Don’t be scared of fish tacos.
I’d never had a fish taco until I moved to San Diego in 2004. In New Hampshire where I’m from, Mexican food didn’t involve seafood. In fact, Mexican food didn’t include much “Mexican” in general. So my first thought when I heard of fish tacos was, “Weird.”
San Diego is known for its fish tacos — it’s one of our culinary claims to fame — so it wasn’t long before I made the leap and tried one. From then on, I was a believer. For those unfamiliar with fish tacos, they can take many forms — the fish can be grilled, fried or roasted. Tortillas can be corn or flour, hard or soft. The fish is often mahi or wahoo, but can be swordfish or shark, or take a turn for shrimp, lobster, calamari and oyster. Traditional toppings are a cabbage slaw with a tangy white sauce, and lots of hot sauce. But there’s cheese, lettuce, avocado and beans…the combinations are endless. But the overall theme is “delicious.”
A few weeks ago I made this fish taco recipe from Rachael Ray for my friends Mark and Katie. They’re a fun twist on traditional fish tacos. The fish is super simple — just sprinkled with grill seasoning and lime zest and roasted. But kicker #1 is the awesome decision to use both soft and hard taco shells. And kicker #2 is the awesome-r decision to “glue” the two different taco shells together with a black bean “mash” that includes minced jalapenos, mango chutney, red onion and garlic. You just spread the soft tortilla with a layer of the beans and wrap up the hard shell. Throw in the fish and a delicious cabbage slaw with onion and cilantro and dressed with honey, hot sauce and lime juice, and top with creme fraiche. Absolutely delicious!
Each bite gives you a great crunch, spice and some sweetness from the beans, tender fish and more crunch from the cabbage, plus the bit of richness and tang from the creme fraiche. It’s a winner.
- Double (or even triple) the bean/jalapeno/chutney filling — I didn’t have enough and had to make another batch for leftovers
- Any white fish will work for this — I used tilapia but you could do snapper, halibut, mahi, haddock…
- Mango chutney can be challenging to find. It’s usually either in the Indian food/ethnic section or with the jellies. But I couldn’t find it after hitting a couple of stores so I opted instead for apricot preserves. Whole Foods won’t fail you.
- Roasting the fish is easy — just make sure you don’t overcook. Take it out and test it periodically.
If you come to San Diego you must have a legit fish taco. The best ones are at South Beach
My-oh-Mahi! That’s a Good Fish Taco
- 1/4 cup canola oil
- 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped
- 1 small or medium red onion, 1/4 finely chopped, the remainder thinly sliced
- 1 garlic clove, minced or grated
- 1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 1/3 palmful
- Salt and pepper
- 1/2 cup mango chutney
- 2 limes
- 2 tablespoons hot sauce
- 3 tablespoons honey
- A handful of fresh cilantro, finely chopped
- 1/2 medium head of red cabbage, shredded
- 4 mahi mahi fillets, 6 ounces each
- 1 tablespoon grill seasoning, such as McCormick’s Montreal Steak Seasoning
- 8 corn tortilla taco shells (hard shell)
- 8 flour tortillas
- 1 cup creme fraiche
Heat a tablespoon of the oil in a skillet over medium heat and add the jalapeno, finely chopped red onion, and garlic. Cook 3 to 4 minutes, then add the beans and cumin and mash together. Season the beans with salt and pepper and fold in the chutney. Reduce the heat to low to keep warm, stirring now and then to keep them from burning. If the beans dry out before you are ready to use them add a splash of water.
Zest one of the limes and set aside. Combine the juice of both limes, the hot sauce, honey, 2 tablespoons of the canola oil, salt, and pepper with the sliced onions, cilantro and shredded cabbage. Toss to combine.
Heat an outdoor grill to medium or preheat the broiler. Season the fish with the remaining tablespoon of oil, 2 teaspoons of lime zest and the grill seasoning. Cook the fish on the grill with the lid closed or under the broiler for 8 minutes total, until cooked through, turning once.
Crisp the taco shells and blister the tortillas on the grill or in the oven. Glue the softened flour tortillas onto the crisp taco shells with a few spoonfuls of mashed black beans. Fill each tortilla-wrapped taco shell with half a piece of fish, flaked, and top with some cabbage slaw and creme fraiche. Serve 2 tortilla-wrapped tacos per person.