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Ultimate Fish Taco Recipe

ultimate fish taco recipe

The classic fish taco hails from the sun-drenched shores of Baja California and has become an iconic Southern California dish. Fish tacos are a quick and easy meal you can put together for a delicious weeknight family dinner or fry up a big batch and amaze your friends and neighbors. Today, we'll give you the tips and tricks (and the best fish seasoning) we use to make the ultimate fish taco recipe. This recipe is an adaptation of an authentic fish taco recipe common in Rosarito, Baja California, Mexico where fish tacos are served from beach-side cantinas.

Fish Taco Ingredients

  • White, flaky fish like Swai, Tilapia, or Mahi Mahi, about ¼ to ½ pound per person
  • ½ cup of Whole Milk, adjust more or less for the number of fillets
  • Several whole limes (wedge-cut)
  • Cornstarch
  • Bearded Butcher Blend Seasonings Hot and Chipotle
  • 2-3 Fresh Jalapenos – diced, either cored or with seeds to your preference
  • A bunch of fresh cilantro – finely chopped
  • Red onion – thinly sliced and marinated
  • Avocado – thin sliced for garnish
  • Corn tortillas – street taco-style if you can find them
  • Salt

Selecting Your Fish

Many parts of the United States do not have access to fish as fresh as what is served in Baja. Selecting the right fish for your tacos does not have to be difficult, though. Find a clean, white fish that flakes well. Avoid fish like salmon, bass, or trout that have a strong flavor. Good freshwater choices include tilapia, swai, and basa. These types of fish are often sold filleted and frozen. Swai and basa are both types of catfish from Southeast Asia. They are typically farmed in cages. Many foodies consider basa to be superior to swai, but both are clean, mild, white fish that cook easily. Tilapia originates from Africa where it is an important food source. The fish has white to pinkish flesh, and a mild, almost bland taste.

Other common fish that are an excellent choice for tacos include mahi mahi, flounder, or halibut. These are saltwater fish common in most stores. They are white-fleshed and often sold filleted and frozen. Traditional fish taco recipes feature these types of fish.

Tips for Preparing Your Fish

It is common for frozen fish to have a “fishy” smell once it’s thawed out. Even fish you buy fresh can smell not so great. You should avoid strong smelling fish, but here is a trick you can use to remove the smell from any type of fish, even shellfish and saltwater catches.

Thaw your fish covered, but do not thaw in water; the fish can get mushy. Rinse thawed fillets in cold running water and pat dry. Add enough milk to coat the fish and place the bowl in the refrigerator for 15 to 20 minutes. Whole milk works the best for this trick. The fats in the milk counteract the odor-causing bacteria, leaving your fish fillets smelling clean and fresh. Simply rinse in cold water after the soak and your fish will not smell anymore.

Flavor and Batter for the Ultimate Fish Taco

This is where our recipe is going to get a little different from most of the fish taco recipes you see out there. Most recipes use a flour-based beer batter, which is fine, but the way we will show you today gives you more of the fresh, clean flavor and less batter flavor.

With your fish fillets thawed and cleaned, slice and squeeze lime juice generously. Once you squeeze lime on to uncooked fish, the timer is ticking. Citrus will cook the flesh, and if you dally too long, your fillets will come out mushy. You have about five minutes from squeeze to fry before the proteins in the fish will have begun to break down.

We've discovered the best fish seasoning and it's a combination of two of our favorite Bearded Butcher Blend Seasonings. For this recipe, we use the Hot seasoning with an equal amount of the Chipotle seasoning. Chipotle is a smoked pepper, while the hot blend gives you more of the heat of cayenne peppers. Combined, these two are a powerhouse of flavor, and give you the perfect, smoky, spicy flavor of Baja California. Make sure the fillets are well-coated. 

Instead of a beer-batter, this is a quick, cheap method of coating fillets for fish tacos. Simply use corn starch. Make a nice mound and quickly coat both sides of the fillets, making sure the entire piece of fish is covered. We like to fry the fillets whole, then break them up once they have cooled a little to make the fish easier to get into the taco.

