Normally, I don’t cook with beer – I like it more as an accompaniment than an ingredient – but Baja fish tacos are an exception to the rule.
There’s nothing like a beer batter for golden crunch, while the carbonation adds a lightness that stops the batter feeling too claggy.
It’s no wonder these tacos are a hit in California (Baja and otherwise) – but would they work as well without the fish? In an effort to cook more vegetarian meals at home, I was curious to try a tofu variant on this West Coast classic. Recently, I read that freezing then defrosting tofu changes its texture to make it more absorbent, more ‘meaty’. To impart it with a briney character, I marinated my tofu in vegetarian fish sauce (sold at most East Asian grocery stores) alongside spices and lime before dousing it in that all-important beer batter and deep-frying it. A sprinkle of toasted nori seaweed on top added an extra dose of marine flavour.
To contrast those savoury notes, I paired the tofu with a whipped basil avocado crema and a pineapple, jalapeño, white onion and coriander salsa. Be sure to serve yours in the best-quality tortillas you can find and add a few shakes of a fruity hot sauce (such as HB&B’s new Deptford Hot Sauce) to amp up the heat, if preferred.
I won’t lie: this dish has multiple components and is prep-heavy. But if you’re after a weekend project, or want to host a veggie-friendly taco party, then this recipe is ideal. Especially if you have Two Flints x Willibald’s Clara Mexican Lager on hand. Made with a portion of flaked maize and dosed with limey Motueka hops, this beer is exactly what you should be drinking with tacos like these: refreshing, light, quenching and complementary to the salsa’s brightness and zing while tempering the tofu’s salt and oil.
Sure, it’s not quite like being on the beach in San Diego or Tijuana. But in light of some of the heatwaves we’ve seen this summer, it’s really not that far off.
Baja ‘Fish’ Tacos with Pineapple Salsa and Basil Avocado Crema
Makes 8-10 tacos
For the tofu:
400g extra-firm tofu, preferably frozen overnight and defrosted
6 tablespoons vegetarian fish sauce
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Juice of 1 lime
For the pineapple salsa:
1 white or sweet onion, finely diced
Juice of 2 limes
400g pineapple, finely diced
2 jalapeños, minced
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Fine sea salt, to taste
Large handful fresh coriander, roughly chopped
For the basil avocado crema:
1 ripe avocado
Large handful basil leaves
150g sour cream
Juice of 1 lime
Flaky sea salt, such as Maldon, to taste
For the batter and frying:
4 nori sheets
1 litre (or more) frying oil
120g all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
240ml lager (Mexican or helles, preferably)
Flaky sea salt, such as Maldon, to taste
Small handful coriander Hot sauce of your choice (optional)
1. After freezing and defrosting the tofu, press out any additional water and slice it into 8-10 pieces, aiming for slices that can fit in your tortillas (mine were roughly 2-3 inches tall and 1.5 inches wide). In a nonreactive dish, add the marinade ingredients and mix well. Place the tofu pieces in the marinade and transfer to the fridge. Leave to marinate for at least one hour and up to four, flipping the tofu halfway through the process.
2. Meanwhile, make your salsa. Add the onion to a small bowl and squeeze over the lime juice; leave to lightly pickle for 20 minutes. Add the pineapple, jalapeños and cayenne to a large bowl, and pour over the onion and lime; mix evenly to combine. Season with salt to taste. Set aside the coriander to add right before serving (otherwise it will wilt).
3. Next, make the basil avocado crema. Add all the ingredients to a food processor. Blend on high for 2-3 minutes, pausing to wipe down the sides if needed, or until the mixture is evenly combined; it should have a nice whipped, airy texture. Season to taste and set aside (place in the fridge if you won’t be using it within the hour).
4. To prep the nori garnish for your fried ‘fish’, place a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, add a sheet of nori. Using tongs, flip it every few seconds until it is evenly toasted on both sides, being careful not to let it burn. Repeat with the remaining nori sheets. Once they are all toasted, crumble into large pieces. Using an immersion blender (or regular blender), blend until you have small flakes or a rough powder. Set aside.
5. When you’re ready to cook, remove the tofu from the marinade. Meanwhile, prepare your frying station. Clip a candy or frying thermometer to the side of a large, heavy-bottomed pan and add the oil; it should come at least 3-4 inches up the sides of the pan (add more if necessary). Place over medium-high heat; watch the thermometer until it reaches 180°C. Meanwhile, place a wire rack over a baking sheet lined with paper towels, and set next to the hob.
6. While the oil heats, make your batter: add the flour, baking powder, salt, pepper and garlic powder to a large bowl and whisk to combine. Pour in the lager; it will foam up. Whisk until the foam subsides and just until it is smoothly incorporated and no lumps remain.
7. Once the oil reaches temperature, add your first piece of tofu to the batter and submerge until completely coated, using a fork to flip it. Transfer to the hot oil (being careful, as it may bubble vigorously). Cook for approximately 3-4 minutes – keeping an eye on the temperature and adjusting the heat as needed to keep it consistent – or until it is a deep golden-brown all over. Using tongs, flip it as it cooks so it browns evenly. Once cooked through, transfer to the wire-rack-lined baking sheet. Garnish with a good sprinkle of nori and flaky sea salt while fresh out of the oil, flipping to sprinkle over both sides. Repeat with the remaining tofu pieces, frying in small batches.
8. Right before serving, mix the coriander into the salsa. Next, warm your tortillas in a frying pan or straight over the flame if you have a gas hob – be sure to flip with tongs every few seconds; you want your tortilla warm and slightly browned but not burned, and still pliable. Transfer to a plate and cover the tortilla with a clean tea towel to keep warm; repeat with the remaining tortillas.
9. To prep each taco, add a good dollop of the crema and place one tofu piece on top. Garnish liberally with the pineapple salsa, extra coriander and hot sauce, as preferred. Serve straight away.
Claire M. Bullen is a professional food and travel writer, a beer hound and all-around lover of tasty things. You can follow her at @clairembullen. For more recipes like this, sign up to our HB&B All Killer No Filler beer subscription - you'll receive Claire's recipe and food pairings, plus expert tasting notes, with 10 world-class beers like this one every month.