Recipes from the Breakroom - Fish Tacos
This month’s staff recipe comes with a culinary tradition that goes back centuries to when indigenous North American peoples first wrapped their offshore catch of fish into stone-ground-corn tortillas. While this dish can be reduced to a very simple equation (Fish + Tortilla = Fish Taco), foodie aficionados give credit to the Baja Peninsula region of Mexico for developing what is considered the quintessential fish taco. That is, a lightly battered mild white fish that is deep-fried served in a corn tortilla (often two) with shredded cabbage, a thin sour cream or mayonnaise-based sauce, a bit of salsa, and a squeeze of fresh lime. Damon Ragsdale, Melissa’s “man in St. Louis,” shares his more nuanced version of this dish that involves a few delicious steps to make his secret sauce that will especially appeal to the home cook who enjoys getting lost in the culinary process.
“The inspiration for this recipe came from my excursions to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in northern Minnesota,” Damon recalled. “I was the cook for our group of 5 to 8 voyageurs for six days. I carried all the ingredients in except the fish since Walleye were easily caught from the cold deep waters daily. The recipe just kind of evolved. I even bring my own Kewpie Mayo on these trips! Over the past few years, I have been the cook on week-long sailing excursions with a group of friends in tropical locations like the Exumas, Leeward Islands, and the Florida Keys; these fish tacos are always on the menu by request! In fact, the Chipotle Aioli sauce by itself is pretty good, so I have also served it on these trips as a dipping salsa or added to BBQ sauce for a smoky kick. It comes in handy in a small galley where space for supplies is always limited.”
FYI: American mayonnaise uses whole eggs; Japanese Kewpie mayo incorporates only the yolks for a yellow color, resulting in an almost custardy texture with a distinctly rich and fatty texture. While Kewpie can be found at most large supermarkets with a complete Asian Foods section, I have included a simple recipe for this tasty mayo as homemade is far superior in flavor to store-bought. Kewpie is a Japanese brand started in 1925 and named after the famous Kewpie Doll that was popular at the time.
While I have caught my share of Walleye over the years, fresh cod fillets work great for this recipe. Actually, choose any white fish with a mild flavor that can best pick up the distinctive flavors of Damon’s other components. The Kewpie mayo is an ingredient in Damon’s Chipotle Aioli, which is a component of his taco fixings, so follow the recipe’s order of preparation, and you will be rewarded with a wonderful taste experience.
Damon Ragsdale has been a member of Melissa’s team of field reps for just over 20 years, working exclusively with one of our key chain store accounts in St. Louis, Missouri. Damon works closely with key personnel at the store’s corporate headquarters as well as the company’s hub warehouse staff and produce managers at all retail locations.
“I would describe my position as being an ambassador of Melissa’s,” Damon explained. “I share Melissa’s produce knowledge and insights, present our category solutions, and work with our customer to solve sales goals or meet the retail merchandising initiatives of our sales teams back in Los Angeles. I came from the dry grocery side of the business, so what I find most appealing about produce is the rapid nature of how things happen. Before working for Melissa’s I had 12 months product life now, I have maybe 12 days. It doesn’t get boring! I communicate with our clients daily, mostly face to face, working with the produce director, buyer, store supervisor, and in-store personnel to increase Melissa’s presence and footprint in the stores. I believe that the business of fresh produce attracts a certain type of person. We are all a part of a unique fraternity of like-minded produce geeks, so it makes sales calls and daily interaction very interesting and rewarding.”
Away from the rigors of a fast-paced produce business, Damon and his “best buddy” wife, Kim, like to slow it down, but only just a bit, in the great outdoors. Besides the sailing/cooking excursions that produced Damon’s taco recipe, the couple enjoys visiting the backcountry of the National Park system – no assigned tent space for these two! They have backed away from a grizzly in Glazier, regularly canoe the nearby National Ozark Scenic Riversway as well as hike and mountain bike the hills around those rivers. Still, being the produce geek he is, Damon could not resist snapping a shot of a bag of Melissa’s Trail Mix while climbing in the Adirondacks!
Damon and Kim have also participated in several “Adventure Races,” where teams will travel up to 300 miles by foot, mountain bike, and boat using a map and compass to complete the course checkpoints. In other words, the Ragsdales are not couch potatoes. They have hiked the Smoky Mountains in snow as well as the famed and sometimes treacherous Zion Narrows in 60°F water. In fact, so they don’t have to travel for a little outdoor adventure, they are turning the five-acre piece of ground where they live into a park-like setting with mountain bike trails and a picnic area—no grizzlies!
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner Department – “If I could invite one well-known person to my own table, it would be Les Stroud, the host of the TV series Survivorman. He started the genre of survival shows, but he did it all by himself, and he carried all of his own recording equipment. I very much relate to Les’ respect for the earth, wildlife, local people and their customs. Besides, he likes to do a lot of the things I like to do! He has a new show where he invites chefs to his house to cook what he sources by himself on his own homestead. Come to think of it that might make coming up with a tasty menu pretty challenging!”
Not a problem – hand him a pole…fresh-caught walleye fish tacos!
For the Kewpie Mayo
2 fresh egg yolks (room temperature for best emulsion)
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 cup canola oil, divided
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar (more to taste)
½ teaspoon dashi powder
2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
4 teaspoons lemon juice
For the Chipotle Aioli
12-ounce can tomato sauce
2 Melissa’s dried chipotle peppers
½ teaspoon salt
2 Melissa’ peeled garlic cloves, sliced
¼ teaspoon dried oregano
6-ounce Kewpie Mayonnaise
For the Fish Tacos
1 pound fish (cod or similar white fish)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves Melissa’s peeled garlic, minced
¼ white onion, fine dice
12 baby heirloom tomatoes, quartered
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
6 soft corn tortillas (12 if you like to double them)
For the Kewpie Mayonnaise
Measure out all ingredients before starting. Mix yolks and mustard in a food processor or blender for 20 seconds. With the food processor running, SLOWLY drizzle ½ cup of the canola oil in a thin, steady stream. The mixture will begin to thicken and emulsify. Add the salt, sugar and dashi powder followed by another SLOW drizzle of the remaining ½ cup while the mixer is running. Finally, add the rice vinegar and lemon juice, then blend for just 10 seconds. Will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for about 4 days.
For the Chipotle Aioli
Put all ingredients, except mayo, in a small saucepan and slowly bring to a boil. Then simmer on low until the sauce has begun to thicken. Remove from heat to cool.
Once cool, take the dried chipotle out, transfer the sauce to a blender and purée. Note: for added spicy heat, cut one of the chipotle peppers in half and add back to the sauce before the puree. Mix the Kewpie Mayo with the chipotle sauce to taste.
For the Fish Tacos
Option 1: Place the fish fillets on a parchment-covered baking pan, cover the fillets with minced garlic, salt and pepper to taste, then drizzle with olive oil, bake at 400° for 10-12 minutes. Option 2: Place fish on heavy-duty foil with the same seasonings, then transfer foil packet to a hot grill and cook for 10 minutes.
To assemble tacos: On a warmed tortilla, place a layer of the aioli down first, then a few fillets, top with diced onion, tomato, cilantro.