Fish Tacos

In Mexico, practically every meal is accompanied by a stack of fresh warm corn tortillas, much in the way that bread is served here in America. As you eat, you can wrap whatever is on your plate in a fresh tortilla, and voilá, you have a taco. Almost everything tastes good in a taco smothered with fresh salsa, and that goes for fish as well. Preparing a taco is much like preparing a sandwich; it’s all in the assembly. For these fish tacos you will be preparing and then assemblying the fish, the tortillas, the salsa, and the cabbage or lettuce.

Fish Tacos Recipe

  • Cook time: 20 minutes
  • Yield: Serves four.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb of very fresh fish fillets - (Good fish for tacos are firm fish like swordfish or halibut)*
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil
  • 1 doz corn tortillas (3 tortillas per person)
  • Vegetable oil or butter (optional, depending on how you heat your tortillas)
  • Cabbage (or iceberg lettuce)
  • Cider vinegar
  • Salt

*Fisheries worldwide are under pressure. Be sure to choose a sustainable fish. See the guidelines at Monterey Aquarium's Seafood Watch.

Method

1 Prepare the salsa. Either use store bought or make your own. (See above link for Mango Salsa, which is especially good with fish.)

2 Prepare the cabbage and avocado. Thinly slice cabbage. Put in a small serving bowl. Sprinkle with cider vinegar (about a Tbsp) and salt (about a tsp). Mix in the vinegar and salt. Peel avocado and remove seed. Chop and reserve for later.

3 Heat the tortillas. Unless you have made fresh tortillas from scratch, you will need to soften them somehow. One way to easily soften and heat a tortilla to simply heat it in the microwave for 20-25 seconds on high heat, on top of a napkin or paper towel to absorb the moisture that is released. We often will heat two tortillas at once in the microwave, heating them for a total of 40 seconds.

Another way is to heat a well seasoned (black) large cast iron skillet to medium heat. Add a teaspoon of oil to the pan or spread a half a teaspoon of butter on one side of one tortilla. Place tortilla in the pan (butter side down if you are using butter). As the tortilla sizzles, flip the tortilla with a spatula so that the other side gets some of the oil or butter from the pan. Continue to flip every 10-30 seconds until the tortillas begins to develop air pockets, about a minute. If the pan begins to smoke, lower the temperature. You can skip the butter or oil if you wish and just heat the tortillas up on the skillet without them. We have found that the flavor of packaged tortillas benefits from heating them with a bit of oil.

Remove the tortilla from the pan and place it folded on a plate. If the pan is large enough you can prepare two or more tortillas at once. Continue until all the tortillas (estimate 3 per person) are cooked. Set aside.

4 Cook the fish. Soak the fish fillets in cold water for at least one minute. Pat dry with a paper towel. Heat a large stick-free skillet to medium high heat. Add a couple of teaspoons of olive oil to the skillet. Place fish on skillet. Cooking time depends on the thickness of the fillets. A thin fillet may take only one minute on each side to cook. A thicker fillet may take a couple of minutes. Fish should be still barely translucent when cooked. Break off a piece and test if you are not sure. Do not overcook the fish. Remove from pan when done to a separate plate. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

5 Assembly. I think tacos are best when you assemble them yourself. Place the plate of tortillas, the plate of fish, the salsa, the cabbage, and the avocados on the table and let everyone assemble their own.

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Fish tacos photo by Jaden Hair

32 Comments

  1. tim

    I’d just like to say, my girlfriend made that recipe last night, and it was absolutely, totally, utterly delicious!! Thank you SO much for sharing it with us all!

    Best wishes,
    Tim Butler – i’ll report back to you later!

  2. neal

    Why do you soak the fish in cold water before cooking?

  3. elise

    Tim – I’m so glad you liked it!

    Neal – the fish handlers at Whole Foods, where we buy our fish, recommend that one soaks the fish in cold water before cooking as a final cleaning for the fish.

  4. k

    Here’s another SUPER FAST fish taco (a la Trader Joes)

    1 jar Trader Joe’s Cuban Mojito Simmer Sauce
    1 package frozen Trader Joe’s Mahi Mahi

    Put frozen mahi mahi filets in a skillet, dump Mojito sauce on top. Simmer on low until the fish flakes

    Put it in a tortilla with ANY of the following: lettuce, cabbage, black beans, cheese, mango, pineapple, olives, shredded carrot…you name it!

