(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

I always forget how good, healthy, and easy fish tacos are until I make them and vow to do it more often. They’re remarkably adaptable to any type of not-too-expensive fish you might find in your local market. You can use any kind of white fish fillet, like sole, snapper, catfish, or tilapia. I prefer saltwater species, but sometimes the freshwater farmed fish are more economical.

The textural contrast between lightly crispy fish, supple corn tortillas, and soft avocado is a big part of this simple recipe’s success.

(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

Recipe Tester's Notes

I always imagined fish tacos would be a fussy, messy affair, perhaps involving deep-frying or the necessity of a grill — certainly nothing I could just decide to make on a whim and pull together on a weeknight.

I was so wrong! The fish for these tacos is incredibly simple to prepare. It's dredged in flour and pan-fried for a few minutes on the stovetop — literally, minutes. The whole meal was so fast and easy that I smacked myself for not trying it sooner.

I used fillet of sole because that's what the fish vendor at my farmers market recommended — although the vendor said she preferred rockfish for tacos when she can get it. Really, any flaky white fish will work here — I've added a few options to the ones Vanessa originally listed.

If you, too, have never made fish tacos at home because you thought they'd be tricky to pull off, wait no longer — this meal is a keeper.

- Emma, March 2014

Fish Tacos

Serves 4 (about 3 tacos each)

For the slaw:
1 small cabbage, shredded (about 4 cups)
1 small carrot, grated
2 to 3 green onions, thinly sliced
1/2 to 1 whole jalapeño chile, seeded and minced, optional
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon lime juice
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
Sugar, honey, or agave nectar to taste (optional)*
Salt and pepper

For the fish:
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika or chipotle powder
1 to 1 1/2 pounds snapper, sole, tilapia, rockfish, or catfish
2 tablespoons vegetable oil suitable for high-heat cooking (like safflower or grapeseed)

To serve:
12 corn tortillas
Torn cilantro leaves
Sliced avocado
Lime wedges
Salsa

To prepare the slaw, place the shredded cabbage in a bowl and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Massage and squeeze the cabbage with your hands to help it release its liquid and begin wilting. Transfer the cabbage to a strainer set over a bowl and set aside to drain for about 15 minutes.

Squeeze the cabbage of its excess liquid, one handful at a time, and transfer to a mixing bowl. Add the grated carrot, green onions, and jalapeño (if using). Toss to combine. Whisk together the minced garlic, lime juice, and mayonnaise. Taste and add a sweetener, salt, and pepper to taste. Pour over the cabbage mix and toss to combine.

To prepare the fish, combine the flour, salt, pepper, and paprika in a shallow container. Pat the fish dry, then dredge it in the flour mixture.

Heat the oil in a heavy (preferably cast iron) pan over medium-high heat until the oil is shimmery and flows to coat the entire bottom of the pan. Add the fish to the pan — if cooking multiple fillets, arrange them in a single layer with a little space between. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes per side, carefully flipping once with a spatula, until both sides are golden-brown and the fish is opaque and flakes apart easily in the thickest part. Transfer the fish to a clean plate and flake into large chunks.

Meanwhile, heat the corn tortillas, one by one, in a heavy, dry pan, until soft and warm. Wrap them in a clean cloth as you go. (Alternatively, wrap them in a clean dish towel and warm them in the microwave for a few seconds.)

Serve the fish on a platter with the tortillas, slaw, cilantro, avocado, lime, and salsa on the side, letting each diner assemble his or her own tacos.

This post has been updated — first published December 2006.

Have your fish tacos with a tall, cold beer. Watch the video here.