I have not yet had the pleasure of sitting on a remote beach somewhere in Mexico, but in my head, anyway, I’d be sipping a cold, fruity beverage and eating a plate of something like these tacos. (Yes, even in my daydreams, there is always food.)
Fried fish tacos, often of the Baja variety, tend to get a lot of the love and attention. I won’t begrudge them that, because, well, they’re fried, and how many of us can resist that? But not everyone wants their fish coated in batter, and definitely not everyone wants to cook it that way. Grilled fish can be just as fun and flavorful, with much less fuss.
I love the idea of grilling and eating fish alfresco, even if in my backyard rather than on that beach. However, I know that grill access isn’t always an option, either. So I set about taking a grilled fish taco recipe indoors.
As I’ve written before, not having a grill is not a dealbreaker. You can get plenty done with a grill pan, a broiler, an oven or even or a combination of them. Quick-cooking fish seemed like an especially easily translated recipe, and my testing bore that out. A citrus-marinated fish inspired by the Yucatan - take your pick of tilapia or other mild white fish - from grill master Steven Raichlen was just the right combination of bright and light. I had less luck keeping the fillets intact when I made them on a grill pan, but swapping in a cast-iron griddle or skillet did the trick and gave me better color on the outside, too. If you have a well-seasoned grill pan you’re sure the fish won’t stick to, feel free to use it.
Even though the fish cooks quickly, you won’t have instant gratification, as you do need half an hour to marinate it - a small price to pay, given the great flavor. The downtime on the fish also means you have plenty of time, with a few minutes to spare, to throw together a cabbage slaw and avocado crema to round out your taco spread. Serve with diced onion, cilantro, lime wedges and pickled jalapeño slices. And maybe (definitely) a margarita.
I can’t say eating these in our sunlight-starved downtown kitchen was exactly like my Mexican beach fantasy, but there were tacos. And that was good enough.
CITRUS-MARINATED FISH TACOS
Active: 45 minutes | Total: 55 minutes
2 to 4 servings
Recipe notes: Use the best, freshest corn tortillas you can (heat/char them briefly in a dry skillet or over a gas burner, for extra flavor and flexibility). In such a simple dish, they make all the difference.
The fish needs to marinate in the refrigerator for no more than 30 minutes.
FOR THE TACOS
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons fresh orange juice (from 1 orange)
1 teaspoon dried oregano, preferably Mexican
1/2 large white onion, chopped (1 cup), plus more diced onion, for serving
Leaves and tender stems from 15 stems fresh cilantro, chopped (1/4 cup), plus more for serving
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice (from 1 to 2 limes)
1 pound tilapia, striped bass or other mild, white-fleshed fish (skinned)
Freshly ground black pepper
Four 6-inch corn tortillas
Lime wedges, for serving
Pickled jalapeño slices, for serving
FOR THE SLAW
1/8 head green or purple cabbages, shredded (2 cups; may substitute bagged coleslaw mix)
Leaves and tender stems from 8 stems fresh cilantro, chopped (2 tablespoons)
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice (from 1 lime)
1 teaspoon honey, or more as needed
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
FOR THE AVOCADO CREMA
1/2 cup sour cream or crema
Flesh of 1/2 of a ripe Haas avocado, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice (from 1 lime)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
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For the tacos: Whisk the garlic, orange juice, oregano, onion, cilantro, oil and lime juice in a medium bowl, to form a blended marinade.
Season the fish lightly with salt and pepper. Spread half of the marinade over the bottom of a rectangular glass baking dish. Arrange the fish over the marinade. Spoon the remaining marinade over the fish. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes, turning the fish over once during that time.
Meanwhile, make the slaw: Toss together the cabbage, cilantro, half the lime juice, the honey, salt and pepper in a mixing bowl, until evenly coated. Taste, and add more lime juice and/or honey, as needed. Let the slaw sit while you finish the recipe; the salt and lime juice will wilt the cabbage a bit.
For the avocado crema: Combine the sour cream or crema, avocado, lime juice and salt in a food processor. Puree until smooth.
To cook the fish, heat a large cast-iron skillet or griddle over medium-high heat. It should be very hot, which will help prevent sticking; check by flicking a few drops of water - if they immediately scatter and evaporate, the pan is ready. Make sure each piece of fish is well coated with the marinade (leave behind most of the onion), then add to the pan and cook until just opaque in the center, 2 to 3 minutes on the first side, then carefully turn them over and cook for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes on the second side. The fish should be just beginning to flake when touched with a fork. Discard any remaining marinade.
Coarsely chop the cooked fish. Arrange on a platter, and serve right away with the tortillas, slaw, avocado crema, diced onion, chopped cilantro, pickled jalapeño slices and lime wedges.
Nutrition (based on 4 servings) | Calories: 300; Total Fat: 15 g; Saturated Fat: 6 g; Cholesterol: 70 mg; Sodium: 510 mg; Carbohydrates: 16 g; Dietary Fiber: 4 g; Sugars: 5 g; Protein: 26 g.
Source: Fish recipe adapted from one by Steve Raichlen at bonappetit.com; avocado crema recipe adapted from rachaelrayshow.com; slaw recipe adapted from onelovelylife.com