Baja’s unique location just under San Diego has opened this lovely peninsula along the Pacific Ocean to weekend visitors from Southern California. Going down the west coast of Baja California, below Tijuana, lies the bucolic coastal towns of Rosarito Beach, Puerto Nuevo, and Ensenada. Besides the intrusion of the Spanish Conquistador Hernan Cortes in the early 1500s, these three towns share something much more interesting…America’s prohibition in the 1920s.
It all began in 1924 when Manuel Barbachano opened the Rosarito Beach Hotel overlooking an expansive beach along the Pacific coast. He not only built an elegant hotel where his glamorous Hollywood friends could legally sip margaritas while watching the sun set over the Pacific ocean, but also built a road from the US border to the hotel and established Baja’s first power and telephone companies to make life more convenient when they arrived. Arrive they did, with visits by Hollywood royalty like Orson Wells, Lana Turner, Rita Hayworth, Edward G. Robinson, Vincent Price, Spencer Tracy, and later Frank Sinatra, Robert Redford, and, even later, my Hungry Traveler.
Below Mexico’s Hollywood south, Ensenada, their “Jewel by the Sea” was also developed in prohibition but with a very different clientele In mind. The hotel Riviera del Pacifico where Ensenada’s fish tacos became famous was allegedly built with financing from mobster Al Capone in 1934 and managed by boxer Jack Dempsey. The hotel and glamour of Ensenada all but disappeared in 1938 after the Mexican government outlawed gambling and Hollywood and mafioso stars stopped coming. The real star never left, though- the fresh from-the-sea crunchy-soft fish tacos topped with shredded cabbage drizzled with amazing white sauce.
Ensenada Fish Tacos
- 12-inch deep-sided skillet
- 1¼ lb Mild white fish filets, skinless (flounder, sea bass, grouper, etc.)
- 1 cup All-purpose flour
- 1 tsp Baking powder
- 1 tsp Mustard powder (optional)
- ½ tsp Dried Mexican oregano
- ½ tsp Blackpepper
- ½ tsp Garlic powder
- ½ tsp Kosher salt
- 1 cup Sparkling water
- 2 tsp Hot chili powder
- ¼ cup Milk
- ⅓ cup Mayonnaise
- ⅓ cup Sour cream
- 2 medium Limes, ½ for juicing, rest cut into wedges imes,
- ⅔ cup Peanut or canola oil
- 1 tsp Butter
- 1 cup Cabbage, thinly sliced
- 12 Warmed corn tortillas
- Favorite salsa
- Hot sauce
- Make Batter – In a large bowl, whisk together all the dry ingredients. Add in sparkling water and whisk to combine.
- Make White Sauce – In a small bowl, mix together the mayonnaise, sour cream, and milk. Season with salt and pepper, juice from ½ lime, and a few dashes of hot sauce. Whisk to thoroughly combine.
- Heat oil – Pour oil in high-sided skillet and heat to 375°F (190°C). Turn oven to 200°F (120°C).
- Prepare Fish – Slice fish filets into pieces about 3-inches long and ½-inch wide. When oil is hot enough, add butter then dip a piece of fish in the batter to cover. Remove with tongs and gently lay into oil, careful not to crowd. Cook 3-4 minutes on one side, flip, and cook 1 minute more. Drain on paper towels and put on a wire rack over a baking sheet and move into warmed oven. Then repeat process until done.
- To Serve – Put tortillas between a wet paper towel and microwave for 30 seconds. Put in a towel-topped basket and let guests assemble tacos as they like by laying 2-3 fish pieces in a tortilla and topping with a choice of shredded cabbage, white sauce, lime wedges, salsa, and hot sauce. To make a full meal, serve with refried beans and Mexican rice.