Mexico Life
For fish tacos, try to find fresh, handmade corn tortillas. For fish tacos, try to find fresh, handmade corn tortillas.

Beer takes fried fish or shrimp to another level of excellence

Baja Fish Tacos, Coconut Shrimp and more

I’m sure I’m not alone in loving simple beer-battered fish. Done right, the batter coating is light and crispy, and the fish inside is cooked through but still moist and tasty.

I also love coconut shrimp, although I prefer to make my own at home with unsweetened coconut and Panko crumbs for a less-cloying but super-delicious crunchy coating.

Curiously – or appropriately – the word for “battered” in Spanish is capeado, which has two meanings, both relevant to what we’re talking about. Capas means layered, or covered. And the verb capear means weathered – as in the English “battered,” or beaten. To further confuse the issue, there’s also empanizado – breaded. Ay, ay, ay!

Anyway, it’s the beer that takes fried fish or shrimp to that place of excellence; the bubbles are the key. Use a light lager, like Sol or Pacífico, so you don’t end up with a strong beer flavor. Some recipes say to let the batter sit for an hour or two to let the yeasts in the beer ferment with the flour, creating an even lighter, crispier crunch.

Up north, cod is what’s usually used for fried fish. But because we’re in Mexico, our selection is greater and more fresh: dorado and pargo (red snapper) are commonplace and affordable. If you insist, you can cook them in the oven. But they won’t taste the same.

For beer-battered fish sticks, try dorado or pargo.
For beer-battered fish sticks, try dorado or pargo.

But the fish is only part of the package; the sauce and toppings matter too, and you’ll find some recipes below. Opinions vary on the original, but cabbage – either raw and shredded or in a simple coleslaw – figures prominently. Try to find fresh, handmade corn tortillas if you can – just scout out a stand or taquería where they’re making them and ask for a dozen or so.

Beer Battered Fish

This light, crispy batter works great for onion rings, too. The basic ratio is 1 cup of flour per 12 oz. of beer.

  • Vegetable or olive oil for frying
  • 8 (4 oz.) fish fillets, dorado or pargo if possible
  • Salt & pepper
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 tsp. each salt and pepper
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 (12 oz.) bottle of beer
  • Corn tortillas, toppings, etc.
  • Optional: 1-2 tsp. paprika or crushed red chiles

If using a deep fryer, heat oil to 365 F. Otherwise, heat about 2 inches of oil in a skillet until very hot. Rinse fish, pat dry, and cut into strips to fit inside a tortilla, about 4 inches x 1 inch x ½ inch thick. Combine flour, paprika or chiles, salt and pepper. Gradually mix the beer in thoroughly to make a thin batter. (You’ll be able to see the fish through the batter after it has been dipped.)  Dip fish fillets first into the beaten egg, then into the batter, and then cook a few at a time in the hot oil. Fry fish, turning once, until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Serve atop a salad, in tacos, or as finger food with a dipping sauce.

Coconut-Panko Crumb Coated Fish or Shrimp

This is one of my favorite things to make. It’s important to use unsweetened coconut, either dehydrated or roasted, or it will be too sweet. Use regular bread crumbs if you like.

  • ¾ cup panko crumbs
  • ¼ cup shredded unsweetened coconut
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. pepper
  • ½ tsp. crushed red chiles
  • ½ cup flour
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • Oil for frying
  • ½ lb. dorado or pargo, cut into 4”x 1”x ½” strips
  • Corn tortillas, toppings, etc.

In flat bowls or plates, set up three dipping stations: the first with the flour; second with the beaten egg, and the last with the panko, coconut, crushed chiles, salt and pepper mixture. Heat oil till hot but not smoking. Dip fish first in flour, then egg, then in panko mixture. Fry in oil quickly till golden, turning once or twice; drain on paper towels. Serve in warm corn tortillas with toppings and salsas or as an appetizer.

Spicy-Sweet Dipping Sauce

The first time I made it it was hard to stop tasting (drinking) the sauce. What can I say? It’s really delicious.

  • 1½ cups rice vinegar
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1-3 tsp. crushed red pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Sesame seeds

Mix rice vinegar, sugar, crushed red pepper and garlic in saucepan over medium heat until sugar dissolves, then boil carefully until sauce thickens to maple syrup consistency, about 8-10 minutes. Serve warm in individual small bowls sprinkled with a few sesame seeds for dipping fish or shrimp, drizzle over fish fillets and rice, or use as a sauce for stir-fries.

Don't overlook the sauces and toppings.
Don’t overlook the sauces and toppings.

Garlic-Lemon Mayo

Simple, classic, yummy. Feel free to substitute plain unsweetened yogurt for half the mayonnaise.

  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled
  • Juice of ½ lemon or 1 limón
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • 2 Tbsp. minced fresh cilantro

In blender, food processor or by hand, mix mayonnaise, garlic and lemon or lime juice until blended. Transfer to small bowl; season with salt and pepper. Stir in cilantro.

Sriracha Dip

I love the taste of hot, vinegary sriracha – available in most grocery stores in the Asian section – on almost anything.

  • 1/3 cup sour cream
  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise
  • Juice from 1 lemon or 2 limónes
  • 1 roasted red pepper, finely chopped
  • 2 Tbsp. sriracha sauce
  • Salt and pepper if desired

Mix everything together in a small bowl.

Basic Tartar Sauce

The simplest version of this is just mayo and pickle relish, but here’s a slightly more detailed recipe for those “special” occasions.

  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • 1½ Tbsp. sweet pickle relish or minced cornichons
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh lime or lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. capers, chopped
  • 2 tsp. Dijon or stone-ground mustard 
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Mix all together in a small bowl. Store in refrigerator.

Janet Blaser of Mazatlán, Sinaloa, has been a writer, editor and storyteller her entire life, and feels fortunate to write about great food, amazing places, fascinating people and unique events. Her work has appeared in numerous travel and expat publications as well as newspapers and magazines. Her first book, Why We Left: An Anthology of American Women Expats, is available on Amazon. Contact Janet or read her blog at whyweleftamerica.com.

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