Fish Tacos

15 Jul

Red cabbage makes everything look gourmet.

Hello friends! So as I’ve mentioned in the past, I live with vegetarians — this has shaped the early entries here at RNF. Here’s the good news, though: the vegetarians eat fish! Enter fish tacos.

Big props to my friend Laura for recommending fish tacos when I asked my Google+ friends what I should cook this go around. In Phoenix something light and refreshing like a nice fish taco with cool cabbage slaw and cilantro-cream sauce is the perfect dinner on a hot summer evening. We had some friends over, and the tacos were definitely a hit!

Before we get started, a note/rant about fish: I used farm-raised bass for these things because the price was great at the grocery store and bass is a light and flaky white fish that doesn’t have an overpowering flavor. Doesn’t have an overpowering flavor is NOT the same thing as doesn’t have any flavor. Please don’t use tilapia for these tacos, or if you do have the decency not to tell me about it. Yes, tilapia is cheap and a lot of people “like” it, but this is because a lot of people do not like fish. If the only fish you like is tilapia, I don’t know how to break it to you, but you don’t like fish. Make these tacos with tofu. They’d be just as good, if not better.

Sorry about the rant. Really, the only point of it was to say that you should pick a fish that’s relatively light. Mahi mahi or snapper would be great, so would trout or a lot of other things. I’d stay away from salmon, cod or catfish — they’re a little too strong for this recipe. Alright, enough about fish, let’s get cooking. I made this recipe for 5 grown ups and a 4 year old, and we had enough to feed 6 or 7 hungry adults.


for the cabbage slaw:

1/2 a head of red cabbage

1 yellow onion

1 jalapeño

2 limes

1/4 c. olive oil

1/2 c. white vinegar

The tub on the bottom left is Mexican crema. If you can't get crema, substitute 2 c. sour cream and 1/2 c. milk. Really try to find the real deal, though, it's magically delicious.

2 T. whole cumin seeds

1 T. sugar

1 T. salt


for the fish:

2.5 lbs fish filets (make sure the fish monger gives you boneless filets, or at least make sure you know how to debone filets yourself)

1/2 a bunch of cilantro

4 cloves garlic

2 limes

1 jalapeño

1 t. cumin

3 T. chipotle adobo sauce (from a can of chipotles in adobo)

1/2 c. olive oil

1/4 c. water

1 T. salt

1 T. black pepper

for the sauce:

2 1/2 c. “crema” (Mexican table cream, it’s a thinner, less sour version of sour cream. It’s delicious.)

1 1/2 bunches of cilantro

1 jalapeño

1 t. salt

the other things you need:

Corn tortillas, the fresher the better. 2 per taco.

lime wedges

That looks like a lot of ingredients, but it’s really not, I just repeated a bunch of stuff in multiple sections.



The slaw needs to marinate for longer than the fish does, so start with that. First, cut up some cabbage. If you’ve never cut red cabbage before, my handy diagram will help you learn how to do it in a few easy steps. Oh, I forgot to take a picture of me pulling the outside 3-4 leaves off, so make sure you do that part first.

Make sure to pull the core, or stem out of the cabbage, unless you like eating sticks.

I’m not sure how clear the picture makes it, but once you’ve cored and sliced the cabbage, cut perpendicularly to your slicing pattern to chop the cabbage into pieces that will be about a quarter inch square. There is no test here, so if your pieces are a little bigger or smaller, it’s fine. Most people who put cabbage in fish tacos use shredded cabbage, but I like the texture of a chopped slaw better, and the chopped stuff doesn’t do that annoying thing where it gets strung together like a dream run in barrel o’ monkeys. While it’s great when fifteen monkeys link together in a steady chain, when all the slaw in your fish taco links together, it falls out onto your plate, and you are sad.

Once your cabbage is chopped, throw it in a mixing bowl. Chop an onion (medium)  and de-seed and chop a jalapeño (fine), and add them to the bowl too. (Don’t remember how to chop onions or jalapeños?)  Now it’s time to make your dressing.

Your slaw should look just like this. Maybe minus the baby.

Put a skillet over medium and add the oil and cumin seeds. Once you start to smell cumin and hear a few seeds starting to make popping sounds, add the vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper and stir till dissolved. WARNING: If the oil is pretty hot when the vinegar goes in, it will hiss and pop at you, and you could burn yourself. If this happens, turn the stove off and wait to add the sugar etc. till it stops making loud noises. It’s not worth a nasty burn. Anyways, once you’ve stirred the pot enough to dissolve the sugar, dump the contents over your vegetables. Juice your two limes into the slaw, give it a stir, and set it aside to start marinating. If you wanted to, you could do this as early as the day before.


First, make sure your filets are fully thawed and clean. If there’s any sliminess on the fish, wash it off. Yes, in the sink. No, it won’t do anything to mess up the fish, it’s fish and water, they don’t exactly hurt one another.

The marinade is particularly chunky. This actually ends up enhancing the flavor, as steam from the 'peño and cilantro flavor the fish on the grill.