    With rice and beans I served 4. (Be sure and flake the fish…it will serve more…)

  5. Martha

    You are forgetting the white sauce!!!! I grew up in San Diego and “baja-style” fish tacos have a white sauce on them. I make mine using 1 cup of mayo and 1 small can of diced green chiles. Put it in the food processor or blender and ole! You can added jalapenos for extra heat.

    Also, substitute salmon for the white fish for a whole other kind of taste.

  6. Sarah

    This recipe was a HUGE hit with both me and my husband – and SO easy! Thanks! Also, we tried it with the white sauce, we cut the mayo and used 2-grams mayo, and just blended the chiles in by hand with a spoon, and we bought pre-made mango salsa. The chile white sauce definitely made the recipe!

  7. Carlos

    Great Recipe! Please remember! While putting your avocado aside, douse lightly with lime juice to keep it from going gross and brown! Salt too!

    Love the site!

  8. Marsia Richards

    This recipe is delicious! I made it with the white mayo/chile sauce (suggested in the comments)and made the salsa very spicy with the seeds. I thought the salsa was almost too spicy, but when you put the taco together it blends beautifully. The halibut was a great fish choice as well.

  9. Jacky

    Another way to dress the fish? [may be a bit fatty]

    Coat with tempura and deep fry.
    Place in a taco (I use just corn tortilla heated up on a skillet, no oil)
    Add cabbage, Mexican table cream, lemon juice, and salsa.

  10. Lisa

    Thanks for the mango salsa recipe as part of this. I love fish tacos, but hate mayo, so the white sauce is out. Still, they’re dry without a little something. Fruity salsa is perfect. Thanks!

  11. Rene

    Great recipe! I make fish tacos on a semi-regular basis and have developed a bit of my own take for less flavorful fish (Tilapia being a cheap and easily available fish where I am)

    I dredge the fish in seasoned cornmeal, dip in egg and crust with panko breadcrumbs (easily found in any asian market), then fry quickly on each side.

    For the white sauce, I combine one part mayonnaise and one part sour cream, then add lime juice and finely chopped cilantro to taste.

  12. shakthi

    Another fast way to make fish tacos is to use store bought breaded fillets of fish. Gortons are my favorite. Just throw those in the oven, and while they are heating prepare small bowls of salsa, sour cream, chopped lettuce, tomatoes, cilantro, etc. Then heat the tortillas, (add cheese, I always do!!) and make your own fish tacos. yummmmmm and SO easy! This is a great weeknight meal, when you want to eat at home but don’t have the energy to really cook.

  13. Michelle

    When I finished my taco I said “YUM” out loud (and I was by myself). I made a quarter recipe, using a big whole wheat tortilla, green salsa, a frozen talapia filet and pre-cut cole slaw mix that I seasoned with rice vinegar, salt and a pinch of cumin, as well as a bit of homeade guacamole. I love that your basic recipe was SO simple, expecially the cooking method for the fish.

  14. Steve

    This didn’t even sound good when I first heard of them. After watching a “good eats” special the other night I decided to try them. I used baked breaded tilapia, shredded cabbage, grated cheese and made a sauce from tartar sauce, green taco sauce and a little malt vinegar. Put them together in a large flour tortilla, like a fish rollup. Not bad for a Kansas boy!

  15. Laura

    Another sauce is 1/4 cup mayo to 1/4 cup of sour cream and about 2tbs of dillweed and a splash of lemon. Very tasty on all fish, chicken, steak and veggies. But the best on fish tacos!!

  16. Jason

    While I did appreciate the ease of making this recipe, my family found it rather plain. It needs more zest…perhaps more cilantro or jalapenos would’ve done it. The addition of the white sauce helped.

  17. Rick

    Just got back from Costa Rica, and the white sauce recipe I got for making some great fish tacos was
    Mayonaise
    sour cream
    lemon
    salt
    pepper
    garlic
    cilantro
    It is good.

  18. Gregg

    Okay,this is from the fish taco stands I visited while in Baja.The real recipe for the Baja white sauce is simply Mayo, water, and red hot sauce mixed to taste. More heat, more red hot sauce. Simple.

