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Who’s the Fish in Fish Tacos?

The cocktail party conversation turned to local seafood snobbery. Several big-name restaurants highlighting seafood had opened and closed rather swiftly. McCormick & Schmick’s and Real Seafood (both in Annapolis) failed, it was decided, because they thought they could do seafood better than we can.
    I’m not sure if that explanation works, but I am sure that in Chesapeake Country we take our seafood seriously. For many specialties we can, and should, shop locally. With waterman part of our vernacular, it just makes sense. Of course, any restaurateur will tell you that availability is one thing, but cost drives the bus.
    A good example, and one of my go-to lunch choices, is fish tacos. The fish taco can take many shapes, sizes and directions: corn tortilla vs. flour, hard vs. soft, cheese vs. slaw. The star of the show also takes on many forms.
    Tilapia, a farm-raised fish, imported primarily from South America and Asia is a popular choice based on availability, low cost and ability to assume flavor based on seasoning. As a rather bland fish, it is best served seasoned or blackened.
    California Tortilla makes its tacos of blackened tilapia with cabbage slaw, lime, cilantro and chipotle sour cream ($8.09 for two with chips, salsa and a drink).
    Jalapenos in Annapolis offers herb-marinated tilapia with flour tortillas and a cilantro-mayo side.
    Using local sources, Bayfish Seafood Market in Dunkirk makes great use of fresh catch with a delicious fried flounder taco ($5.99) with slaw, pico de gallo and chipotle sauce. Skipper’s Pier in Deale offers a fried or sautéed flounder taco lunch entree ($11.50).
    Not often offered, but available aplenty, is the invasive blue catfish. Promoted by Maryland Seafood, a division of Maryland Department of Natural Resources, as an excellent substitute for imported fish, the blue catfish is similar in flavor and price to tilapia. Since it’s local and prolific, we’re encouraged to eat it and thin the herd. Try the recipe yourself (, or eat-in at Alewife in Baltimore.

Gotta tasty tip for next week’s Dish? Email Lisa Knoll at [email protected]