Now that your fish is clean and thawed, it’s time to make some marinade. Start by deseeding and chopping a jalapeño (if you like it hot, you don’t have to deseed). Follow this up with some rough chopped cilantro, and combine these in a bowl with the rest of the marinade ingredients. To get the adobo sauce out of the can of chipotles, use a spoon to smoosh the peppers up a little bit and spoon out the resulting liquid. Yes, smoosh is a technical term. Mix your marinade up thoroughly and then coat the fish completely with it. Set it aside for 30 minutes or an hour so the flavor can soak in. Do not let it marinade for more than an hour or so, though, because the lime juice will start to cook the fish and it will come out with a kind of rubbery texture that will make you say “I can’t cook fish, I’ve never been able to cook fish.”

If you don't have a grill brush, you can cut an onion in half and use it to clean gunk off of grill grates.

So set your fish aside and then make the cilantro cream sauce (directions follow). First, let’s discuss grilling fish.

I like to grill fish at temperature just a little higher than medium on a gas grill, or what is more or less a 6 second fire on a charcoal grill. So fire your grill up to between 375-400 degrees, and then gently lay your fish on the grates. Remember, fish is significantly more delicate than most other proteins, so gently is the imperative word here. If you don’t have a high heat tolerance in your hands, invest in some grill gloves or something, because you’ll use your hands to help turn and position fish during the cooking process.

Bonus points if you can pour with this kind of mad flourish.

Once you have your fish on the grill, pour the rest of your marinade, chunks and all, over the top of it. I pretty much always do that when I’m grilling stuff, but it’s actually important in this case, because the amount of flavor you get out of the green stuff as it cooks is huge. Now, you have to do the thing that I’m the worst at as a cook: wait. If you get really impatient with fish and flip it more than a couple of times, you’ll rip it to shreds and then you’ll say, “I can’t cook fish, I’ve never been able to cook fish.”

I'm not going to put a picture in of how I used the spatula to cut the fish up as I pulled it off, but I did. Also, see how there are still bits of cilantro and jalapeño on the fish? Delicious.

When I made this stuff last night, I ended up cooking the filets for 6 minutes on the first side, 6 minutes on the second side, and then an additional 3 minutes on the first side in order to achieve pesca-perfection. Over-cooked fish makes everybody sad, because it takes something delicious and turns it into something sawdusty. The easiest way to tell if fish is done is to flake off a piece of it, taste it, and see if it’s cooked through; if you still don’t know, pull a whole filet off to the side and cut it in half. If it’s opaque all the way through, it’s done. If it’s still translucent in the middle, throw it back on the grill for a couple more minutes.

Once the fish is cooked, start pulling it off the grill. The picture shows how I used my hand along with the spatula to make sure that I didn’t lose any valuable bass. I cut up the filets into 2-4″ pieces with the spatula as I pulled them off, which also allowed me to give the bigger pieces/pieces from the cooler parts of the grill an extra minute or two of cook time. After I pulled the fish I took it inside and started assembling tacos. However, you have to learn how to make the cilantro-cream sauce first. So on to that.


gratuitious in-process section photo.

This sauce is very simple, this post is already pretty long, this section will be very short.

Step one, cut the stems off of the cilantro you have left over from the fish marinate and throw it in your blender. Step two, get another whole bunch of cilantro, cut the stems and throw it in your blender. By “cut the stems off,” I mean literally the bottom 3-5 inches of just stems, not all the stemmy stuff. You don’t need to have exclusively leaves for this, because you’ll be liquifying in the blender anyways.

Next, remove the seeds and stem from a jalapeño, cut it into a few big pieces, and throw it in the blender. Add your salt and Mexican crema (or your substituted sour cream and milk), and blend until fully liquified and a cool looking green color. Remember to pulse a few times so your blender mixes things up completely. Pour your sauce into a squeeze bottle of some kind (we had to use a mustard bottle, it worked just fine), or, if you’re not into making your food pretty, just set it aside.

Now, let’s assemble some tacos!


You use two tortillas because one has a tendency to break when you're eating them. Also, look how cool the sauce looks coming out of a mustard bottle.

Take your corn tortillas and microwave them, four at a time on high for 15-20 seconds; you’ll need two tortillas a taco. Put the tortillas on a plate in an upside-down T shape so that you can make both tacos easily.

Give the bowl of slaw a good stir and taste it to make sure it doesn’t need any more salt. Put about half a cup of slaw on each taco, and follow that up with 3-4 pieces of fish. Run a zigzag drizzle of cilantro-cream sauce down each taco (about 1/2 a tablespoon’s worth, more if you really like deliciousness). Garnish by sticking a lime wedge between the two tacos, and you’re ready to serve.

I served my fish tacos with some chipotle-soy sauteed broccoli, and they complimented each other nicely. I got lucky and the cabbage was really vibrantly colored and fresh, which made the whole dish really pop. I hope yours turn out great, too, and I’m sure they will.


Wardrobe provided by Hanes.

Let’s Eat!


3 Responses to “Fish Tacos”

  1. Will Bielinski 15 July 2011 at 5:34 pm #

    Quite a few beer bottles you are collecting there Mr. Bledsoe…

    • nbledsoe 15 July 2011 at 5:40 pm #

      Jay (guy I’m living with) is a home brewer, so he collects them to re-use.

  2. Russell Lewis 16 July 2011 at 11:01 am #

    Susan Avant sent me the link to your blog. Nice work and kudos from a fellow culinaty adventurer! We were all in NYC over New Years and ate our way across the city with highpoints beung Momofuku and Le Bernadin. You are in the middle of a tasty wonderland, ENJOY!

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