Fried fish taco with tomatillo salad

Fried fish taco with tomatillo salad (David Mallette, For The Baltimore Sun / August 9, 2013)

With about 10 jalapenos already in the fridge and a small basket of fresh tomatillos coming in the new weekly pickup from Cockeysville's Moon Valley Farm, I knew I had some sort of Tex-Mex meal in my future. But I'd never cooked with tomatillos before and wasn't quite sure what to do with them.

I searched the cookbooks on my shelf and in "Just Tacos: 100 Delicious Recipes for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner," by Shelley Wiseman (Taunton Press, 2011) found a recipe for tacos with chopped fish and tomatillo "salad." It called for mahi-mahi, which was simply grilled with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, and then tossed in a dressed salad of tomatillos, onions, jalapenos and cilantro.

It sounded good, but so did another recipe from my friend and fellow taco-lover, Ellise Pierce. Her cookbook, "Cowgirl Chef: Texas Cooking with a French Accent" (Running Press, 2012) included fish tacos with mango-avocado salsa." That recipe called for any sort of white fish fillets. Their buttermilk/cornmeal frying batter was inspired by the cornmeal crust her mom used to make when Pierce would catch catfish at her grandfather's lake in Texas.

Well, batter up! Who could resist that kind of down-home crunch?

So I decided to combine the two recipes, frying the fish in buttermilk batter and using the salad as the taco filler. I ended up changing the dressing recipe quite a bit — Wiseman's called for Worcestershire sauce and dried oregano, but I substituted with fresh oregano and a splash of red wine vinegar that seemed a "cleaner" choice than the processed sauce. And I added in some tomatoes.

We wrapped our tacos in flour tortillas because that's what we had on hand, but I think, given the cornmeal batter, a corn tortilla might have been a slightly better choice. Nevertheless, my Texas-born-and-raised husband gave this dish an A-plus, noting that the citrus, cilantro, hot peppers and crunchy, sweet cornmeal gave it depth in flavor and texture.

Cornmeal-fried fish tacos with tomatillo 'salad'

Serves 4

For the salad:

3 large tomatillos, husked, cleaned and chopped coarsely

1 small onion, chopped

2 jalapenos, with seeds removed, chopped

1 tomato, cut into bite-sized chunks

1 cup cilantro, chopped

For the dressing:

1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped finely

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Juice from 2 limes

A little less than 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar (or to taste)

Salt, to taste

For the fish:

1 pound tilapia or other white fish fillet, cut into 2-inch chunks

1/2 cup cornmeal

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper and a big pinch of sea salt

1/4 cup buttermilk

Corn oil

Four corn tortillas

Prepare salad by mixing all ingredients except cilantro in a large bowl.

Prepare dressing by mixing all ingredients in a small bowl. Pour dressing over salad and mix thoroughly. Set aside.

Combine the cornmeal, cayenne pepper and salt in a shallow dish. Pour the buttermilk into a shallow bowl. Dip the pieces of fish in the buttermilk, then dredge in the cornmeal mixture.

In a large skillet, add just enough corn oil to cover the bottom. Turn to medium-high heat. When pan is hot, add fish, turning as they brown. Cook for just 2-3 minutes, as they cook quickly.

Add the cilantro to the salad, and stir it in.

On tortilla, layer the fish, then the dressed salad. Fold it up, and dive in.