The prototypical fish taco originated in Baja California, Mexico, and the preparation referred to in this country as “Baja-style” is similar to what you might find on the Mexican peninsula.
It usually involves deep-fried white-fleshed fish, shredded cabbage and a creamy white sauce. This is the holy fish-taco trinity, and as the dish continues to make its way outside of Mexico and into restaurants all over the United States, one would hope that any departures from this core formula would be made with caution. Why mess with such a good thing?
Too often, though, in restaurants and in recipes for home cooks, the key elements of fish tacos get modified and tampered with in ways that dilute the deliciousness of the final product: blackened fish, overpoweringly smoky chipotle sauce, too-sweet mango salsa, watery pico de gallo. Worst of all are fancy slaws that crowd out the fish and add too much texture to a taco whose success depends upon a delicate balance of different kinds of crunchiness.
The fish taco rules
So, for several years, I have resorted to preparing fish tacos myself, and I’ve developed a set of guidelines that, if followed, yield a taco more satisfying than any of the tequila-marinated, jicama slaw-adorned, roasted pineapple salsa-topped options out there.
The first rule is that you must beer batter your fish – no grilling, no baking, definitely no blackening.
The second is that the cabbage must be shredded extremely fine. If you don’t already have a mandolin, it’s worth getting one both for this recipe and for general vegetable slicing purposes.
The last element is the most labor intensive but also one of the most important: Press your own tortillas instead of using store-bought ones, and make them just 4 inches in diameter. Your tacos should be small enough that the ends of the fried fish strips poke out pleasantly at either end.
The other components I add – carefully, restrainedly – are slices of ripe avocado (not guacamole, which is too mushy for this dish) and fresh cilantro. I also add Sriracha to my white sauce for the heat, and for that special half-sweet, half-umami thing that Sriracha dependably brings. The results of this combo are good enough that I once considered starting a fish taco business out of my house.
But really – they’re better than most of the versions you’ll find in restaurants or taquerias. Unless you’re in SoCal with a perfect Baja-style joint on every block, in which case you’re very lucky.
To see a printable version of the recipe, click on the recipe name below: