I live in an area of Ottawa called Centretown. Well, more specifically, I live in the Golden Triangle. It is the neighbourhood east of Elgin Street and bordered in by the Rideau Canal. It’s a beautiful area in the heart of downtown full of green space, parks, cafes and pubs.
Food in the area is good, but not great. Elgin Street, at its core, is a pub street – some good and some not so great. The best restaurant in the area has got to be Town, hands down. They love you, and you will love them.You must check it out.
There are also a lot of coffee shops, and home to some of the best late night grub in Ottawa. The Elgin Street Diner has their famous mushroom gravy poutine that has people lining up at 3am. Just down the road is the lesser known House of Georgie Sorentos, which has a creation they call pizza gravy. It’s exactly what you think. A slice of pizza, smothered in hot, peppery gravy. It is glorious. And only $3.50.
Being a food guy, I’m always excited to hear that Elgin is getting some new food. But in recent years, the new additions haven’t been anything to write home about. Until now. About a month back, Chef Matthew Carmichael opened a joint in the basement of a building at Elgin and Gladstone called El Camino. If you’ve never heard of Carmichael, or never had the pleasure of dining at one of his fine establishments (namely Eighteen, Social and Sidedoor), then you are missing out on an essential piece of the Ottawa food scene.
El Camino is Carmichael’s vision of how tacos should be served, offering up incredible options such as beef (and beef tongue), lamb, pork and crispy fish, the inspiration for this dish, which can be enjoyed while sitting down inside, or from the take out window. If you sit down inside you can enjoy many more dishes including the Mexican corn, papaya salad, scallops ceviche, fresh guacamole and more.
Although I had been following the hype about El Camino since before they opened, it was my coworker, Paul, who really sold me on it. After going on opening night, Paul came into the office the next day raving about it. He immediately became a regular, going in for dinner 4 nights a week. When I asked him what to get, he responded with “Everything. But seriously, get the crispy fish.” He was right. Everything was great, but the crispy fish was above and beyond.
Katie and I have been travelling most of the summer and are rarely home on weekends. Not that I’m complaining at all, but weekends are when I do my best cooking. It’s when I have the time to plan out a meal, go shopping, and spend some quality time in the kitchen. With tacos on my mind, and a weekend in the city, I decided to test my hand at my very own crispy fish tacos. Craving fresh tortilla shells, I went over to Little Latin America on Somerset Street and bought myself a tortilla press. Oh, it is on.
Crispy Fish Tacos
500g fresh cod
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 cup beer
2 cups Masa Harina
1 1/2 cups water
Pinch of salt
1 jalapeño, thinly sliced into rings
2 radishes, thinly sliced
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1 avocado, sliced
Spicy sauce (Sriracha and plain greek yogurt, ratio 1:2)
Lime, cut into wedges for garnish
Fresh cilantro springs, for garnish
Pico de Gallo
3 roma tomatoes, diced
1/2 cup red onion, minced
1/2 jalapeño, seeded and minced
2 tbsp chopped cilantro
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 lime, juiced
Salt and pepper to taste
Start by preparing your pico de gallo. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and stir thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate for up to 2 hours before serving.
Prepare the rest of your toppings as outlined above.
Next, make your beer batter for the fish. Combine the flour, salt and pepper together in a large bowl. Slowly add the beer, whisking thoroughly until the batter is smooth. Add about an inch of vegetable oil into a medium saucepan and heat over medium heat. While oil heats, prepare the cod by slicing it into 5 inch long slices.
Test the heat of your oil by dipping the end of a wooden spoon into it. If it sizzles when dipped, the oil is hot enough. Dip the fish in the batter and fully coat, then drop into the hot oil. Fry fish 3 pieces at a time as to not crowd the pan. Fry the fish for about 2 minutes, and then turn over for another 2 minutes. When the fish is fully cooked, and nicely golden brown, remove from the oil and set aside on a paper towel lined platter.
Make your homemade tortillas by combining the masa harina with salt and water. Mix thoroughly until you have a soft, smooth dough. Divide the dough into 16 equal sized balls, comparable to the size of a golf ball. Cover with a damp cloth to ensure that they don’t dry out. Line both plates of your tortilla press with thick plastic. Some people suggest using plastic wrap (or cling wrap) but I found that it didn’t work well, so I cut a Ziploc freezer bag in half and used that. Place a ball on the plastic and close the press firmly, clamping down strongly with the lever. Open up the press and carefully peel away the tortilla.
Preheat a non-greased skillet over medium-high heat (I used a crepe pan). Cook tortillas, one at a time, for 50 seconds per side. Cover cooked tortillas in a cloth napkin or closed container to keep warm.
Okay, it’s time to serve. Place a piece of cod on a fresh tortilla shell. Top with spicy sauce, pico de gallo, radish slices, jalapeños and red onions. Garnish with a slice of avocado and sprinkle with cilantro. Serve with lime wedges and a cold beer. Enjoy.