Very easy to throw together, versatile and flexible, fish tacos are a dream come true for those who enjoy Mexican food and fish, but also for people who don’t have much time to cook. Most types of fish can be included in a taco, but there are different manners of preparation- with or without breading, grilled, baked or fried. Also, each type of fish combines with different toppings and seasonings.
Preparing a fish taco is a simple task indeed, but preparing the perfect, crispy, balanced, light, and creamy fish taco requires a few pro secrets.
The Oldest Type of Taco
Taco is a traditional Mexican dish composed of a tortilla bread and various fillings that include pork, beef, chicken, fish, seafood, vegetables, and cheese, accompanied by a myriad of garnishes and additions, and usually eaten without utensils.
Fish tacos are considered to be the oldest type of taco. Namely, anthropological evidence suggests that the indigenous people living in the Valley of Mexico ate tacos with stuffed with small fish long before the arrival of European conquistadors.
Tacos de Pescado, as they are also known, originated in Baja California in Mexico and were popularized in the States by the Rubio’s fast food chain. Today, fish tacos are most widely consumed in California, where they are often sold by street vendors, but also in Washington and Colorado.
A simple fish taco consists of a corn or flour tortilla folded or rolled around a filling that includes fish and vegetables (usually tomatoes, onions, and lettuce or cabbage), complemented by garnishes like chili pepper, salsa or pico de gallo, avocado or guacamole, cilantro, chipotle sauce, sour cream or mayonnaise/citrus sauce, etc.
Other less usual additions include lime slices, red radish slices, cucumber slices, grilled onions, and chili peppers.
Health Benefits of Fish Tacos
Perfectly prepared fish will not only make your taco delicious, but it will also contribute numerous health benefits, especially if you opt for wild-caught fish instead of farmed, because it contains more omega-3 and fewer contaminants.
Fish is one of the healthiest foods on the planet. It is rich in important nutrients that most people don’t get enough of:
- Protein, the building block of muscles, bones, blood, and skin.
- Omega-3 fatty acids, essential for the brain. They reduce the risk of age-related cognitive problems and boost the memory. These fatty acids are also considered to be very efficient against depression.
- Vitamin D, important for maintaining healthy bones and teeth,
Studies have shown that eating fish also protects the organism from a number of diseases, including cardiovascular disease, asthma, and diabetes. In addition, consuming this meat improves the vision, mood, and sleeping patterns!
Generally speaking, all fish types good for you, but the fatty types like tuna, trout, salmon, sardines, and mackerel are considered the healthiest.
However, are these the best types of fish to use in a fish taco? The answer is affirmative; as mentioned before, you can use any type of fish. The secret is to find out which type of fish goes with which set of sauces and garnishes.
What Type of Fish to Use in Fish Tacos
Here are some general rules to stick to:
- The best type of fish to use in fish tacos is white and flaky saltwater fish. This group includes cod, bass, halibut, snapper, flounder, mahi-mahi, and grouper and works best with simple toppings that make the fish flavor stand out. It is also ideal for Baja-style tacos that involve deep-fried fish, shredded cabbage, and a creamy white sauce, i.e. the so-called holy trinity of fish tacos!
- Freshwater fish like catfish and tilapia. Their somewhat murky taste requires toppings that are stronger in flavor, like salsa and pico de gallo. They also work well with fruits like mango.
- Salmon is a less traditional choice for fish tacos because of its strong flavor, which makes it perfect for grilling.
How to Prepare Fish for Fish Tacos
Grilled, baked, or fried, whichever way you decide to prepare the fish, make sure to marinate it first. Even though this step is optional, it is highly recommended because it will soften the meat and pack it with flavors.
Here is how to do it: mix olive oil, chili powder, lime juice, oregano, cumin, chopped cilantro, and jalapeño in a small bowl. Place the fish in a dish and pour the marinade over it, making sure it is coated well on both sides. Let it stand for about 15-20 minutes. Optionally, you can just soak the meat in a bowl filled with water for about 10 minutes.
Grilled and baked fish is certainly a much healthier option that the deep-fried variation. When grilling, make sure the fillets are not too thick (they should be ½ to ¾ inch thick), in order to cook them quickly and prevent them from falling apart. The fish can be grilled using a gas or charcoal grill, well heated and brushed with some oil. Grill until it is cooked through and flakes easily with a fork, about 4 minutes per side.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray with some cooking spray. Place the marinated fish on the baking sheet and bake for about 15 minutes, until it easily flakes with a fork. Note: You can slice the fish into chunks and cover them in bread crumbs before baking. This will produce crunchier bites keeping the fat and calorie count low.
Deep-fried fish is undoubtedly the most delicious option for fish tacos. There are several ways to fry the fish – floured, breaded, or dipped in batter.
Start by cutting the fish into chunks with a knife. Make sure to pat the meat dry with a paper towel before frying, in order to prevent splashing when you place it in the hot oil.
When it comes to the oil you use for frying, any type will do, but since the meat will absorb lots of it in the process of cooking, opt for healthier options like virgin olive or canola oil. Add a few tablespoons of oil into a frying pan or skillet and heat over medium heat. Cooking time depends on the thickness of the fish chunks, but usually takes between 5 and 10 minutes. Don’t forget to turn the chunks from time to time during cooking.
