When most people think about the proteins associated with Tex-Mex food, their minds drift to beef, pork, or even chicken. Fish, however, usually doesn’t get much attention. While it’s true that seafood entrées are much more common in Cal-Mex establishments than they are in Tex-Mex restaurants, pescetarians shouldn’t dismiss Tex-Mex cuisines outright. It’s 2018, and the vast majority of places that serve Tex-Mex food also have some from-the-sea offerings on their menu. Here are some classics to keep an eye out for:
If you order a seafood dish at a Tex-Mex restaurant, 9 times out of 10, it’ll be made with some kind of white fish. Tilapia is a very common choice. Other popular varieties of white fish include haddock, hoki, and Alaska pollock. Atlantic cod is sometimes used, as well, but its popularity has waned in the last decade or so due to concerns about overfishing and environmental damage. If the fish in question is cod, your menu will almost certainly specify this, and the entrée may be relatively expensive when compared to similar dishes. Regardless of its nature, though, white fish can be served in a variety of ways: oven baked, pan-seared, or even battered and deep-fried.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that “white fish” is a blanket term that can cover a lot of different kinds of aquatic edibles. For many, that’s not an issue; once a fish fillet has been sliced, cooked, and wrapped in a tortilla, it’s a bit hard to tell the difference between haddock and tilapia! Still, if your menu only states that a dish is made with white fish (or even just “fish”) and you have specific concerns, don’t be afraid to ask your server for more information.
Salmon is definitely not a white fish; anyone who’s ever marveled at its flashy color scheme—orange when raw, pale pink when cooked—can attest to this fact! Plus, it has a distinct flavor all its own, so any dish that contains salmon will almost certainly say so in its description. Though some restaurants will offer salmon that’s taken a dip in a deep-fryer, this kind of fish is far more commonly served either over-baked or pan-seared.
Salmon has recently enjoyed a surge in popularity due to its perceived health benefits. And that’s a pretty fair assessment, as salmon is a good source of lean protein, omega-3 fatty acids, B Vitamins, and Selenium. It can also help lower your risk of heart disease and promote brain health. So either pair your salmon with fresh salsa and guacamole to make a relatively healthy dinner, or pair it with Tex-Mex rice and refried beans to enjoy your “cheat day” with a clean conscience.
Despite its small stature, shrimp can pack a wallop when it comes to flavor. They can be prepared—and presented—in a variety of different ways, from deep-fried with the tails lopped off to flame-grilled, skewered, and served practically whole. Because they’re practically bite-sized, shrimp work as a snack, an appetizer, or even a full meal. The most popular shrimp-based Tex-Mex dish is probably shrimp tacos, but they can be the secret to unique (and totally delicious) quesadillas, too.
Caution: shrimp are crustaceans, and as such, they should not be consumed by anyone allergic to shellfish. Please be mindful of this fact when ordering appetizers for the entire table or sharing plates with your dining companions! If you have a severe shellfish allergy, it’s a good idea to notify your server when you order your food, just so that the chefs in the kitchen can make special arrangements to avoid cross-contamination. Any restaurant worth its salt will take allergy accommodations very seriously!
When it comes to food, do you prefer “surf” or “turf”? Tex-Mex dishes do tend to favor beef, pork, and chicken, but you don’t have to go to a Cali-Mex eatery to get your salmon fix. If you’ve never sampled the seafood options at your favorite Tex-Mex place, it might be fun to give them a try the next time you’re eating out. You may find that you really do prefer quesadillas made with chicken instead of shrimp or tacos stuffed with beef instead of tilapia. But it’s entirely possible that you’ll walk away from the table with a brand new favorite meal!