I’ve been on a fish taco kick lately – ordering them in restaurants whenever I have a chance, and making them at home. I love tacos anyway, but the fish version just seems to have something special. Maybe it’s the floured, fried coating on the fish, or the crunchy coleslaw. It might be the zingy fresh salsa or the creamy drizzle of spicy sauce. Or the chewy satisfaction of a soft corn taco.
Each part on its own is pretty darn good, but put them all together and you have sublime.
I’m not even sure what is in an authentic fish taco. When I researched a bit, there were so many different versions, I got more confused. (Battered fish, deep-fried, pan fried, lettuce, coleslaw, cucumbers, shredded carrots, avocado slices, guacamole, cilantro, sour cream, hot sauce, fresh salsa, bottled salsa, flour tortillas, crisp tortillas, or soft corn tortillas, cheese, squeeze of lime, plain – so many choices – what’s a girl to do?)
I think I’ll just stick to our family’s version and pass on my recipe to you – authentic to our home, northern Alberta-style fish tacos (totally land-locked, non-tropical, prairie rendition).
Kitchen Frau Notes: Use any white fish. I often use frozen Basa or Tilapia fillets, because they’re always available in our supermarket and stay firm when fried.
Use green or red cabbage for the coleslaw. I like red because it has a few more antioxidants (always go for the more colourful vegetables) and it looks prettier, but green is just as tasty. If you have leftover coleslaw already prepared, by all means use that.
If I have leftover seasoned breading flour, I put it in a baggie, label it and freeze it to use the next time I want to fry something. Just add more flour and seasoning, or combine bits of different leftover flours for a new flavour combination.
Plum tomatoes (or Roma tomatoes) work best for the fresh salsa because they are fleshier and less juicy than regular tomatoes, so the sauce doesn’t get as watery. But if regular tomatoes are all you’ve got – no worries – just dice them and let them sit for a bit, then drain the accumulated juices off and add the other ingredients.
Don’t be intimidated by the different sections to this recipe. They actually come together quite quickly. In fact, you can prepare the fresh salsa, coleslaw and sauce several hours ahead and the flavours will have time to blend and soften.
- 3 plum tomatoes (about ¾ pound, or 350gm)
- ½ cup (120ml) finely diced onion
- 2 tablespoons (30ml) freshly-squeezed lime juice (about ½ lime)
- ¼ cup (60ml) chopped cilantro, packed
- ½ pound (250gm) red or green cabbage, finely sliced (about 3 cups, loosely packed)
- ¼ cup (60ml) mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon (15ml) liquid honey
- 1 tablespoon (15ml) vinegar
- ¼ teaspoon (1.25ml) salt
- ¼ teaspoon (1.25ml) pepper
- ¼ teaspoon (1.25ml) paprika
- ¼ cup (60ml) mayonnaise or sour cream
- 2 tablespoons (30ml) freshly squeezed lime juice
- ¼ teaspoon (1.25ml) cayenne pepper
- ½ teaspoon (2.5ml) ground cumin
- 1 clove garlic, crushed or finely minced
- 1 pound (450gm) white-fleshed fish fillets (basa, tilapia, cod, snapper, etc)
- ½ cup (120ml) flour (I like quinoa or amaranth)
- ½ teaspoon (2.5ml) salt
- ½ teaspoon (2.5ml) pepper
- ½ teaspoon (2.5ml) cumin
- ½ teaspoon (2.5ml) paprika
- 2 to 3 tablespoons (30 to 45ml) olive oil
- 10 to 12 small corn (or flour) tacos
To prepare the fresh salsa: Finely dice the tomatoes (you should have about 2 cups (50ml). Combine with the diced onion, lime juice and cilantro. Let sit for about half hour or more to allow the lime juice to slightly pickle the onions and remove their sharpness.
To prepare the coleslaw: In a small bowl, stir together the mayonnaise, honey, vinegar, salt, pepper and paprika until smooth. Toss with the finely-sliced cabbage.
To prepare the special sauce: Whisk together all the ingredients in a small bowl, and also leave to sit for a bit to allow the lime juice to soften the garlic flavour.
To prepare the fish and assemble the tacos: Heat 2 tablespoons (30ml) of the oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat. In a shallow bowl, combine the flour, salt, pepper, cumin, and paprika. Dip the fish fillets in the seasoned flour, turning them several times until all the fish is coated. Fry them in batches in the hot oil, adding more if necessary, until golden brown on both sides (6 to 10 minutes). Remove to a platter and cut into lengthwise fingers.
Heat the taco shells in a hot, dry pan for 10 seconds or so on each side, just until warmed. Or heat them in the microwave.
On each taco shell, lay a strip of fish, cover with a spoonful of coleslaw, a spoonful of fresh salsa and a drizzle of special sauce.
Messy, drippy, and glorious to eat.