Frying the Fish

We like to use an old, battle-worn cast iron skillet for frying. Heat enough oil to nearly cover the fillets. This can be anywhere from ¼” to an inch, depending on the size of your fish fillet. Once a sprinkle of corn starch immediately rises to the top, add fish a piece at a time. Make sure not to crowd them too much. You will fry for two to three minutes per side, then remove your fillets from the oil and drain on a rack over paper towels. Spritz the fillets with lime juice and a little salt. 

The cornstarch batter gives you a firm, crispy coating that also works well to hold flaky fish together. You will know the fish is done when it flakes easily.

Pico De Gallo for Extra Flavor

Pico de gallo is a type of salsa that does not use tomatoes. The name refers to a fighting rooster and the way he strikes with his beak, and this salsa will have that sharp, bite of heat just like a feisty old rooster.

We like to make our pico de gallo ahead of time to let the flavors set in. This way, you can focus on frying your fillets.

Finely chop several sprigs of cilantro. This works best if you remove the stems before chopping. Next, thinly slice and dice a red onion. A neat trick is to marinade the sliced red onion in saltwater for about five minutes before adding it to the pico de gallo. The saltwater counteracts the strong, tear-jerking odor and gives the red onion a milder flavor. 

Thinly dice jalapeno. Before we get into this, we want to share some tips for picking and preparing jalapenos. When you select jalapenos; look for peppers that have stretch marks. These are most often the hottest. Avoid soft peppers, peppers with wet spots, and peppers that have fuzzy mold growing where the stem meets the fruit. When you cut a jalapeno, remove the stem and about a quarter inch of the fruit. You can taste the part you cut off, just dab your tongue on it, and that lets you know if you have a spicy pepper. If it’s too hot or you want a milder pico de gallo, halve the peppers and remove the seeds and core before chopping.

Combine the onions, cilantro, and jalapenos in a bowl, then add salt and lime juice. Taste your pico de gallo: If it isn’t hot enough, add another jalapeno. If it is too spicy, add a little white table sugar to counter the chemicals that make peppers hot. Once you are happy with your pico de gallo, cover it and put it in the refrigerator to let the flavors meld together.

Thinly slice green or red cabbage for a topping. Cabbage is usually not mixed into the pico de gallo, but for simplicity, it can be done. However, we prefer to keep the cabbage aside until assembling the tacos.

Street Style Corn Tortillas

In Baja, wheat flour is hard to come by and often expensive. Corn flour on the other hand is cheap and widely available. Baja-style fish tacos use a small corn tortilla often sold as a “street taco” tortilla. These are most often warmed in a hot, dry skillet until soft, then doubled up. You can stack warmed tortillas and place them on a plate with a bowl over the top to help keep them warm.

Assemble The Ultimate Fish Taco

Place two tortillas on a plate. Add your crispy, fried fish, a bit of cabbage, and a spoonful of pico de gallo. Serve these fish tacos with a lime wedge on the side.

Dairy products like cheese and sour cream aren't typically used in this style of taco, so we left them out of this recipe. However, to really make your fish tacos stand out, thinly slice avocado to layer over the top. The creamy texture is similar to dairy products as a topping, and the flavor works brilliantly with the lime and pepper.

This is an easy to make meal that comes together quickly and always satisfies. It’s an easy, fun, and spicy way to have fish any day of the week, and makes a super-star for Taco Tuesday parties.

Quick Instructions

  1. Squeeze fresh lime juice generously over fish fillets and coat them with equal parts of our hot and chipotle seasonings.
  2. Evenly coat both sides of the fillets with corn starch, making sure the entire piece is covered.
  3. Fry the fillets for 2-3 minutes per side in a cast iron skillet.
  4. Spritz with lime juice, add some salt, and break up the fillets.
  5. Place two warmed up tortillas on a plate. Add your crispy, fried fish, a bit of cabbage, a spoonful of pico de gallo, and a few slices of avocado. Serve these fish tacos with a lime wedge on the side.

We hope you enjoy our Bearded Butcher take on an authentic South-of-the-Border classic dish. This recipe is inexpensive to make, cooks quickly, and always comes out perfect. The beauty of many Baja Mexico dishes is in the simplicity of the ingredients. These tacos are no different. Most ingredients should be easy enough to come by, no matter how far from the border you live. Spicy rice and refried beans make excellent side dish choices that compliment the spicy, crispy tacos.