Ten years ago, Mexican food in London was normally associated with sub-standard fajitas, served with bland flour tortillas, tasteless salsa, thick sour cream and a version of guacamole. And then Wahaca came into our vernacular, and whilst comment is unnecessary on the state of its current fare, it did inject some life into London’s stagnant interpretation of Mexican cuisine.
Masa harina (maize flour) is the backbone of much of Central and South America’s cuisine. From arepas to empanadas, tacos to tamales, it is a staple part of their diet, which is not only versatile, but delicious and healthy. PAN Masa Harina can be found everywhere in Brixton Market, from A&C to the Nour Cash and Carry and Las Americas. I perhaps got a little overexcited when I discovered this (I immediately bought a tortilla press), but the fact of the matter is, once you’ve tried homemade tortillas there is never again an excuse to buy the overly processed, premade ones from the supermarket.
Of course, proximity of where I grew up (the United States) means that much of the South American cuisine trickled into my native homeland, and for years I have had a deep love of fish tacos, which are a street food in Baja, California, and by which this recipe is inspired. Whilst fish tacos may sound strange, a sturdy white fish is a marvellous sponge for spice and flavour, and it will retain some heft, making this a filling and tasty snack. These tacos pack a bit of heat, but the freshness of the garnishes counteracts it beautifully. They are best served on a warm day (fingers crossed) with a cold beer.
Fish tacos (serves 2)
For the tortillas (makes about 6 small tortillas):
- 125g PAN yellow masa harina
- 165ml hot water
For the filling:
- Around 250g white fish, skinned and deboned, chopped into 1cm cubes (sustainably-caught cod, hake, or ling cod from Ilias fishmongers in Brixton Village)
- 8 cherry tomatoes, chopped
- 1 clove of garlic, crushed
- 1 small onion, finely sliced
- 1-2 tablespoons chipotle chilli in adobo, finely chopped (available from Casa Morita in Market Row)
- 1 teaspoon of ground cumin
- ¼ teaspoon of smoked paprika
- pinch of chilli flakes
- Lemon juice
- Salt and pepper
- Olive oil
- To serve: shredded lettuce, spring onions, sliced avocado, chopped cherry tomatoes, chopped coriander or chives
Prepare the tortillas first: Mix maize flour and hot water thoroughly in a bowl. Cover with cling film and leave to stand for 15 minutes.
Whilst the dough is resting, fry off the onion and garlic in olive oil over medium heat until softened, but not brown, and after a couple of minutes, add the spices and continue to cook for another minute or two. Add the fish and cook for approximately 5-10 minutes until cooked through. Add the chopped tomatoes, a squirt of lemon juice and the chipotle chillis and cook for another 2 minutes. Set aside.
Roll the dough into golf-ball sized balls and flatten to approx 3mm thick rounds (if you don’t own a tortilla press, a rolling pin will do nicely). Toast in a dry hot pan for 15 seconds on one side, then flip and toast for another 30 seconds. Flip again for another 15 seconds and continue to do so until lightly coloured on both sides. Wrap in a clean tea towel and place in a low oven to keep warm.
Warm the fish and season to taste. Fill tacos, and garnish with lettuce, spring onions, avocado, cherry tomatoes, coriander or chives. Knives and forks aren’t necessary – the tortillas are perfect for eating with your hands.
Lindsay blogs at blondevsbland.com