Esteban Castillo was raised in Santa Ana, California, surrounded by palm trees and a population that is predominantly Latino. As a kid, he feasted on Mexican food prepared by his mother—tangy ceviche, chicken con chochoyotes (masa dumplings), and chorizo tacos—but it wasn’t until he was older that he realized many of the recipes he saw on blogs and in magazines didn’t reflect the kind of Mexican food he was used to. So he launched his own blog, Chicano Eats, which served as a space to not only share authentic Mexican recipes from his childhood, but also highlight other Latino voices.
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Stemming from his blog, Esteban’s first cookbook “Chicano Eats” highlights traditional and fusion Mexican food. The recipes emerged from Chicano cuisine, one that’s been shaped by the communities Mexican immigrants moved to in the United States, namely in California, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, and Colorado. As these immigrants settled in America, they brought with them their own set of techniques and ingredients to use in the kitchen (think chiles, beans, tortillas, tomatillos, and corn), but were also required to wield local ingredients from other cultures and regions in the country, thus forming their own brand of fusion cuisine.
Chicano Eats: Recipes from My Mexican-American Kitchen, $29.99 on Amazon
In “Chicano Eats,” you’ll find 85 Chicano recipes, from mac and queso fundido to toasted coconut horchata. Esteban not only provides recipes, but he also walks readers through essential Mexican kitchen tools (and how to use them), as well as define and explain the variety of quesos, chiles, tortillas, herbs, and spices found in the book.
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Below you’ll find Esteban’s recipe for tacos de pescado (fish tacos). The secret to making the crispiest of fried fish was handed down to him from his mother, who crushed saltine crackers into the batter. These days, Esteban also adds New Mexico chile powder, garlic, onion powder, smoked paprika, and a Mexican blonde lager to the batter, creating a dry dredge for the fish. Once the fish filets are dressed, Esteban dunks each piece into hot oil until golden brown, removing them and immediately covering each piece with salt.
To serve, slide corn tortillas under each crisped-up fish filet, followed by a showering of cabbage, radish, and pico de gallo. Daub the top with housemade jalapeño crema, then finish it off with a lemon wedge.
From the book CHICANO EATS: Recipes from My Mexican-American Kitchen by Esteban Castillo. Copyright © 2020 by Esteban Castillo. Published on June 30, 2020 by Harper Design, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Reprinted by permission.
Tacos de Pescado (Fish Tacos) Recipe
I grew up in a typical Catholic home, where we observed Lent every spring. It meant we weren’t allowed to eat meat on Fridays, but my siblings and I didn’t really mind because we loved eating seafood; we would have eaten ceviche and mojarras fritas (whole deep-fried tilapia) every day if we could have. One of the many dishes mi mamá would prepare for us during this time were tacos de pescado. Her secret for a nice, crunchy crust was to crush up saltine crackers and incorporate them into the fish batter. I still use this technique for my own fish tacos, incorporating pulverized saltines into a flavorful Ensenada-style beer batter with garlic, New Mexico chiles, onion, and smoked paprika for a fish taco topped with a briny jalapeño crema.
Tacos de Pescado
- FOR THE JALAPEÑO CREMA: 1 cup (240 ml) crema Mexicana
- 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- ¾ teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon onion powder
- ¼ cup (60 g) chopped pickled jalapeños
- FOR THE DRY DREDGE: ½ cup (65 g) all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- FOR THE FISH: 17 saltine crackers
- ⅔ cup (80 g) all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1½ teaspoons New Mexico chile powder
- 1½ teaspoons granulated garlic
- 1½ teaspoons onion powder
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 large eggs
- 12 ounces (355 ml) Mexican blonde lager, such as Corona or Modelo
- About 2 quarts (2 liters) vegetable oil, for deep-frying
- 1½ pounds (680 g) Alaskan cod fillets, cut into 4-inch (10 cm) pieces
- Diamond Crystal kosher salt
- FOR SERVING: Corn tortillas, warmed
- Shredded cabbage
- Sliced radishes
- Pico de gallo
- Lemon wedges
- Make the jalapeño crema: In a medium bowl, whisk together the crema Mexicana, mayonnaise, lemon juice, garlic powder, and onion powder. Fold in the chopped jalapeño and let rest in the fridge until needed.
- Prepare the dry dredge: In a shallow bowl, whisk together the flour and cornstarch and set aside.
- Make the fish: In a food processor, pulse the saltines for about 30 seconds, or until completely fine and blitzed. In a large shallow bowl, whisk together the saltine cracker powder, flour, salt, chile powder, granulated garlic, onion powder, smoked paprika, and black pepper. Whisk in the eggs and beer until fully incorporated.
- Line a wire cooling rack with paper towels. Pour 2 inches (5 cm) of oil into a 6-quart (6 liter) Dutch oven and heat to 375°F (190°C). While the oil heats, pat the fish fillets dry with a paper towel (the breading will not stick to the fish if wet).
- Working in small batches, toss the fillet pieces in the dry dredge until fully coated. Dip each piece into the wet batter one at a time, using a fork to make sure it is fully coated. Let any excess batter drip off. Gently place each fillet in the hot oil and fry until golden brown on both sides, 3 to 5 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to flip the fish occasionally to cook evenly. Transfer the fillets to the paper towels to drain. Sprinkle with salt immediately.
- To serve: Place a piece of fried fish on a tortilla and top with cabbage, radish, and pico de gallo. Drizzle some of the jalapeño crema on top, and serve with a lemon wedge.
Header image courtesy of "Chicano Eats."