Floured, breaded, or battered
- If you decide to flour the chunks, use regular flour or cornmeal, or a combination of both.
- To give your fish chunks a light, crunchy texture, dip them in egg and then roll them into a bowl of regular or panko breadcrumbs. You can add other seasonings to the breadcrumbs as well, such as paprika, oregano, thyme, cayenne pepper, and salt. To speed up the process of breading, put the breadcrumbs, seasonings, and some oil in a zip-lock bag, then add the fish chunks previously coated in egg, seal the bag and shake.
- Experienced fish taco eaters swear that the key to a perfect fish taco is dipping the fish in batter before frying. The batter should have a pancake-like texture and is made with only three ingredients, flour, beer, and salt. The measures are as follows: 2 cups flour, one 12-ounce bottle of beer, and a ½ teaspoon of salt. Batter recipes for fish tacos vary, hence you will find ones that call for cornstarch, baking powder, eggs, and diverse seasonings.
Beer is the secret ingredient in this batter. The fizzy bubbles in beer or, alternatively, club soda, make the fish chunks extra crispy and emphasize the fish flavor. When it comes to flour, you can use all-purpose flour, but rice flour significantly lightens the batter and is a preferred option.
What Type of Tortillas to Use in Fish Tacos
Corn tortillas are the most authentic choice for fish tacos, but there is really no restriction here. To make a solid wrap that won’t fall apart at the first bite, stack two tortillas per taco.
If you have the time, skills, and patience, it is best to knead and bake your own tortillas. If this is not the case, all you need to do is warm your store-bought tortillas up to make them soft and ready for filling. Note: If your tortillas are not very fresh, brush them with some water before you warm them using any of the following techniques.
- Place a few tortillas (up to five) on a plate and cover with a damp paper towel. Microwave from 30 seconds to one minute until warmed through.
- Stove top. Stove-top techniques work great with fresh tortillas. Place the tortillas in a dry skillet and cook for about half a minute over medium heat. If you have corn tortillas, char them to emphasize the corn’s nuttiness. Do this for a couple of seconds over the gas flames, holding them with tongs! If you want the tortillas crispy, melt some butter in the skillet before placing the tortillas.
- Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Wrap up to five tortillas in aluminum foil and bake for about 15-20 minutes.
To keep the tortillas warm until you are ready to eat, cover them with a damp dish towel or wrap in aluminum foil.
Additions for Fish Tacos
Now that you have selected the best type of fish, cooked it to perfection and the tortillas are warmed up, waiting to be assembled into tacos, all you need to do is select the best additions and sauces. Whichever addition you decide to go with, rest assured that you will get additional health benefits. All the following salads and sauces are based on veggies and allow you to vary the other ingredients in order to remain in controls of the calories and fats. Mix and match to find your own perfect combination.
Coleslaw is a salad based primarily on finely shredded raw cabbage, usually combined with shredded carrots and dressed with a vinaigrette dressing. The dressing may include some or all of the following – sour cream, mayonnaise, vinegar, mustard, onion, sugar, salt, and pepper. This basic version of coleslaw will keep for up to four weeks in your fridge, provided it is stored in an airtight container.
However, you don’t have to confine yourself only to the basic coleslaw; there is a wide array of variations to choose from, to mention just a few – Italian and Mexican style, fruity varieties with pineapple, apple, or cranberries, and Caesar coleslaw. The most important factor to make this salad perfect is to shred the cabbage really fine by using a mandolin.
Avocado is one of the staples in Mexican cuisine. Its soft and creamy texture, along with the mild sweetness give a special note to every recipe you make. You can choose to incorporate this super-fruit in slices or as part of a guacamole sauce. Besides mashed avocados, basic guacamole includes diced tomatoes, white onions, chopped cilantro, and lemon or lime juice. Richer alternatives include pineapples, mango, goji berries, pesto, peas, roasted garlic, and more!
Salsa is a piquant tomato-based sauce that includes various additional ingredients like onions, beans, chili, habanero, corn, and spices. Less usual recipes also include fruits like mango and avocado. Its hotness can range from mild to fiery hot!
Pico de Gallo uses very similar ingredients as salsa but contains less liquid. The standard ingredients are chopped tomato, onion, coriander, jalapeños or habaneros, key lime juice, and salt. Alternative ingredients include avocado, orange, cucumber, jícama, papaya, and chili or chili powder.
Baja sauce, also known as white sauce, is based on sour cream or mayonnaise, or a combination of both, complemented with lime juice, and various veggies, herbs, and spices like bell pepper, onion, cilantro, jalapeño, garlic, black pepper, cumin, etc.
Chipotles are smoke-dried jalapeño peppers that contribute earthy spiciness and smoky flavor to many recipes in Mexican cuisine, from salsas to adobo marinades. Add two teaspoons to your taco in a pureed or store-bought powdered form, or incorporate it in a simple, creamy chipotle sauce which is made of ½ cup mayonnaise and ½ yogurt.