Spice and grill to lock in the flavor.
As a Mexican food novice of many years standing—one who seldom orders anything except fajitas on a Mexican menu—I can vouch for the fact that tasteless chicken breast and nearly tasteless cuts of beef can both be turned into delicious morsels when given the fajita treatment. Doesn’t it follow, then, that fajitas might become an out-of-this-world treat if made with something that’s tender and tasty to begin with—like prime fillet of fish?
I once asked myself that very question, and after only one test, I answered myself with a resounding, “Yes!”
But I faced another problem. The dictionary defines fajitas as “grilled strips of poultry or beef wrapped in a tortilla.” As a professional word-wielder, dare I use the term “fish fajitas” with a clear conscience? I dare. It’s easier than coining a new label, like “fishitas.”
The best types of fish for fajitas–simply because their fillets hold together well on a grill—are those choice varieties which have very firm flesh. It’s true that you will later cut the fillets into strips or bite-size pieces, but ease of cooking is what’s important at this point. My very favorite fish for grilling has always been dolphin, but since I rarely roam offshore these days, I have to look for substitutes and have found several excellent ones, including, of course, store-bought mahi mahi. In addition, grouper, amberjack and the thick forward portion of a redfish fillet are all terrific as fajita fish. So is snook, if your fairy godmother ever sees fit to bless you with a catch that matches the narrow parameters of legality.
Here’s what you’ll need to prepare grilled fish fajitas for four (along with Mexican beverages of your choice):
-1 lb. firm fish fillet
-1 bell pepper, sliced
-1 small onion, halved and sliced thick
- 2 tbsp. olive oil
-2 tbsp. fresh lime juice
-1/2 tsp. garlic powder
-1/2 tsp. salt
-1/2 tsp. black pepper
-1/2 tsp. cumin
The fillets will marinate better and handle more easily if you cut them into what would usually be serving-size pieces of about one-quarter pound each. Combine the marinade ingredients in a large plastic bag. Add the fish, bell pepper and onion, and shake the bag to coat everything with the marinade. Place the bag in the refrigerator, but leave it there for only about 30 minutes. Fish is one kind of meat that definitely should NOT be allowed to soak for a long period of time in lime juice or any other acidic marinade.
While the fish is marinating, heat the grill to the medium-high range—about what you’re used to for grilling hamburgers—and brush the cooking grid with oil. Grill the fish for three minutes on each side, more or less, depending on thickness. Test to see that a cooking fork pierces easily. The vegetables will cook in about the same time, but can be left on the grill a little longer if you prefer them less crispy. Warm the tortillas on the edges of the grill.
Remove the fish to a cutting board. Using your sharpest knife and sawing gently, cut the fish into small strips. Don’t worry if the pieces turn out ragged; they’ll still taste as good. Wrap the strips of fish in tortillas, along with the vegetables.
You almost have fish fajitas. I say almost because who ever heard of fajitas without their accompaniment of mouth-watering garnishes? These usually include shredded cheese or cheeses, and sour cream, served on a bed of shredded lettuce, with salsa and guacamole on the side. It’s up you to pick the garnishes you like.
An alternate way to do fish fajitas is not quite so elegant, and doesn’t even meet the dictionary definition of “grilled.” You probably won’t quibble, however, after you sample the results. These can be whipped up pretty quickly on your stovetop.
Quick Fish Fajitas
-2 tbsp. olive or vegetable oil, divided
-1 bell pepper, sliced
-1 small onion, sliced
-1 pound firm fish fillet
-1 (1.25 ounce) package taco seasoning mix
-3 tbsp. water, or more if needed
-flour tortillas, warmed
For this treatment, it’s best to cut the fish into strips before the cooking begins.
Start by heating one tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. The pepper slices, of course, can be either green or red or a mix of both. Place them in the skillet along with the sliced onion. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is opaque and the peppers are hot but still slightly crisp, about five minutes. Take the veggies out of the skillet and set aside. Pour the remaining tablespoon of oil into the skillet. Place the fish in the skillet and cook for 2-3 minute per side or until fork-tender. Remove fish to a platter and reduce heat to low. Return the peppers and onion to the skillet. Stir in the taco seasoning and water. Return the fish to the pan and stir everything gently. Simmer only until the food is heated. Wrap in warm tortillas and serve with your garnishes. This recipe also serves four.
From Florida Sportsman magazine, print edition.