At some point in the last few weeks I came across a listicle equating states with the foods they are best known for, or something like that. California’s chosen food was the fish taco. Now, I’ll agree that California makes excellent tacos and we have a lot of them. And I’m sure that Los Angeles and San Diego and other southern parts of the state have more than their fair share of fish tacos. But I can count on one hand the number of fish tacos that I’ve had in the 7 years that I’ve lived in California.
This is not for lack of trying, or for lack of eating tacos. It’s for general lack of fish tacos in this part of California. Fish tacos are meant to be eaten at small tables outside or in an open-air restaurant, preferably when you’re wearing shorts and a t-shirt, with sunglasses perched on your head. Ideally you eat them before or after going to the beach and wash them down with a cold beer. It all sounds idyllic and summery, and it’s all well and good for those places in California where you can wear shorts on a regular basis. San Francisco is not one of those places. And while we have lots of tacos here, because it’s not really California without tacos, very few of those tacos are fish tacos.
If someone else is making fish tacos, my favorite kind are the deep fried crispy fried ones, big pieces of fried fish wrapped up in corn tortillas. But if I’m making them at home my favorite kind of anything but the deep fried kind. I just don’t like deep frying at home. It’s too messy and a little scary (hot oil!) and the cleanup is a real pain. And while those all may be whiny reasons, I still don’t deep fry at home. But I do make fish tacos at home. Spicy pan-fried fish tacos with creamy avocado, fresh slaw, and lots and lots of lime juice.
So what if we ate these while wearing slippers instead of shorts? We opened a beer and warmed up tortillas. We piled up tacos with fish and avocado, and squeezed fresh limes over the top. We talked about fish tacos we’d eaten in tropical locations and agreed that these ones tasted better, even if the ambiance was a bit lacking. It was almost like we’d just spent the day at the beach, instead of the office. Almost.
- 1½ lbs flaky white fish (cod, tilapia, or haddock work well)
- 1½ tsp kosher salt
- 2 tbs flour
- 2 tbs chili powder
- Up to ¼ cup of neutral oil for frying (more oil will result in a crispier fish)
- Corn tortillas
- Avocados or guacamole
- Hot sauce
- Slaw (recipe below)
- COMBINE the flour and chile powder and spread the mixture out on a plate large enough for the fish. Seasonthe fish with salt on both sides and then coat it thoroughly in the flour mixture. Leave it on the flour while the pan heats up.
- HEAT the oil over medium heat in a frying pan large enough for the pieces of fish. When it's hot, add the fish - fry them the pieces in batches rather than overcrowding the pan. Fry for 2-3 minutes on one side, until it is deep brown, and then flip to cook the other side for another 2-3 minutes. Don't worry if the fish breaks up when you flip it - this is for tacos after all. When it's deep brown on both sides and cooked through (it is flakes easily with a fork, it's done), remove it to plate or platter.
Serve the fish with warmed tortillas, avocado or guacamole, hot sauce, and some slaw (instructions below). Then let everyone build their own favorite taco. Any leftover fish will keep in the fridge for a few days, just reheat it gently before serving.
- For the Slaw
- ½ of a cabbage, quartered, core removed, and thinly sliced
- 1 tsp kosher salt,
- Juice of 1-2 limes (About 2 tbs total)
- 1 tbs neutral oil
- ¼ cup chopped cilantro (or scallion, if you don't like cilantro)
- COMBINE sliced cabbage, salt, lime juice, oil, and cilantro and toss well. Let the mixture sit for at least 15 minutes, then toss again and serve it.
The slaw will last for about a week, getting a bit softer over time. It's good cold or room temperature, but give it a quick toss before serving.