When I first heard about the Slow Food Movement I felt an immediate affinity. Not only did the implied opposition to “fast food” ring true to me but the cultural resonance of living with – as opposed to at the expense of – our surroundings had a real appeal. The notion of food what European winemakers might refer to as “terroire” made sense.
In that regard it has been something of a source of frustration to me that, culinarily speaking, San Diego is best known for Fish Tacos. I have never really been a fan of the beer-battered fried anonymous fish parts that are what passes for Fish Tacos in the eyes of many. For that matter, while the perception may be that Fish Tacos are San Diego food the reality is that they were created in Baja California. Frankly, the real reason that they tend to be associated with San Diego is that they were popularized in this country by San Diego’s native son Ralph Rubio and his Rubio’s Fish Tacos chain. Columbus may not have discovered America and Ralph Rubio may not have invented Fish Tacos but it seems that they both had good press agents.
Regardless, I was still left with a problem. My “local food” was a bit of fast food that I really did not like. I decided I would have to do something about it. If fish tacos it must be that did not mean that it had to be what everyone else thought of as fish tacos. I could do them my way.
While Chipotle Pepper may not be an ingredient readily found in real Mexican food it certainly has always been a part of what we think of as “Mexican” in San Diego. My fish tacos would have to feature this homey favorite ingredient of mine. And long before I fell in love with seafood – at a time when my favorite meals always included steak – I already loved the big flavors of seared Ahi tuna. From those starting points it was not far to my version of a classic San Diego fish taco that Mr. Rubio might want to feature in an upscale version of his restaurant.
If only he read this blog…
Seared Ahi Tuna Tacos with Chipotle Crema and Mango Salsa Fresca
For the Chipotle Crema:
- 12 ounces of Crema Mexicana
- 1 teaspoon of lime zest
- 3 tablspoons of fresh lime juice
- 2 tablespoons of minced chipotle in adobo (prepared)
- 2 teaspoon ground cumin
- Kosher Salt to taste
For the Slaw:
- ¼ head napa cabbage, sliced
- ¼ cup red bell pepper, sliced
- ¼ cup yellow bell pepper, sliced
- ¼ cup green bell pepper, sliced
- ¼ small red onion, sliced
- ¼ cup lime juice
- ½ cup grapeseed oil
- 3 tablespoons Chipotle Crema
For the Mango Salsa Fresca:
- 1 small firmly ripe tomato, chopped
- 1 avocado, peeled, pitted and cubed
- ¼ cup chopped red onion
- 2 jalapeno peppers, finely chopped
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
- Juice of 1 lime
- ½ mango, peeled and chopped
- Kosher Salt, to taste.
For the Chipotle Spice Blend:
- 2 dried chipotle, ground
- 1 tablespoon black pepper
- 2 tablespoons dried oregano
- 1 tablespoon dried cilantro leaves
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon ground dry orange peel
- 2 tablespoons Kosher Salt, or to taste
For the Tacos:
- 1 lb Ahi tuna
- 1 tablespoon grapeseed oil
- 12 corn tortillas
- 1 lb Ahi tuna
- 1 cup Queso Cotija, crumbled or grated
1. Prepare the Chipotle Crema: Combine all ingredients in a small bowl.
2. Prepare the Slaw: Toss together cabbage, peppers and onion. Mix together lime juice, oil and Chipotle Crema and toss with the vegetables. Set the slaw in the refrigerator to “pickle” for at least an hour; overnight would be better.
3. Prepare the Chipotle Spice Blend: Combine all ingredients in a spice mill or blender and grind until even and fine. Store in an airtight jar. Will store for about 6 months in the freezer.
4. Prepare the Tortillas: In a nonstick pan, a seasoned cast iron skillet – or, better yet, a comal – warm the tortillas for 30 seconds per side over medium heat, using 1 teaspoon or less of oil. Stack the warmed tortillas on a plate. Add more oil as needed to keep tortillas from sticking to pan. Leave tortillas soft enough for folding into tacos. Keep warm in oven or cover with a towel in a bowl.
5. Prepare the Ahi: Season the ahi on all sides with the Chipotle Spice Blend, pressing seasoning into fish. In a nonstick pen or seasoned cast iron skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium-high heat. Sear tuna for minutes on both sides – to your desired doneness. Remove from the heat and cut into thin slices.
6. Assemble the Tacos: Fill each warm corn tortilla with tuna, a sprinkling of cheese and pickled “slaw,” and top with Mango Salsa Fresca and drizzle with the Chipotle Crema