Pity the generations of American kids who had to go through Lent each year without the fish taco.
During all those long decades B.W. (we’ll explain in a minute) Catholic children and their stoic parents often settled for runny tuna casserole, tuna salad, tuna sandwiches or massively breaded mystery fish that was baked into a stick stout enough to smack a triple into the left field corner.
Fish was, in short, a kind of penance.
Wing Lam and his brothers didn’t feel that way. Wing, Eduardo and Mingo grew up surfing, and on their frequent trips to Mexico in search of great waves, they discovered great fish—in the form of fish tacos sold at small stands. It was fresh, locally caught and fried up on the spot, and if fueled many a surf expedition.
When the brothers opened an eatery in Costa Mesa in 1988, they decided to modify their favorite beach nosh slightly and grilled the fish rather than frying it. They served it up with fluffy steamed rice and black beans and relied heavily on the Pacific wahoo—a particularly meaty fish with a sturdy consistency. Surfers were their first marketing target, and the beach crowd couldn’t get enough of it.
Today Wahoo’s Fish Taco serves up healthy fast food at nearly 70 locations in seven western states, and has likely helped many formerly fish-averse folks forget the B.W. age (before Wahoo’s) entirely.
Recently Wing Lam stopped by the Christ Cathedral campus to present a cooking demonstration based on meatless dishes for Lent that take their ingredients, makeup and techniques from the Wahoo’s menu. They’re quick, they’re easy, they’re fresh, they’re lean and they’re healthy. They may even be conducive to prayer.
But eating them doesn’t count as penance. Just say grace and dig in.
Kale Kai Salad
“Lots of nutrients, very low in carbs, and very high in protein and perfect for Lent,” says Wing of the riot of color and texture. Begin by laying down a base, in a bowl or plate, of a mixture of organic baby kale and field greens. Sprinkle over that a relish of roasted corn and black beans with a bit of cilantro included. Top that with a handful of thin tortilla strips and then your choice of grilled fish, shrimp or tofu. Finally, spoon in a generous portion of pico de gallo and top everything with a fresh sliced avocado.
A simple and popular choice on Wahoo’s menu, this one begins with a bed of steamed white rice (cooked with butter, black pepper and parsley), combined with “just enough coleslaw in there to add a nice crunch,” says Wing. Add a ring of black beans around the rice (cooked with oregano, white salt and black pepper), and top it all with a cut of grilled wild-caught salmon.
Simply Grilled Fish Taco
This one, says Wing, “is for people with a nice, small appetite.” The sides will be rice and beans (prepared as above). The tacos are filled with chopped wahoo or mahi mahi filets, some garlic salt for taste, a shredded mix of jack and cheddar cheese, shredded green cabbage and fresh pico de gallo. Put it all on corn tortillas and garnish with lime wedges.
Fish Taco Combo #2
“Our favorite dish on the menu,” asserts Wing. A pair of tacos, made as above, with fish, shrimp or tofu, served with citrus slaw (“a recipe from my wife”): cabbage, onion, carrots and lime juice. It’s all served with a side sauce made from roasted peppers and cilantro.