Cooking

The Baja Moment

David LeFevre builds the ultimate fried fish tacos
Photos: Lizzie Munro/Tasting Table
Fried Fish Tacos

Fishing with Dynamite may be a jewel box of a seafood restaurant in a not-as-sleepy-as-it-used-to-be surf town, but when you wander in from the blinding Manhattan Beach, California, sun, the first thing you'll notice is that it's not a "seafood shack" by any stretch of the imagination.

Chef/owner David LeFevre's treatment of fish is deliberate and attentive, marrying East Coast classics with the West Coast's bro-don't-kill-my-vibe vibe. It's a theme that runs through the chatty service and the restaurant's cheery, almost twee design: Everything from the "Yes, We're in Love" and "Don't Give Up the Ship" signs on the walls to the cheekily illustrated paper on which the fish tacos are served was selected with a mindful—albeit playful—eye.

And about those fish tacos (see the recipe): Fish tacos are practically required on SoCal seafood restaurant menus. For one, they're delicious, and the proximity to their reputed birthplace of Baja California doesn't hurt either—but LeFevre's are something special, layering unexpected flavors, freshness and crunch into every bite. It's California innovation meets simple technique, bundled up in a guacamole-slathered package.

  • Chef David LeFevre's fish tacos at Manhattan Beach's Fishing with Dynamite are something special. Before frying the fish, he dips seasoned yellowtail into a beer batter made with all-purpose and rice flours.

  • LeFevre flips the fish the entire time it's frying to ensure even cooking. After taking the fish out of the oil, he immediately seasons it with a hefty dose of salt.

  • An essential step for building flavor: brushing the warm tortilla with butter and sprinkling it with salt.

  • LeFevre spreads guacamole onto the tortilla, then adds an unexpected ingredient: fresh mint leaves, which add an herbaceous kick.

  • Next up: golden pieces of fried fish.

  • Harissa-spiked crema is another surprise twist. LeFevre says the Tunisian chile paste has similar spices to some Mexican dishes.

  • Shredded red cabbage adds texture and crunch.

  • A tomatillo-based salsa verde, fresh cilantro leaves and house-made chicharrones are the finishing touches.

  • LeFevre gives the tacos a squeeze of lime to brighten everything up. Get his fish taco recipe here.

  • 1/9
hide

Lefevre recently came by our Test Kitchen to show us how they're done: His tacos start with the restaurant's house-made corn tortillas, which are warmed, buttered and salted before getting smeared with guac. But here's where things get weird: The next thing to go on is a sprinkling of mint leaves.

"We went with mint, because we wanted to add herbaceousness," LeFevre explains.

Up next is the fish: LeFevre typically uses yellowtail or cod, which is seasoned and given a quick dip in a light beer batter made with all-purpose and rice flours (essential to give the fish "a nice, crunchy texture"). He fries the fish in canola oil, constantly flipping it with a spider so it cooks evenly, and douses the finished pieces with salt.

Once the fried fish is nestled into the tortilla, LeFevre drizzles it with another surprise ingredient: harissa-spiked crema. Yes, that would be hot chile pepper paste that's typically used in Middle Eastern cooking. LeFevre explains, "The spices are similar to some Mexican salsas."

RELATED   Make Your Own Harissa »

Garnishes appear in the form of crisp red cabbage and more traditional salsa verde and cilantro leaves. The proverbial cherry on top? A smattering of house-made chicharrones, which add crunch and salt to the already flavor-packed packet.

"The fish tacos really reflect what we do: We like food with texture and pop," LeFevre says of his multidimensional take on the dish.

We were lucky enough to eat LeFevre's fish tacos at Fishing with Dynamite itself, gazing out its windows at the Pacific Ocean (yes, you can see the water from the restaurant). We squeezed on a little lime before we dove in: Each bite was an explosion of butter; soft tortilla; cool guac; crisp fish; rich crema; and ethereal, porky chicharrones.

One bite and we can almost see the waves again. Almost.

Around the Web

Get the Tasting Table newsletter for adventurous eaters everywhere