It wasn’t long ago that beef cheeks and pork cheeks went from being a throw-away cut of meat to a highly sought-after delicacy served in some of the priciest restaurants. I’m willing to wager that fish cheeks will be next in line for this trend.
So why do cheeks taste so good? Whether it’s a cow or cod, the cheek muscles get a lot of exercise and they also store a lot of fat. Just as chicken leg meat has more flavor than breast meat, muscles that get exercised have more flavor. In the case of fish, the cheeks are plump and moist, with a pleasantly fibrous texture that’s a dead ringer for scallops.
Seasoned with spices and coated in a light crispy beer batter, fish cheeks make the best fish tacos! Since tacos are really about the main ingredient, I like to keep them simple. In the case of fish tacos, a small bed of shredded cabbage, big chunks of crispy fish and a spicy allioli is all it takes to make something truly spectacular. Oh, and you can’t forget the cerveza and limes!
The cheeks need to come from a good sized fish, otherwise there’s just not a lot of meat there. Flounder and Cod both produce sea scallop-sized medallions, so try asking your local fish monger if they can set some aside for you the next time they fillet a few fish. If you can’t find them, you can substitute any white meat fish fillets to make these Baja-style fish tacos.
Make it better
Use the leftover batter to fry up some onion rings, green beans or red bell peppers. Sprinkled with a little sea salt, they make a great side, but they’re even better added into the tacos.
Part of the appeal of a really great fish taco is the crisp crust of batter encasing each morsel of fish. To ensure that the fish stays crisp even after being doused in allioli and lime juice, it’s important to fry the fish twice. This not only ensures the coating stays crisp, it also gives the fish a golden brown color. If you’re making a large batch for a party, you can do the first fry ahead of time, then store them in the fridge after they’ve cooled. Give them a second fry just before people are ready to eat. The crispness should last for at least 30 minutes as long as they’re sitting on a wire rack, so have your guests build their own tacos.
The allioli takes a bit of time to make, but it makes a lot more than you’ll need for these tacos and the spicy, garlicky, citrusy condiment is great spread on sandwiches or as a condiment for french fries. As for the tortillas, descent corn tortillas are becoming easier to find, but nothing beats a piping hot homemade tortilla.
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