Yucatecan Fish Tacos
With Green Peach Salsa
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If you’re going to change something great, you’d better give it some serious thought.
Tacos are great. Fish tacos are fantastic. But I feel like I see a lot of the same thing over and over again. White fish, pickled onions, cabbage, guacamole, tortilla. It’s undoubtedly a delicious combination (I’m actually making myself hungry here), but there’s no reason to get stuck in a rut. Change can be good – as long as it’s done well. Modifications and variations can be very forgettable at times; there’s a common temptation to change things up by swapping out or adding one ingredient (salmon for white fish, mangoes in the guac, etc.) and calling it a whole new recipe. And let’s be honest, that’s not really changing things up that much. Sometimes a single ingredient makes a big difference, and I love a good variation as much as the next guy, but sometimes it’s nice to go back to the drawing board all together.
So I decided to forget the standard recipe and do something based around an entirely different Mexican cooking style – Yucatecan achiote. These fish tacos are all about the spice. I don’t mean the heat, I mean the actual spices used to add dimension to the fish. As the name suggests, there’s some heavy Yucatecan influence in the form of the achiote-style spice blend (especially the allspice and annatto), but there’s also a bit of Puebla in the mix thanks to the ancho chile powder. As for the toppings, in addition to some pepitas and Mexican crema, I’ve chosen something simple but distinctive – something designed specifically to go with this fish (though you could easily use them elsewhere too). Instead of a standard tomato salsa or guacamole, the bold and earthy spices get to play against a sweet, tangy, slightly spicy salsa made from green (under-ripe) peaches. Why under-ripe peaches? Well, two reasons – one, I really wanted to see what I could do with them (short answer: salsa), and two, they give you something fun to look forward to when the only peaches you can get are basically baseballs. Sweet peaches are great, but they’re REALLY sweet, and that makes for an overwhelmingly sweet salsa to put on a savoury dish (some mango salsas suffer from the same problem). Rock hard peaches are slightly sweet and nicely tart. They also soften up nicely when sliced and mixed with all the other ingredients.
I certainly haven’t reinvented the wheel, but I have made an awfully good taco, if I do say so myself. It’s not going to replace the ‘standard’ fish taco – nor is it meant to. But Mexican cuisine offers an enormous variety of flavours, spices, and ingredients that are worth exploring. There’s no reason to call it quits with one great recipe. After all, can you really have too many tacos?
As with taco recipes in general, there are some variations, tweaks, and tricks you can use while making these.
You can use any number of firm white fish varieties for this – you are adding a lot of spice, so I’d stay away from very flavourful and fatty fish (e.g. mackerel). Halibut, cod, and black cod make excellent choices, but you could certainly try a host of others. You could even substitute shrimp. When you do cook the fish, make sure it’s not overcooked; you’re shooting for pieces that are just flaky, while still remaining very moist and springy to the touch.
Annatto is a spice and colouring agent made from ground seeds of a bushy tree called achiote. It’s usually available from Mexican, Caribbean, and Central American grocers, as well as online. It is sometimes labeled in Spanish as achiote molido (ground achiote) but note that it is NOT the same as achiote paste. Achiote paste, aka recado colorado is a seasoned pasted made from annatto along with allspice, cumin, and other spices. In this recipe, you’re basically making an achiote paste of your own by adding all of the other ingredients. In the event that you’re very short for time or unable to get the spices, you could substitute store-bought achiote paste into the recipe and reduce or omit the allspice, cumin, coriander, cloves, and peppercorns. You’ll have to play with the balance to see what you like.
The salsa can be made ahead of time, though the peaches will get softer and the salsa more watery if left for more than a few hours. If peaches are out of season, you could use firm green mango, or a mix of ripe mango and green papaya. Green mangoes and papayas are often available from East and South Asian grocery stores.
Mexican crema is basically Mexican sour cream (or crème fraîche). It can be obtained from good Latin American grocers, or made at home (check out my buttermilk enchiladas with spot prawns for more info and a basic recipe). You can also substitute other ingredients to your personal taste quite easily. Many people use standard sour cream, but I really like using non-fat Greek yogurt. It provides the sour tanginess that compliments the fish so well while remaining comparatively guilt free.
Pepitas (pumpkin seeds) are widely available, both roasted and un-roasted. I prefer roasted ones, but make sure not to use a flavoured or heavily salted variety.
Nutritional information given is for a single taco (1/12th total recipe) including fish (halibut), salsa, and Mexican crema. Note that this is my best estimate, as accurate nutritional data for under-ripe peaches isn’t generally available.
This nutritional information is my best estimate, as accurate nutritional data for under-ripe peaches isn’t generally available. Note that information given uses halibut as the white fish and allows for true Mexican crema; a low- or no-fat Greek yogurt will have less fat.
No ingredient pages have been written yet for any of the ingredients in this recipe. Like to see one? Let me know in the comments below or by email.
Who doesn't love a good taco? These tacos are built from the base up around Yucatecan spices and an unusual but addictive salsa made with firm 'green' peaches.
- 1 kg halibut or other white fish (lingcod, cod, etc.)
- 5 whole allspice (substitute about 1/4 tsp ground)
- 1/4 tsp cumin seed
- 1 tsp coriander seeds
- 10 black peppercorns
- 2 tsp ground annatto
- 1/2 tsp oregano
- 1 tsp ancho chili powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 3 garlic cloves minced
- 500 g unripe peaches
- 1/4 cup red onion diced
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1 tbsp white vinegar
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1.5 tbsp olive oil
- 1/4 tsp black pepper freshly ground
- 2 tbsp cilantro chopped, loosely packed
- 1 jalapeno pepper finely diced (optional)
- 12 corn tortillas
- 1/4 cup pepitas (aka pumpkin seeds)
- limes cut in half or quarters
- Mexican crema (or replacement - see note)
- Toast the allspice, cumin, coriander, and black peppercorns in a heavy frying pan over medium heat for 2 minutes, or until the cumin starts to darken slightly. Transfer to a spice grinder (or mortar and pestle) and pulverize. Add the remaining spices and mix thoroughly.
- Debone the fish if necessary. Cut into 3-4 cm (1-1.5 inch) pieces. In a large bowl or container, toss the fish with the spice mix and minced garlic until evenly covered.
- Heat a little oil in a large frying pan over medium high heat. Add the fish in an even layer and fry until it begins to firm up. Carefully turn the fish pieces and continue to cook until the fish is done. This will take 4-5 minutes on average, but will vary depending on the fish and the size of the pieces. When cooked, the fish should still have a slightly bouncy, gelatinous look and feel. Overcooked fish will look very dry and/or fall apart quite badly.
- Serve the fish in warmed corn tortillas with the peach salsa and all of the other fixings (cilantro, crema, limes, pepitas, and anything else you might enjoy).
- Peel and pit the peaches, then dice them into small cubes.
- Combine the peaches with all the remaining salsa ingredients (including the jalapenos, if using) and toss/stir to combine. Allow the salsa to sit for at least 15 minutes before serving.
The salsa can be made ahead of time, though the peaches will get softer and the salsa more watery if left for more than a few hours.
Mexican crema is basically Mexican sour cream (or crème fraîche). It can be obtained from good Latin American grocers, or made at home. You can also substitute other ingredients to your personal taste quite easily. Many people use standard sour cream, but I really like using non-fat Greek yogurt. It provides the sour tang that compliments the fish so well while remaining comparatively guilt free.