cooking. Like SAT tests and IKEA cabinetry, you will save yourself many headaches reading through the process to the end before you begin.
Mince half of red onion into bite sized pieces. Bite sized is relative – do you like big, in-your-face onions or subtle “hey, I’m here too!” onions? Pick your favorite; save the other half for burgers or pickling or making this recipe again because dammit, you’re going to love it.
Halve both your limes and avocado. Take one-half avocado, cut into “bite sized” pieces (again, it’s all relative!) and drizzle with one-half lime’s juice. Set aside, in a refrigerator if able.
Cover one of your grill grates with enough aluminum foil to block the fire from touching the skillet (tucking the foil edges underneath the grates as you’re able), but DO NOT add the skillet yet.
Fire up your grill! Turn the burners on high (400-450* or so) or, if using charcoal, get a healthy amount of lighter fluid and BASTE those coals. But don’t be a pyro about it.
This is not the reaction you want about your grill.
On the uncovered grate, set the jalapeno and flip while cooking until black and blistered – 10 minutes should do it.
Grab a beverage. Look at the moon. Is there a moon where you are? No, because it’s still daytime? Look at the sun, but not directly. Look at the birds. Drink your beverage and do something productive. Call your parents. Pull weeds out of the sidewalk. Do 20 situps, just kidding, don’t bother because A) you’re drinking and B) it’s going to be taco time soon.
Take the blackened jalapeno off the grill to a cutting board and halve lengthwise, discarding seeds, before finely chopping (again, size is totally relative here). You may need gloves on to handle the pepper if you have a heat allergy.
Place the skillet (yay, you waited!) on the grill and add 1/4 cup of high smoke point oil (extra light olive, avocado or canola) as the grill reaches temperature. Do NOT use regular/dark olive oil unless you like bad fish or have a fetish for fire extinguishers! Holding the heated skillet with your potholders, swift the oil around so the bottom is evenly coated. Keep the lid of the grill OPEN – if you close it, the oil will quickly overheat and you’ll be dealing with the Tom Hanks scenario above.
In a medium mixing bowl, combine half the chopped jalapeno, sugar, juice of 1/2 lime, 1 tablespoon light oil and a pinch of salt and pepper. Whisk to combine all ingredients together, then add the cabbage and onions. Toss in a bowl to coat equally, then place the bowl in the refrigerator until it’s time to serve. Or eat some. It’s delicious enough on its own!
Prepare the fish: set up three dredging stations (shallow bowls or pans work great!). In the first bowl, combine the flour and spice mix. In the second bowl, crack both eggs and mix. In the third bowl, add the panko breadcrumbs and a pinch of salt and pepper. Combine in order, first coating in flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs. Place the fish in the skillet, close the lid and sear for approximately eight minutes. Shout a personal catchphrase when you set it in the oil.
While the fish cooks, make your spicy sauce: combine the remaining half jalapeno in a blender/food processor with Greek yogurt, remaining half avocado, juice from 1/2 lime, 1/2 cup water and a pinch of salt and pepper. Pulse until smooth, tasting afterward and adding salt/pepper to taste. If you don’t have a blender, whisk the heck out of everything until it’s smooth enough for your liking. Would YOU drizzle the contents of that bowl onto your tacos? If so, it’s blended enough.
Remember your beverage? Take another drink. Marvel at the weather. Is it hot today? Raining? Maybe there’s no weather because we’re in the Matrix and/or the darkest timeline? It doesn’t matter because eight minutes are almost up and it’s time to check that fish.
The fish should be opaque and the breadcrumbs should be browned. Not quite cooked? Leave it on a few minutes more. Too dark? Turn your burner down, buddy – it’s no problem because you’re still making fish tacos and it’s going to be alright. Is it golden brown, like a delicious cookie or your favorite tanning lotion? It is? Mr. Montell Jordan, what do you think?
Flip the fish and make sure the other side is as cooked as the first – it should take 3/4 of the time as the first side, so do some math on the time or ask Siri to do it for you. While the other side cooks, throw your tortillas on the grill and flip them every 15 seconds until they’re charred to your liking before setting aside.
Remove the fish from the fryer and place on a plate with paper towels to drain. When drained, slice the fish lengthwise and place in tortillas, coat with slaw mix, top with avocado and drizzle with jalapeno sauce. Use your best judgment – if you want more slaw, go nuts. No sauce? I’m not a cop – you don’t have to do anything I say.
Grab a new beverage, and someone you love. Enjoy your tacos and your evening. Or daytime. It’s actually irrelevant when you eat them, as long as you eat them with gusto and vigor. Eat like an American on the Fourth of July would eat them. The choice is yours.
Beverage pairing: Try a dry Reisling, oaked Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc for wine, a Moscow Mule for a mixer, or your favorite, coldest beer. No answer is wrong.
Thank you for being here. For being open to enjoying life’s simple pleasures and looking inward to understand yourself, your neighbors, and your fellow humans! I’m looking forward to chatting with you.