There’s something almost universally appealing about tacos – particularly for the home cook. For Matt Lane, co-owner of Mamasita and Hotel Jesus, making tacos at home is a low-risk, high-reward move.
“It’s one of those dishes that just please everyone,” Lane says. “I very rarely have had any times where there’s been someone in the room who didn’t want to eat tacos, whether it be kids or adults. We eat them a lot at home because they’re very family-friendly.”
The taco’s effort-to-flavour ratio can be part of its appeal, with most styles requiring just a few ingredients, some simple prep and a bare minimum of cooking time. Just as with pantry pasta, there are always a few suitable ingredients at hand. With Lane’s wisdom to guide us, we’re taking a look at a classic – the Baja fish taco – and a handful of simple ingredients you can keep around for when the taco urge strikes.
As with many regional taco styles, the best thing about Baja tacos is their simplicity. “They’re often just fish, a little bit of crema and a little bit of chipotle,” Lane says. “The style is based around the Baja region, which is the north-west region of Mexico, up on the surf coast there.”
This coastal style tends to favour fish for the protein, but it’s not set in stone – you can always sub it out to your own tastes. Lane’s version includes a couple of extra ingredients on top of the basics, but nothing you’ll need to go to Mexico for.
Here’s what you’ll need.
“Generally we make them at home from scratch, but I don’t expect people to do that,” says Lane. “The best tortilla we usually purchase from the supermarket, if we want to do it quick and easy, is just a white-corn tortilla. It’s a soft tortilla, not a crunchy shell.” While you needn’t fear the supermarket tortilla, Lane recommends La Tortilleria’s offerings, if you’re lucky enough to live close to a stockist.
A spicy hit, like you’ll get from Whitlock & Sons Chipotle BBQ Sauce, is a necessary finish. You can drizzle sauces straight on (as they usually do in Baja) or use them as a base to expand on. “With this style of taco, a lot of people will actually mix the chipotle with the crema, or they’ll make a chipotle mayonnaise,” says Lane.
Don’t overthink this one. Cabbage sliced super thin (you can use a mandolin if you have one) will provide a good, crunchy bed for your protein. If you don’t have cabbage on hand, iceberg lettuce will do the trick too. “If you’re going to use iceberg, I tend to centre more on the heart of the iceberg – the nice crunchy part,” says Lane.
Fish is definitely the traditional choice here, and keeping some in the freezer means you’ll always be taco-adjacent when the time comes. The beauty of the quick weeknight taco, though, is that you’re not running out the door to pick up ingredients – so Lane suggests using what you’ve got. “There are times where we’ll do these with mushrooms, we’ll do them with beans, or we’ll do them with chicken from last night’s roast,” says Lane. “Really, any substitute can be made, but the traditional one is a fish taco.”
If you are going to use fish, any white-fleshed fish like snapper will work. Battered and shallow-fried or grilled is equally fine, though if you opt for batter Lane recommends a simple beer batter made with a Mexican pale lager like Corona.
Pico de gallo
A super simple salsa that affords a little crunch and spice. “Pico de gallo is traditionally just cucumber, white onion and tomato,” says Lane. “And in this one we just add a little bit of diced jalapenos out of a glass jar; the ones in brine are perfect.”
In Mexico, crema is a slightly acidic mix of cream and buttermilk that helps cut through spice. It’s not common in supermarkets over here, but it’s an easy sub. “To substitute Mexican crema here you can use crème fraîche – which is probably my first pick – or sour cream, but with the sour cream you just need to thin it out a bit,” Lane says. A little milk or water will do the job (you basically want it thin enough to drizzle), but lime juice adds some extra tang. It comes down to personal preference more than anything.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Whitlock & Sons. The new Chipotle BBQ Sauce is available in Woolworths, Coles and Independent Grocers.