For many Chinese families, having seafood, especially fish, is a symbol of prosperity and abundance, so it’s often seen on dinner tables. Well, it’s almost always on my family’s table, at least, but less so with my husband and kids who are not fish fans. The down side to always having a seafood ambassador on the dinner table for my entire life: it’s not as easy to maintain a low-meat diet when you’re the one who has to pay for it! My dad grew up in the seaport city of Shanghai and passed his love of seafood to me. Whenever the opportunity presents itself, a member of the oceanic community goes right on my plate. The only seafood I deeply dislike are
sea snot oysters (shudder). Otherwise, bring on the conch, clams, crabs, scallops, periwinkles, fish, and lobster. As Michael Jackson so sagely put it, “Don’t stop until you get enough!”
For this lab, I chose to make fish tacos using the haddock that was already in my freezer. Unfortunately, I’d forgotten to take it out of the freezer the day I planned to make these tacos, so I cooked them sous vide (the fancy French phrase for cooking “under vacuum” which is in turn fancy phrasing for cooking food in a vacuum-sealed bag in a circulating water bath). I put together the fish marinade: lime juice (I had to use lemon juice as I was out of lime), chili powder, cumin, and cayenne, then poured it into the bag containing about three ounces of haddock. I figured it would marinate as it cooked in the bag. As an aside, I do this with meat I want to marinate but don’t plan to cook the same day; basically, I make whatever marinade appeals to me, then pour it into a big freezer bag over the meat and then stick into the freezer. As the water molecules freeze within the meat, it expands. The marinade fills in those newly formed micro-tears, flavoring and tenderizing (depending on what’s in your marinade, of course) the meat as it thaws. It saves time later when you’re in a rush and just want to throw something into the slow cooker before you leave for work or don’t have time to thaw and marinate.
It wasn’t until my immersion circulator (that’s the doodad that cooks things sous vide) indicated that the cook cycle was done that I realized I’d fat fingered the temperature: it was supposed to cook to 145F and I’d entered 155F. Whoops. Once out of its bath, I seared it on a hot carbon steel pan lightly coated with grapeseed oil because proteins cooked sous vide can taste unpleasantly wet.
While the fish cooked in its water bath, I turned my attention to the accompanying purple cabbage slaw because you just can’t have fish tacos without some sort of slaw: mayonnaise (I used the homemade mayo from Lab 7: Eggs and Egg Foams), lime juice, cilantro, honey, corn kernels, and shredded purple cabbage. The recipe also called for fresh jalapeno which I didn’t have so I omitted that. The slaw went into the fridge for about an hour while the fish
overcooked. In the meantime, I wrapped two corn tortillas in foil and heated them in the toaster oven. I was really surprised by how quickly this came together once the fish was done and just how good it tasted. I was even more surprised not only by my picky husband’s willingness to try it (fish tacos are full of things he hates) but his approval. Between you and me, I still think he was just being polite. I’d make this again for a weeknight dinner for myself!
Appearance: bright, colorful, textured, appealing
Aroma: fresh, herbal, lime, faintly grassy, corn
Flavor: light, fresh, citrusy, savory, zesty, peppery, the fish was mild-flavored with just a little briny-sweetness, and lightly creamy and loamy from the avocado
Texture: Creamy, crunchy, flaky