Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Fish Tempura Tacos with Spinach Tortillas

I’ve always loved tacos, but for the last twenty-three-plus years of living in Austin tacos have been a way of life. There are breakfast tacos, lunch tacos, fancy tacos, quick and cheap tacos, and occasionally home-made tacos. But, I had never ever made my own tortillas. To my mind, it was like a Parisian making her own baguettes. All of that just changed last week. I had read my review copy of the new book Tacos: Recipes and Provocations by Alex Stupak and Jordana Rothman and was convinced I needed to make fresh, homemade tortillas for the best homemade tacos possible. It’s made clear in the book that the just-off-the-griddle-ness of the tortilla has everything to do with the quality of the taco. There’s even a break-down of ways to store warm tortillas if necessary, and each taco recipe suggests when to cook your tortillas in relation to other steps for ideal timing. I was ready to give tortilla making a try. What I really appreciated about the message of this book is that “authentic” is difficult to nail down especially when a cuisine continues to evolve, but delicious is pretty straightforward. The approach here is to show the steps involved in making the best tasting tacos possible, and that starts with absolutely fresh, hot tortillas. There are detailed instructions for making your own nixtamal for corn tortillas, working with prepared masa or masa harina, making fresh wheat tortillas, or making alternative tortillas with added flavors. There are pretty beet, saffron, and pistachio options, and now I want to try them all. Next, there’s a chapter on salsas made with both fresh and dried chiles, and then the Tacos chapter itself. There are Chicken Tacos with Kale and Salsa Verde, Duck Carnitas Tacos, Bay Scallp Ceviche Tacos, Black Bean Hummus Tacos, and even Deviled Egg Tacos. The ideas range from fun and unique to labor-intensive and traditional, and they all sound like crowd-pleasers. I decided to start with Spinach Tortillas made with store-bought masa harina and paired them with the Fish Tempura filling. 

I used local, little spinach leaves, and they were blanched and squeezed dry first. I chopped the dried spinach by hand and mixed it into the masa harina while stirring in the water. The dough comes together very easily. The head note for the Spinach Tortillas suggests pairing them with grilled fish, but I went the Fish Tempura route instead. Fish tacos is one of my favorite categories of tacos, and of course I have opinions about what toppings should be used. The recipe here suggested mayonnaise, but I’m partial to sour cream mixed with lime juice and ancho chile powder. Shredded cabbage is a must, radish slices are nice, and beyond that not much else is required. I used Mahi Mahi fillets that I skinned and cut into chunks. The tempura batter was made with rice flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, and beer. The fish pieces were seasoned and dusted with flour before being dipped in the batter and fried in hot oil. A few pieces at a time were cooked for about five minutes. The tortillas were made by taking a golf ball-size piece of dough at a time and slightly flattening it between the palms. I lined a tortilla press with pieces of plastic cut from a storage bag, and pressed each tortilla. From the press, it was passed to a hot griddle where it was cooked on both sides. The tortillas went from the griddle to a towel-lined Dutch oven to stay warm. 

First, tortilla making instantly joined my list of top five kitchen tasks I love most along with making fresh pasta and pitting cherries. It was surprisingly fun. I’ve made other flatbreads, but this was different and better. Second, a perfectly fresh tortilla really does make a huge difference in the quality of a taco. This was a fantastic meal. And, making tortillas is not difficult once you have the timing down. I may not make all of the tortillas I eat at home myself from now on, but I’ll definitely be making some of them and in various flavors. 

I am a member of the Amazon Affiliate Program. 

Spinach Tortillas 
Recipes reprinted from Tacos: Recipes and Provocations by Alex Stupak and Jordana Rothman. Copyright ©2015 by Empellon Holdings LLC. Photos by Evan Sung. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

Eat these wholesome tortillas with a piece of steamed or grilled fish, or just a pat of butter, a pinch of nutmeg, and salt. When incorporating blanched greens into masa, remember that certain varieties—especially spinach—hang on to moisture like a sponge. You really need to work to squeeze out the water or the dough will be too sticky. 


1 pound fresh masa, or 1 1⁄2 cups masa harina kneaded with 1 cup water 
1⁄4 pound spinach leaves, blanched, squeezed very dry, and finely chopped 

Place the masa and chopped spinach in a large bowl and knead gently until the greens are evenly distributed throughout. 

INSPECT THE DOUGH: You want the texture to be as soft and moist as possible without sticking to your hands. If the dough develops small cracks when squeezed, it is too dry and needs more moisture. To correct this, knead water into the dough in 1 tablespoon increments until it becomes malleable and forms into a ball. Cover the dough with a damp towel. 

PREPARE THE EQUIPMENT: Set up a double griddle or two cast-iron pans over two burners. Heat one side of the griddle (or one pan) over low-medium heat and the other over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes. Cut two squares of medium-heavy plastic to fit the press (a freezer bag works nicely). Open the tortilla press and place one square on the bottom plate and the other on the top plate, making sure the plastic does not wrinkle. 

MAKE A TEST TORTILLA : Grab a small handful of the masa and roll it into a sphere about the size of a golf ball. Gently flatten it into a rough disk with your fingers. Position the tortilla press with the pressure handle on the side of your body that you favor—if you’re right-handed, the handle should be on the right. Open the press, keeping the plastic squares on each plate. Center the disk of masaon the bottom plate. Close the top plate, ensuring that the second piece of plastic lands squarely on top of the dough. Fold the handle and apply even pressure. Fold back the handle and open the press. Peel the top plastic from the tortilla. The tortilla should be 5 inches in diameter and about 1⁄8 inch thick. Pick up the bottom plastic square with the tortilla stuck to it. If you’re right-handed, pick it up with your left hand; if you’re left-handed, pick it up with your right. Flip the tortilla over onto your empty palm; the upper edge should run along the tops of your index and middle fingers. Peel off the plastic.

