Learn tips from a professional on how to select fish, make your own tortillas, and create tasty toppings.
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A staple of Mexican street food, fish tacos are also popular for beachside locations and summertime grill outs. The combination of soft corn tortillas, perfectly-cooked seafood, cool slaw, and complementary sauces provides an easy-to-eat and easy-to-customize handheld meal packed with refreshing flavors and a welcome hint of spice. That said, home cooks who don't regularly work with fish sometimes hesitate to give this dish a try in their own kitchens, citing concerns about choosing the right fish and the correct cooking techniques. But with the right recipe, and a bit of know-how, anyone can mix up taco night by swapping out the usual ground beef and beans for fish filets that are beautifully fried, pan-seared, or blackened on an outdoor grill.

If you're ready to embark on a fish taco-making adventure, use these helpful tips, including a few pieces of expert advice from co-owner of Espita in Washington, D.C., Josh Phillips:

Use Fresh Tortillas

When it comes to setting up a truly memorable Taco Tuesday spread, Phillips emphasizes one morsel of wisdom above all others: Don't waste your time on store-bought tortillas. If you live near a Mexican grocery that makes tortillas daily (or near a Mexican restaurant that makes its own tortillas), then purchasing fresh versions is definitely an option.

If you'd rather DIY your tortillas, then Phillips has some suggestions: "If you have a place that makes masa from nixtamal nearby, buy masa there. Even if it is a restaurant, they will still likely sell it to you. If you don't have access to fresh masa, making masa from something like maseca is still preferable to using store bought tortillas. Tortillas need a really hot surface to make them properly. In the restaurant, we use a custom made carbon steel comal. At home, I use a cast iron griddle spread across two burners. One burner I crank all the way up- the other I set a couple clicks lower. If you are using freshly pressed tortillas, flip the tortillas twice, starting on the cooler side of the griddle and finishing on the hot side. After flipping, the tortillas should puff up a bit if you give them a tap with your spatula. After your tortillas are cooked, if you don't have a tortilla warmer, wrap them in foil. They should be soft, toasty, and actually taste like corn."

Select the Fish Based On Your Cooking Method

The specific fish used in a taco can vary wildly depending on your flavor and texture preferences, but the most important factor to consider is the method that you plan to use to cook your fish. "If I am slicing and searing my fish, I like to use something firmer like halibut, cod, or mahi. I remove the skin and slice it into reasonably thick, tortilla-length slices. If I am frying fish, I use something lighter and flakier like flounder or fluke. For the breading, use something light akin to a tempura batter. Shrimp also makes a great taco, whether breaded and fried or seared. Whatever you do, don't overcook your fish. That's the fastest way to ruin your taco," Phillips explains.

Try it: Shrimp Tacos

Choose Seasonal Slaw

Of course, you're free to garnish and embellish your fish taco to your heart's content. But if you're seeking an accoutrement that's a natural match for this dish, then consider making a bold slaw. The bright tang and gentle funk of a cabbage slaw plays well with the flavor profile of most fish, but don't feel the need to limit yourself. Visit your local farmer's market and grab some in-season fruits and vegetables and see what combinations best appeal to your palate.

Don't Skip the Spicy Mayo

When he builds fish tacos at home, Phillips tells us that he likes to make a spicy mayo to drizzle on top. "[I use] habanero or another fruity fresh chile like fresnos and some garlic blended with mayonnaise," he says. Using mayo as a condiment canvas gives you plenty of room to get creative, so don't hesitate to experiment with your favorite chiles and aromatics.

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