  19. TJ

    I love to make fish tacos, I usually use the talapia due to the cost. I make my “white sauce” with mayo, tsp vinegar, tsp sugar, a little katsup and spicy red salsa, and it is very yummy. The spicier the salsa, the spicier the sauce. This is a very economical meal with rice and beans. You can feed a family of four for around $8.00.

  20. Sarah

    My husband and I had this for dinner tonight and we loved it! Fantastic! Used the Salsa recipe but added a touch of olive oil to it as well! Highly recommend.

  21. Sarah

    Flounder is another relatively cheap option for the fish and it works wonderfully. Try it!

  22. melanie

    I make my fish tacos with tilapia also (absurdly quick and easy, dredge in cornmeal first, pan fry)…and make a spicy mayo/white sauce with commercial tartar and chipotle hot sauce mixed in to taste…yummy!

  23. Doug

    Preheat oven to 350. Dredge one side of a tilapia filet in taco meat seasoning. Then in a oven safe skillet on high heat blacken the tiliapia, seasoned side down. Once it is blackened, the top is still probably not done, so just pop it in the oven for a couple of minutes. Viola’ Blackened fish tacos, serve with shredded iceburg lettuce, shredded chedder, lime wedge, cilantro, cholula (hot taco) sauce, sour cream, avocado. I expect a black bean and corn salsa would be excellent as well as mexican rice.

  24. athina

    I don’t like fruit salsa with fish (just my own personal taste)so I made a white sauce. My recipe included Mayo,chopped cilantro, small can chopped green chiles, lime juice, cumin, sea salt, pepper. It was delicious. I feel that softer fish would work better with this recipe. I used the sword fish, and did not like its firm texture in this recipe. Next time I will use a more delicate fish; sole, flounder, cod, or tilapia. I also topped my tacos with chopped tomato….yum…

  25. laura

    Thank you. Finally an authentic fish taco recipe! Too many recipes include flour tortillas, sour cream and yellow cheese (as my mom would call it). These ingredients often overpower the taste of the fish.

  26. Dianne

    Thank you, the best sauce that I think would work are the ones posted by Rick and TJ. Thanks guys. My son-in-law uses sour cream, mayo,mild taco sauce and cilantro.

  27. James Daniel Davis

    I like Salmon in my fish Tacos!

  28. Jana

    Once of my favorite things. My secret Fish Taco sauce is Ranch Dressing with a small amount (to taste) of Sambal Oelek—it’s perfect. Put it on the dry-skillet heated tortillas first then add fish etc. You can also broil or grill fish quickly and deliciously after doing a dry rub (like dried parsley, dried minced onions, white pepper and sea salt ground together w/mortar & pestle). Healthy and delicious!

  29. Trista

    The recipe calls for corn tortillas, but in the picture you’ve used flour tortillas. Which should I use ? I imagine flour tortillas would taste better…

    I’m pretty sure that shot was with a white corn tortilla. But you could easily use a flour tortilla if you wanted to. ~Elise

  30. willie

    good recipes – especially from the comments – i also prefer to blacken my fish (use red snapper down here on the Gulf), and sometime a simple remoulade of: mayo, ketchup, brown mustard, paprika, horseradish, onion powder, worchestershire sauce, celery salt, lemon or lime juice, and cayenne

  31. patricia

    Have made these before – fantastic. We use shredded iceberg (not big cabbage fans). We garnish with fresh cilantro and sliced, jarred jalapenos. Oh – and definitely use the corn torillas – the flavor adds SO much to these tacos. Be sure to toast them first!!

  32. jo

    I am road testing recipes tonight as a test run for The hungry Traveler class next week.
    I’m following your slaw instructions but since only have 1 microwave in the pro kitchen and 10 kids to make tacos, i was going to try something I had seen before about lightly sprinkling them with a tiny bit of water, stacking them together, wrapping in foil and then tossing in a low oven as the fish cooks. Cross your fingers.
    All the research I have seen for baja, which is the kind I am trying for does have the white sauce. I bought crema at my local store that has a great Spanish section and I might try the other persons suggestion about pureeing it with some chile. In a nod to my British husband I am frying the fish (halibut filet) in beer batter.
    Thanks for your suggestions everyone!

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