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.
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: they're dredged in flour and pan-fried for a few minutes on the stovetop. Literally, minutes. The whole meal was so fast and easy — and as Vanessa mentions, healthy — that I smacked myself for not getting over my preconceptions sooner.
I used fillets 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.
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
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.