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The end of the Vietnam War brought waves of Vietnamese and Thai immigrants to Texas, beginning in the mid-’70s with an influx of well-educated professionals, former military officers and politicians, and war brides of American soldiers. Droves of war refugees soon followed, and many took up crabbing and shrimping along the Gulf Coast.
These hardworking immigrants brought their remarkable culinary skills to this country, resulting in a uniquely-Texas cross-cultural fusion of Southeast Asian and Mexican cuisines, as with these Baja-style fish tacos crowned with a Thai-inspired slaw and an Asian-style peanut sauce.
COOK’S TIP: Prepare the peanut sauce and the slaw ahead of time, so all you need do at serving time is to quickly fry the fish and warm the tortillas.
For the creamy peanut sauce:
- Juice of 4 to 6 Key limes
- 2 tablespoons sesame oil
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1/2 cup organic creamy peanut butter
- 1 teaspoon chile-garlic sauce
- 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 tablespoons agave nectar
For the Thai slaw:
- 1/4 head green cabbage, slivered
- 1/4 head red cabbage, slivered
- 1/2 red bell pepper, slivered
- 3 green onions, slivered
- 1 carrot, slivered
- 1 jalapeño, seeded and slivered
- 1/2 cup slivered daikon radish
- 1 mango, diced
- 10 to 12 basil leaves, rolled together and cut into chiffonade (Thai basil preferred)
- Juice of 4 Key limes
- 2 tablespoons sesame oil
- 2 tablespoons agave nectar
- Sea salt to taste
For the tacos:
- 2 pounds speckled trout (or other mild, flaky white fish) fillets, cut into 3/4-inch-thick strips
- Peanut oil, for frying
- 2 cups organic rice flour
- 1 1/2 cups sparkling water (I like Topo Chico)
- 1 1/2 cups panko-style breadcrumbs
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 12 fresh corn tortillas, warmed
- 1/2 cup salted peanuts, chopped
Prepare the creamy peanut sauce: In a small mixing bowl, whisk all the ingredients together with 1 tablespoon warm water and transfer to a small serving bowl.
Prepare the Thai slaw: Using clean hands, toss all the ingredients together in a mixing bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until serving time.
Prepare the fish: Rinse the fillets and pat them dry with paper towels. Sprinkle 1 cup of the rice flour in a shallow dish. Heat the peanut oil in a deep-fat fryer to 350° F. In a medium bowl, whisk together the remaining 1 cup rice flour, the salt, and the sparkling water.
Pour the breadcrumbs into a pie pan or shallow dish. Dredge the fish strips in the rice flour, dip them in the tempura batter to coat, dredge them in panko crumbs, and fry in the hot oil for 3 to 5 minutes.
To serve, place several strips of the fried fish in a warm tortilla, top with a spoonful or more of slaw, drizzle with peanut sauce, and sprinkle with peanuts.