The other day I looked out the window and the brilliant blue sky nearly took my breath away.
For a cubicle serf who spends more time indoors than out, it was quite a sight. Usually, when I do look out, the sky is a watery blue, or grey and hazy.
Some days, however, we are getting that intense sort of blue I associate with summer days in California; driving along the winding coast and stopping for a bite by the beach.
I think immediately of fish tacos, delicious summer food that is right up there with barbecue and lobster rolls.
A battered and deep-fried piece of fish in a soft, warm tortilla, shredded cabbage, maybe some sliced avocado, and salsa; everything comes together perfectly in one neat package.
The only problem is that it is usually too hot here to deep fry anything and the thought of cleaning up the kitchen post frying gives me the shivers.
Of course, you can grill the fish, but I like a crunchy casing.
So I coat the fish before cooking it in the oven. With a couple of tricks, it emerges crisp and crunchy but moist inside. It is an easy, three-step process: Dip the fish in flour, then beaten egg and, finally, cover it with toasted panko crumbs.
Because the fish is in the oven for only about 15 minutes, the crumbs will not get much colour. Toasting them dry in a frying pan before using it to coat the fish ensures great colour and a good crunch.
Use firm, white fish. Look in the frozen section of supermarkets for hake, haddock, halibut or generic white fish loins.
Red snapper or tilapia are other alternatives, but these fillets are thinner and will cook a lot more quickly. Slice them crosswise on the diagonal to get log-shaped pieces.
I use black cod, especially if I can get two pieces from the centre part of the filet. They yield thick, even logs which remain moist when cooked. Ask the fishmonger at the wet market or supermarket to remove the skin.
To go with the fish, I have three simple accompaniments: crunchy cabbage, sour cream and pineapple salsa.
Truth be told, the tacos are perfectly good with just the sour cream and cabbage, but I love the sweetness and mild heat of the salsa.
Supermarkets stock skinned pineapples and you will need about half for the recipe. Or double the recipe and scoop out the rest with tortilla chips.
Lime juice is what brings the salsa together and I use large seedless limes from supermarkets. I never use citrus without thinking of something to do with the zest. It seems such a waste to use only the juice, leaving the most intensely flavoured part of the fruit behind.
So for this recipe, the juice goes into the salsa and sour cream and, for good measure, all the lime zest gets stirred into the sour cream, making it so vibrant. You'll know what I mean when you bite into the taco.
Although the dish is called a fish taco, the classic wrap is a soft, flour tortilla. The choices are quite wide these days and you can even find wholemeal ones.
They just need to be wrapped entirely in foil and warmed up in the oven while the fish cooks, or piled in a bamboo basket and steamed until pliable, about 10 minutes.
The best way to serve these tacos is to set everything out in platters and bowls on the dining table and for people to make their own.
If you can stand it, sit outdoors under the blue, blue sky. There is no telling how long it will last.
Serves eight as a snack, four as a meal.
- 1 large seedless lime (right)
- 200ml sour cream
- 350g skinned fresh pineapple
- 2 large red chillies
- 4-5 sprigs fresh coriander
- honey or agave nectar to taste (optional)
- 150g green cabbage
- 150g purple cabbage
- 100g panko crumbs
- 500g black cod or firm white fish
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 1/4 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
- 1/2 tsp smoked paprika (right)
- 100g plain flour
- 1 egg
- 8 flour tortillas
1. Zest the lime into a small bowl. Cut the lime in half. Squeeze the juice out of one half into the bowl, add the sour cream and stir to combine. Refrigerate until serving. Set aside the other lime half.
2. Dice the pineapple into 0.5cm cubes, transfer into a medium bowl. Cut the chillies lengthwise in half and slice crosswise into thin strips. Add to the pineapple. Slice off and discard the coriander roots, and chop the leaves and stems finely. Add to the pineapple. Squeeze the juice of the remaining half a lime into the pineapple mixture, toss to mix everything well. Add honey or agave nectar to taste, if you like.
3. Finely slice the green and purple cabbage, transfer into a bowl, mix and set aside.
4. Preheat oven to 180 deg C.
5. Place the panko crumbs into a large frying pan set over medium-low heat. Toast the crumbs slowly, using a spoon to move them around. Be careful not to burn the panko. You want to get them golden brown. When done, pour into a plate and set aside to cool
6. Wash the fish under running water and pat dry with paper towels. Check for pinbones and remove them. Divide the fish into eight equal strips.
7. Rub the salt, pepper and smoked paprika onto the fish.
8. Weigh out the flour into a shallow bowl. Beat the egg in another shallow bowl. Line a baking tray with foil, shiny side up, and place a metal rack, such as those for cooling cakes, on the tray.
9. Coat a piece of fish with a thin layer of plain flour, dip it into the egg and then cover it with the toasted panko crumbs. Place on the metal rack. Repeat with the other seven pieces of fish.
10. Cook in the oven for between 10 and 18 minutes. The time it takes will depend on how thick the fish is. Wrap the tortillas in foil and place them on an oven shelf below the fish while it cooks.
11. To check if the fish is done, make a vertical cut in one of the pieces and if the inside is opaque, it is cooked through.
12. Assemble the tacos: Spread a dollop of sour cream on a tortilla, sprinkle with the cabbage, top with a piece of fish. Spoon the pineapple salsa over the fish, fold the tortilla over and eat.
Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.
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