Carb Solutions – FISH TACOS
By Dennis Linden
Over half of the U.S. adult population, some 154 million, qualify as being overweight or obese. Another 29 million of us have Diabetes, many as a direct result of being overweight. Then there are the 23.9 million overweight children who are dutifully following the example of their XXL adult role models. Diabetes and these extra pounds cost this country billions annually in both medical and economic resources; not to mention the affect these weight-related maladies have on a person’s overall mental well-being and happiness. However, both diabetes and being overweight are very manageable, even preventable, with a few lifestyle tweaks. By maintaining a sensible diet in conjunction with some consistent exercise, no matter how minimal, we can all be in total control of our own weight. One easy way to start taking that control is to make decisions about the foods we eat based on the glycemic index [GI] and glycemic load [GL].
Simply put, our bodies convert all foods into sugar calories that provide energy to the body via the blood stream. The Glycemic Index assigns a score of 1 to 100 to all foods based how speedy the body converts that food into sugar. Foods that break down slowly enable the body to assimilate theses calories of energy more efficiently without overwhelming the body with more sugar than it can process. While this is especially important for diabetics who process sugars much slower than others, everyone can benefit from eating foods that have low glycemic scores since they also reduce appetite and encourage the metabolism to burn body fat. Conversely, a diet of foods high on the glycemic charts have been proven to actually increase appetite and impede effective fat oxidation.
A Quickie Glycemic Primer:
Until I was forced to count my carb intake, one of my favorite “go-to” orders on a restaurant’s lunch menu was always the fish tacos. In fact, the dish was my culinary canary-in-the-coal-mine method of judging a new eatery; if the fish tacos were good, then I was likely to return to try other items. Though probably enjoyed in some version for centuries by the ancient indigenous tribes of Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, the modern fish taco emerged in the 1950s in the Baja city of either Ensenada or San Felipe. The exact origin of the dish is still an ongoing debate as both cities claim to be the "home" of the fish taco. Unfortunately this dish has two strikes against it in tallying carbs – the white flour based batter and the corn or flour taco shells. Here’s a recipe that offers a very close low-carb version of the real thing.
- The glycemic index of a food compares its effect on blood sugar level to that of pure glucose, which has a score of 100. White breads, which are made of processed white flour, are at the top of this scale, scoring a “perfect” 100 on the glycemic index. For perspective, a score of 55 or below denotes a low-glycemic-index food; 70 or above is considered very high. Serving size is not a consideration in arriving at a food’s Glycemic Index number.
- The glycemic load, on the other hand, focuses on how much digestible carbohydrates (sugars) a food contains in a typical single serving, which is defined as approximately 3.5 ounces. For glycemic load, a score of 20 or more is high, while 10 or less is low.
Actually, the quest for a glycemic-friendly batter took some trial and error to perfect. I first tried coconut flour, thinking that adding a little extra flavor of coconut would lend a pleasant, tropical twist to the fish. Batter alert: while the batter looked like the real thing, it clumped without clinging when I attempted to fry the pieces. Plus, since I was attempting to make a beer batter, I also discovered why there is no coconut-flavored beer in the marketplace -- the combination of the two was simply terrible tasting. So, after completely ruining a perfectly good fresh cod filet, it was back to the cutting board.
The second batch was much more successful using Almond Flour. Actually this product is not a flour at all but a finely grained tasteless meal made completely of almonds (0 carbs!) that, when mixed with baking powder, will cook up to a crispy golden brown. The key to a good batter is achieving a consistency that is not too runny or too thick. Add the beer into the dry ingredients and beaten egg last and in small increments. Mix between those small pours until the texture resembles the thickness of pancake batter. Hint: the heavier (darker) the beer the more flavorful the batter, though there are more carbs in dark beer than a lite beer. The recipe below calls for a lite beer, let your carb tolerance be your guide.
Another crucial component to frying the batter to golden is the temperature of the oil, which needs to rise to 365°F before the battered fish pieces are added to the pan. A simple way to tell that the oil is hot enough is to place the handle of a wooden spoon into the oil; when small bubbles appear immediately around it the oil has reached temperature. Do not crowd the pan, cook just a few pieces of fish at a time so that the oil’s temperature stays consistent.
For the taco shells I used a favorite substitute made from two rounds of provolone cheese, which I have featured before in this blog. The cheese itself is rather neutral in flavor [as in bland] so I use Melissa’s Hatch Chili Powder to add a touch more flavor to the cheese shells, but one could use almost any seasoning or herb combination to taste. The repurposing of the cheese into a crunchy taco shell will take a bit of practice. Try to work through the culinary doubt that is sure to set in as the cheese heats up and starts to bubble in the pan – looking more like a puddle of cheese than a tortilla! Hang in there. Use a spatula to push and pull the edges of that “puddle” until the blade can be slipped under the firming cheese. When it feels cooked through enough, quickly flip the cheese patty over for a one-minute sauté before laying out on the rack to shape. That “rack” is simply a long-handled wooden spoon suspended between two tall containers.
I hesitated suggesting a salsa as most everyone has their own favorite secret formula for this iconic condiment. Still, since salsa is half the stuffing in this taco, I have provided the makings for a pretty basic mix that compliments the fish without overpowering it. Besides, anytime I can find an excuse to add avocado to a dish I cannot resist. Feel free to get creative with this component. Melissa’s offers a very tasty Hatch Salsa, just add the avocado! So there you have it – a substitute for those delicious restaurant Fish Tacos that avoids all the high carbs or having to tip for service! Enjoy.
Low Carb Beer-Battered Fish Tacos with Avocado Salsa
Makes 4 tacos
1 large tomato, diced
½ cup red onion, diced
½ cup fresh Hatch Chile Pepper, minced
3 Tbsp. lime juice
½ tsp. Kosher salt
½ avocado, diced
¼ cup cilantro, chopped
Fresh ground black pepper, to taste
Pinch of cayenne, to taste (optional)
1 lb. fresh cod fillet or any white fish of choice
1/4 cup almond flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/3 cup lite beer of choice
A dash of cayenne pepper (optional)
Salt and pepper, to taste
8 rounds of pre-sliced provolone cheese (2 per shell)
1 Tbsp. Hatch Chile Powder
Canola oil, as needed
Salsa: Combine the first 6 ingredients in a medium bowl, then stir in avocado, cilantro and cayenne (if using).
Batter: Mix the dry ingredients together with a whisk. Beat the egg and add it along with the beer to the dry ingredients. Stir to blend.
Fish: Cut fish into 1” x 2” pieces, season with salt and pepper. In a non-stick pan pour 2" to 3" of canola oil, heat on high flame. Dip the fish into the batter, then allow excess to drip off. Carefully slide battered pieces into the hot oil. Cook for about 2 to 3 minutes depending on size, turning in oil with a slotted spoon, or until golden brown. Remove to paper towel lined plate.
Taco Shells: Overlap 2 slices of Provolone cheese in an oiled, pre-heated, non-stick pan. As the cheese slices melt together, stretch and shape them with a spatula into one large round. Cook each side until a deep golden brown; the round should slide easily in the pan.
When done, immediately sandwich each taco round between two pieces of parchment paper for quick handling; bend round in half while pliable and hang to “dry” over a long-handled mixing spoon supported on each end that raises the handle about 10-inches off the counter.
Plating: Pack each shell first with thin layer of salsa, then two pieces of fried fish and then slather with more salsa.