Within a handmade tortilla, fresh fish coated in a crispy golden batter cozies up to a crunchy cabbage slaw, tangy baja sauce, and a lime wedge—an emblem of Southern California. As a Newport Beach, Calif. native and taco enthusiast myself, it feels wrong that it has taken me this long to release a recipe for fish tacos. While I enjoy working with a variety of the endless possibilities for taco meat, from ahi poke to chicken or even a delicious carne asada, a beer-battered halibut has risen to the top of my list. The taco’s simplicity leaves room for creativity in texture and flavor profile. In this recipe, I stress not only the importance of the freshness of the fish, but also an attention to detail for the items that are often disregarded, such as the texture of the tortilla, the crunch of the slaw, and the essence of a flavorful baja sauce.
While I have beer battered a variety of fish, a moist white fish, such as a halibut, cod, or sculpin, is usually ideal. My older brother is an excellent fisherman, so I typically utilize whatever fresh fish he catches when I am at home. While the luxury of fresh fish is often easier to access when you are living on the coast, there are plenty of wonderful options available at supermarkets. In this recipe, I will use cod for the purpose of easy access, but feel free to substitute whatever is freshest in your region.
Before I finally get into how to make this dreamy taco, I want to preface that, of course, you can use tortillas from the grocery store, but I seriously encourage anyone to at least attempt to make a homemade tortilla. It makes a world of difference considering it is the vehicle for the fish. Aside from the flavor benefit, homemade tortillas are surprisingly easy to execute and look uniquely rustic, so why not give it a whirl—or get one of your siblings, roommates, or friends in the kitchen with you and put them to work! Without further ado, I give you mouth watering fish tacos straight from the West Coast (best coast).
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Beer-Battered Cod Tacos
(Yields servings for 6 people—2-3 tacos each)
For the fish & batter:
1½ to 2 lb fresh cod (cut into 1-inch thick strips)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 ½ cup beer (I like to use a pale ale)
1-2 teaspoons cracked black pepper
1-2 teaspoons salt
Vegetable oil (for frying)
For the baja sauce:
1 cup mayonnaise
1 lime juiced (somewhere close to 2 tablespoons)
2 cloves minced garlic
1 – 1 ½ teaspoon of Old Bay Seasoning (seafood seasoning)
½ teaspoon of ground ancho chile pepper
½ teaspoon chopped fresh cilantro
Salt (to taste)
For the slaw:
1 pound red cabbage (thinly sliced or shredded)
1 lime juiced (add more depending on the flavor)
¼ cup sliced red onion
½ of a jalapeño diced (optional for heat)
3 tablespoons olive oil
For the tortillas:
4 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 ⅔ – 2 cups of water (look at texture)
¼ cup vegetable oil
Optional: I also like to add some pico de gallo or salsa fresco from the supermarket as a garnish as well as freshly chopped cilantro and a lime wedge.
- Combine all-purpose flour, salt, and baking powder in a large mixing bowl and whisk together.
- Slowly add the oil and water, making sure the consistency stays moist but holds together, first mixing with a fork and then using your hands to combine.
- Knead for five minutes on a floured surface and shape into a circle.
- Using a knife, cut the dough into around 12 to 14 pieces and shape each piece into a ball between your palms. Let the dough rest in the ball shapes for around 15 minutes.
- Flour a rolling pin and roll out the dough into thin circles about 6 inches in diameter.
- Heat a pan over medium heat and place a tortilla in the center, allowing it to cook for about 45 seconds or until slightly brown. Flip and allow it to cook for no more than 20 more seconds on the other side.
- Continue doing this with all of the tortillas, placing them on a plate with a towel over it, into a Ziploc bag (to lock in the heat), or into a warming drawer (if you have one).
- If you do not serve these right away, feel free to reheat them in the microwave for 15 seconds before serving.
RECIPE: Fish + Slaw + Baja Sauce
- Begin by combining the flour, beer, black pepper, and salt in a large bowl, using a whisk to make sure everything is well combined. Feel free to add more or less beer depending on the desired thickness for your batter. (And if you are 21 or older, drink the rest of the beer while you cook!)
- Let the batter rest for 15-20 minutes, and in the meantime, begin chopping the cabbage, red onion, and jalapeño for the slaw on a large cutting board. Transfer the chopped pieces into a mixing bowl and coat with the juiced lime and olive oil. Set aside or place in the fridge.
- Once the slaw is finished, add your fish strips to the batter, making sure to coat them all in the batter. (This is why it is key that you have a large bowl so you can mix everything around without having to worry about the batter spilling all over your countertop!)
- Heat a large pan over medium heat with enough vegetable oil for frying and allow the oil to reach 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- While the oil is heating, start on the baja sauce.
- Mince the two cloves of garlic and finely chop the cilantro.
- Then combine the garlic, cilantro, mayonnaise, lime juice, ground ancho chile pepper, and Old Bay Seasoning and taste. Add salt, pepper, or any other of the listed ingredients, depending on your flavor preference. Set aside for serving.
- Once the oil has reached the right temperature, add the coated fish directly to the oil, making sure to not overcrowd the pan (i.e. no more than three to four fish strips at a time), and cook for 2 ½-3 minutes on each side. The fish should be golden brown and moist on the inside.
- Transfer the cooked fish onto a plate lined with paper towels to drain the excess oil. Salt immediately.
Tips for serving and assembling:
If you are cooking for a group of people, it is easiest to serve this meal in the form of a taco bar setup. You can place the tortillas, cooked fish, baja sauce, and slaw as well as the optional pico de gallo, additional cilantro, and lime wedges on serving plates and allow your guests to create their own tacos.
If you would rather assemble yourself, I recommend taking the tortilla and placing the fish strip directly in the center of the taco. Then proceed to drizzle the baja sauce directly atop the fish. Finally, place the slaw, pico de gallo, and fresh cilantro on top and accent the taco with a lime wedge on the side.
Photo and Videos Courtesy of Alexandra Morin / Heights Staff
Graphic by Olivia Charbonneau / Heights Editor