How to Make All-Star Fish Tacos
After a year that’s thrown him many curves, an all-star Mexican chef in Minneapolis sharesone constant—his recipe for fish tacos.
WHEN JOSE ALARCON moved to Minnesota in the early 2000s, he found a construction job. "It wasn't right away that I thought I wanted to have a restaurant," he says. Now he owns two.
It began with dishwashing. From there he worked his way up in kitchens—and dove into cookbooks and food magazines to learn even more. He eventually opened hit restaurants Centro and Popol Vuh. (The latter closed due to the pandemic, but Alarcon and business partner Jami Olson just opened a bakery-café and market called Vivir in its place.)
A favorite at Centro, Alarcon's beer-battered fish tacos come topped with lime slaw, pickled onion and smoky aioli. As for the wrapper, Alarcon grew up in Mexico, where there were "always tortillas—fresh tortillas." He suggests seeking out a local tortilleria or Mexican grocery store for better options. One choice in Minneapolis: Nixta Tortilleria.
But the surest way to enjoy tacos, says the chef, is with good company and good conversation. Cheers to that.
Step One: Prep
Start with the toppings. For pickled onion: Combine 1 cup thinly sliced red onion, 1/4 cup red wine vinegar, 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cover and let stand 1 1/2 hours, stirring a few times. For slaw: Combine 2 cups shredded cabbage, juice of 1 lime, 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro, 11/2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint and 1/4 teaspoon salt. For aioli: Stir together 1/3 cup mayonnaise, 1 teaspoon smoked paprika and 1 teaspoon lemon juice.
Tip: At Centro, Alarcon makes aioli with dried guajillo chilies that he's rehydrated and pureed. For ease at home, he recommends mayo and smoked paprika.
Step Two: Mix
Generously season 4 small skinless white fish fillets on both sides with salt and black pepper. In a shallow bowl, whisk together 2 cups flour, 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon baking soda. Slowly stir in 12 ounces lager beer and 1/2 cup club soda. Let batter rest 8 minutes.
Alarcon says you can use any kind of firm white fish, such as mahi-mahi, sea bass or even catfish.
Alarcon likes a Mexican lager such as Tecate in his fry batter. (And, naturally, for drinking with tacos.)
Bubbles help keep the batter light, so be gentle when you incorporate the liquids and don't overmix. A few flour lumps are okay.
Step Three: Fry
Heat 2 quarts corn oil in a deep fryer or 6-quart pot to 360°. Put 1/2 cup flour on a plate. Dredge fish in flour. Shake off excess. Using tongs or long kitchen tweezers, dip fish in beer batter, then transfer immediately to the hot oil, swirling it gently halfway in about 3 seconds before letting go. Fry until golden brown, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove fish to a cooling rack. Serve in warm corn tortillas with prepared toppings.
Tip: If you can't be bothered to deep-fry, Alarcon endorses panfrying too. Just sear the salt-and-peppered fish in butter.
Warming tortillas Cold corn tortillas tear (and taste crummy). Three ways to reheat them: In the microwave (about 30 seconds for six tortillas), in a skillet (40 seconds on each side), or directly over a gas flame (quickly and cautiously!). Keep warm by wrapping in foil or a towel.
Get to Know: Jose Alarcon
Emigrated from Morelos, Mexico, where he grew up helping his abuelos in the bakery. Enjoys cooking over fire. Has a fabulous garden.