Fish Tacos a la Black Pearl
Hedonist’s Note: This post from last year got a mention in The Ann Arbor Observer, a local monthly newspaper. For all of you who came here because of it – Welcome! This post was written by my friend and occasional contributor, The Sicilian. I hope you enjoy the post and try out the recipe yourself as it’s dynamite. And definitely check out some of the others posts here!
The Black Pearl Seafood & Martini Bar is among the places we frequent when going out in downtown Ann Arbor. We like its vibe, and it has a decent wine list and food—especially the fish tacos. (My friend the Hedonist wrote about them back in September.) Despite a varied menu, including a few things I can’t figure out (a chunky tuna tartare bound in mayonnaise—really?), on a busy night you’ll see many platters of their popular fish tacos passing by on trays held high by swiftly moving waiters. Black Pearl’s fish tacos have this Baja/Asian fusion thing going on, with the use of fragrant sesame seed oil, puckery lime, cilantro, and smoky chipotle, making them lip-smacking delicious. So I took mental notes of the taste components last time we were at the Pearl, determined to replicate the tacos at home. Furthering my research, I went to the restaurant’s website, which simply says, “cumin dusted breaded tilapia, cabbage slaw, chipotle mayo, lime, cilantro, pico de gallo.” Ah ha. I had all the clues I needed to pull this off.
The hubster (aka The Dude) declares “you can’t tell the difference” between the taco recipe I created below and the ones at Black Pearl. Well, there are differences—mine aren’t as crunchy (my guess is they drop breaded tilapia in a deep fryer). No matter—they taste pretty much the same as the Pearl’s. And they’re quick and easy to make.
For a recent Sunday dinner, we had these with a simple fruit salad of mango, pineapple and banana, and paired the dinner with this fantastic Whole Foods brand green apple Italian soda I picked up. Beach dinner in late-winter Michigan—open up and let the sunshine in.
Fish Tacos with Spicy Slaw and Chipotle Mayo
- 4 tilapia fillets (about 1 ¼ lb.)
- 1 ½ teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 cup plain bread crumbs
- 1 8oz. bag of shredded red cabbage (or about 2 ½ cups thinly sliced and chopped)
- 1/2 red onion, very thinly sliced (use a mandoline if you have one)
- 1 red bell pepper, very thinly sliced
- 2 roma tomatoes, seeded and chopped
- 1/3 cup chopped cilantro
- 3 limes
- 2 Tablespoons Asian sesame oil
- 2 teaspoons unseasoned rice vinegar
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/3 cup mayonnaise
- 1 chipotle pepper in adobo, minced (or 1 or 2 dried chipotle pepper soaked in hot water for 15 min.)
- 10 to 12 fresh corn tortillas
- 1 avocado (optional)
- Combine red pepper, red onion, red cabbage, and cilantro in a medium-sized bowl. In a small bowl whisk together 3 Tablespoons of lime juice, the Asian sesame oil, unseasoned rice vinegar, cayenne pepper, and ½ teaspoon salt. Drizzle over cabbage and mix well adding freshly ground pepper and more salt to taste. Put in fridge until ready to use.
- On a large plate or pie dish, mix breadcrumbs with the ground cumin, and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
- In a small bowl, whisk the mayonnaise with the minced chipotle pepper and 1 teaspoon of lime juice. Set aside.
- Heat about ¼ inch of canola oil in a large skillet on high until very hot—almost smoking. Add tortillas, two at a time, and cook on each side until crisp yet a little pliable, about 20 seconds per side. Drain well on layers of paper towel. Take skillet off heat. (Note: Black Pearl fries the tortillas, which make them extra special, but you can also warm corn tortillas in layers of damp paper towels in microwave oven for about 30 seconds for less fat and skip the tortilla frying part.)
- Sprinkle fish with a little salt and then dredge fish in cumin-seasoned bread crumbs on both sides, firmly patting bread crumbs into fish. Return pan to burner and heat oil back to medium high. Cook fish until deep golden brown, about 3 minutes per side. Drain on paper towel and slice into strips.
- On each tortilla, smear a strip of chipotle mayo. Top with a few strips of fish and spoon on some cabbage slaw. Tuck in a few thin slices of avocado on the side, if desired. Serve each taco with a wedge of lime.