Recipe: Fish Tacos with Quick Cabbage Slaw

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(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.

Quick Fish Tacos: Watch the Video

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

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(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

Fish Tacos

Serves 4 (about 3 tacos per person)

For the slaw:
4 cups shredded cabbage
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 small carrot, grated
2 to 3 medium scallions, thinly sliced
1/2 to 1 whole jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced (optional)
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 clove garlic, minced
Sugar, honey, or agave nectar (optional)*
Freshly ground black pepper

For the fish:
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher 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 fillets
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

For serving:
12 corn tortillas
Torn cilantro leaves
Sliced avocado
Lime wedges
Salsa

Make the slaw: Place the cabbage in a colander or strainer and sprinkle with the salt. Massage and squeeze the cabbage with your hands to help it release its liquid and begin wilting. Place in the sink or over another bowl, and set aside to drain for about 15 minutes.

Using your hands, squeeze the cabbage of its excess liquid one handful at a time, and transfer to a large bowl. Add the carrot, scallions, and jalapeño if using. Toss to combine. Add the mayonnaise, lime juice, and garlic and toss to combine. Taste and season with a sweetener, salt, or pepper as needed.

Make the fish: Combine the flour, salt, pepper, and paprika in a shallow container. Pat the fish dry with paper towels, then dredge it in the flour mixture until evenly coated.

Heat the oil in a heavy (preferably cast iron) pan over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the fish in a single layer, working in batches if needed. Cook undisturbed until golden-brown on the bottom, 2 to 3 minutes. Using a flat spatula, carefully flip the fish, but don’t worry if it falls apart a bit. Continue cooking until the second side is golden brown and the fish is opaque and flakes apart easily in the thickest part, 2 to 3 minutes more. Transfer the fish to a clean plate and flake into large chunks; keep warm.

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

Serve the fish with the tortillas, slaw, cilantro, avocado, lime, and salsa on the side, letting each diner assemble his or her own tacos. These tacos are made and eaten immediately.

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(Image credit: The Kitchn)
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