COOK THE TORTILLA : Position yourself over the cooler end of the griddle, with the tortilla draped over your palm and the top of your hand parallel to the hot surface. Bring the edge of the tortilla to the griddle and very quickly slide your hand out from under it; the tortilla should stick right away to the surface. If you’re too slow, the tortilla will fold and cook unevenly.
Cook for 15 seconds. The tortilla will begin to change color after 10 seconds. Using a metal spatula or your fingers, flip it onto the hotter side of the griddle and cook for 30 seconds. Flip the tortilla again, leaving it on the hotter side and cook for another 10 seconds before flipping a final time. Cook for an additional 10 seconds. When the tortilla is done, its edges will begin to release from the griddle and it may inflate slightly.

TASTE YOUR TEST TORTILLA : If the dough is too dry, the texture will be heavy and the edges will begin to crack. If needed, gradually add water to the remaining dough in 1 teaspoon increments until it is moist and malleable.
Once you’re happy with the texture, divide the remaining dough into 12 equal balls and repeat the process of pressing and griddling the tortillas. Store the cooked tortillas in an insulated container so that they retain their heat until ready to serve.

Fish Tempura Tacos

I’ve heard legends about how crispy fish tacos became a religion in Baja: that Japanese fishermen docked in the region and married their tempura traditions to the available Mexican ingredients. But however it came to be that fried fish met crunchy cabbage and cool mayo on a tortilla doesn’t matter all that much to me—it’s just an awesome taco. At the restaurants, we use dogfish, a small school shark known as cazon in Mexico. But the beauty of this taco is in its flexibility; just about any light-flavored, white-fleshed fish will perform well. It’s the batter that makes or breaks a good fried-fish taco, and this one is dialed in. The key is not to overwork it: mix the batter too much, and you’ll start developing the flour’s gluten, which will make for a chewy crust. And keep the batter cold, as you would a pie dough; store it in the refrigerator until the last possible moment, for the best results.


1 1⁄2 pounds boneless, skinless white fish fillet, such as bass, snapper, or cod
3 1⁄3 cups rice flour
1 1⁄4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
One 12-ounce bottle lager-style beer, cold
2 1⁄2 quarts (10 cups) vegetable oil, for frying
Kosher salt, as needed

3⁄4 cup mayonnaise
1⁄4 head of green cabbage, shredded
4 radishes, sliced into thin rounds
1⁄2 medium white onion, minced
60 cilantro leaves (from about 15 sprigs), roughly chopped
2 limes, each cut into 6 wedges
1 recipe Corn or Flour Tortillas

Portion the fish into 12 even pieces, each about 3 inches long. Store in the refrigerator until ready to use.

In a large bowl, mix 1¹⁄³ cups of the rice flour with the all-purpose flour and baking powder. Pour the beer into the bowl and whisk gently. Don’t overwork the batter; a few lumps are okay. Place the batter in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Place a 5 1/2-quart Dutch oven fitted with a candy thermometer over medium heat and add the vegetable oil, leaving at least 3 inches of space between the surface of the oil and the lip of the pot. Heat until the thermometer registers 350°F.

Make one batch of tortillas and hold them warm.


Line a plate with paper towels and sprinkle the remaining 2 cups rice flour on a separate plate. Remove the fish pieces from the refrigerator and season all over with salt.

Remove the tempura batter from the refrigerator. Dredge the fish in the rice flour and then dip the pieces into the batter, one by one. Carefully add each piece of fish to the hot oil. Work in small batches so as to not crowd the Dutch oven. Fry the fish until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Transfer to the prepared plate and season immediately with more salt.

ASSEMBLE THE TACOS: Lay out the warm tortillas on serving plates. Place 1 tablespoon of mayonnaise on each tortilla and spread using the back of a spoon. Add a small mound of the cabbage, along with some radish slices, minced onion, and chopped cilantro. Place one piece of fried fish on each tortilla. Squeeze a couple of the lime wedges over the tacos and serve the rest on the side.


  1. Isn't it fun to make your own tortillas? Mine turn out a bit thick, but I really like them that way! Fun post -- thanks.

  2. Lisa, you have outdone yourself! This looks divine...my daughter will think she's in heaven and I agree. I've made all sorts of flatbreads, but for some reason, never tortillas. (Love your tortilla press!) This dish would be fabulous homemade, but nearly as good with store bought.

  3. You may have me trying my hand at tortillas.I am inspired!

  4. i want to eat ALL the tacos! i recently added a tortilla press to my wedding registry--i really want to learn to make my own!

  5. I agree, home made tacos are so good! I like how you added spinach to yours though Lisa. I must give that a go! :D

  6. Beautiful and mouthwatering! Those tortillas are really original.



  7. I love the color ans the taste !
    Very beautiful !

  8. Oh, my, what I wouldn't give to have one of these fish tacos with your homemade tortillas. They look exquisite. The quality of tortillas around here is pretty sad---maybe I need to add these to my bucket list :)

  9. Look delicious !! I have tempura and daughter will love this !!!

  10. Love this sentiment: "'authentic' is difficult to nail down, especially when a cuisine continues to evolve, but delicious is pretty straightforward." I think that's true of many cuisines, and it's something useful to keep in mind as we make our efforts in the kitchen. Thanks for sharing, Lisa. And lovely tortillas!

  11. WOW! Looks yummy! I love tempuras!

  12. love the idea of spinach tortillas, very nice and indeed perfect for seafood tacos

    this book is tempting me... Lisa... you are a dangerous influence... good, but dangerous ;-)

  13. These tacos sound terrific. I'd happily give them a try!

  14. They look delicious. I love fish tacos.


Blogging tips