Crispy Fish Tacos with Red Cabbage Slaw

FishTaco

Fish tacos are made for hot summer days! Crispy, spicy fish tucked into a bed of crunchy, sweet, and sour red cabbage slaw, all piled high on a tortilla—just add ice cold drinks and lots of laughter for a party. Taco Tuesday never tasted so good!

Photography Credit: Alison Bickle

If food transformed into foam and served on porcelain plates is a stronghold of modern haute cuisine, then fish tacos are the best beach party you’ve ever been to.

They are eaten out of hand, assembled at the table, and can turn any gathering of respectable people into a party full of unruly friends and riotous laughter. There’s no pretense here. Just kick off your shoes, grab yourself a drink, and let’s have a good time!

I mean, really, what’s not to love about fish tacos? A crispy breading, loaded with chili and citrus, encasing tender, flaky white fish? Nope, it’s perfect.

And the crunchy tang of lime-honey coleslaw that balances the heaviness of fried food? All I can say is, “I’ll take more of that, please!” And the cumin, garlic, and citrus crema that adds a little creaminess to every bite? I love it all, and I want you to love it, too.

BATTER VS. BREADING

There is a difference between battered fish tacos and breaded fish tacos.

  • Batter is liquid based—often beer. You quickly dip fish in a beer flour bath, then fry it.
  • Breading is when you dip the fish in a liquid, usually milk or buttermilk, then press it into a dry coating of panko, bread crumbs, or a flour mixture.

Baja-style fish tacos are usually made with a batter. I tried that with this recipe, and I just preferred the texture and crunch of the breaded fish better. I also found the breading stayed on the fish better than the batter did.

Crispy Fish Tacos with chili lime crema - fish tacos on grey slate with crema and lime

TIPS FOR BETTER FRIED FISH

For this recipe, I coat the fish in milk, bread it, then fry it. I like to bread all of the fish before I start to fry it. I do this for two reasons:

  1. Letting the breading sit on the fish for a few minutes before frying it helps the breading adhere better to the fish.
  2. Breading gets your fingers messy. It’s easier to bread all the fish, clean up my mess, then fry it.

WHAT IS THE BEST FISH FOR FISH TACOS?

Firm-fleshed white fish is usually the best choice for breaded fish tacos. They are mild in flavor, and the they hold up well to frying. Two of my favorites are cod and walleye.

When testing this recipe, I used two different brands of frozen fish that I thawed at home. I noticed a pretty significant difference in the quality of the fish between the brands. I used the store brand from both my regional grocery and a Whole Foods in the area.

The cod from my regional grocer wasn’t as thick or firm; it kind of smooshed apart when I pressed on it, and it didn’t stick together well when I fried it. The 365 brand Wild Caught Cod Fillets from Whole Foods was firm, held its shape when gently pressed, and held up to frying.

If you’ve made battered or breaded fish in the past, and it didn’t turn out the way you thought it should, it might have been the brand. Try sourcing from a different company next time, and you might be pleasantly surprised.

No Alcohol Battered Fish Tacos - fish tacos on grey slate with crema and lime

HOW TO PREPARE THE FISH

I like to cut the fish portions on the bias (a diagonal cut). This cut provides longer strips that fit well in the taco shell. Make each cut about an inch thick, and you’ll have the perfect piece every time.

WHAT IS THE BEST OIL FOR FRYING?

High heat oil is best for frying food. Good choices are canola, safflower, and sunflower oil.

WHAT TO SERVE WITH FISH TACOS?

Honestly, two to three tacos are pretty filling even for big eaters, but if you like to present your friends and family with a feast, then serve these tacos alongside any of these tasty sides.

Don’t forget the drinks! I often serve festive non-alcoholic drinks at parties, but I always provide a selection of spirits such as vodka, gin, or tequila alongside those drinks. That way my non-alcohol-consuming friends can enjoy a zero-proof cocktail and still feel like they are part of the celebration, and those who want to add a little booze to their drink can imbibe to their liking! I’m only making one drink, and everyone has options. It’s a win-win.

However, if you’re all booze all the time, then try any of these tasty concoctions.

Best Fish Tacos with slaw and crema - fish tacos on grey slate with crema and lime

CAN I MAKE FISH TACOS AHEAD OF TIME?

Let’s say you want to throw a party, and fish tacos are on the menu. You can make almost every component at least two to three days ahead of time, then do the final bread and fry just before serving.

For the crema, mix it all together, and store it in a covered container in the fridge for up to three days. Some of the liquid may separate during that time, but don’t worry. You can just give it a quick stir.

For the taco slaw, I prefer to chop everything up and keep the fresh ingredients in one container, then make the dressing and store it in another. This is because the color from the purple cabbage will bleed into the other ingredients. Do this up to two days before the party. Then, just before serving, give the dressing a good shake and toss it together with all of the vegetables and herbs.

For the fish, thaw and slice it to size 24 hours before the party, and make the flour mixture up to a week in advance. Half an hour before you want to serve the tacos, bread and fry them. Dinner’s ready!

NEED MORE TACOS IN YOUR LIFE?

Crispy Fish Tacos with Red Cabbage Slaw Recipe

  • Prep time: 30 minutes
  • Cook time: 20 minutes
  • Yield: 4 Servings

This recipe makes about 10 small street-style tacos.

Ingredients

For the slaw:

  • 1 1/2 limes, zested and juiced
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons avocado or canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups thinly sliced red cabbage (about a 1/2 small head of cabbage)
  • 5 radishes, cut into matchsticks (3/4 cup of matchsticks)
  • 1/4 cup minced red onion
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced

For the crema:

  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • Juice from 1/2 lime
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

For the fish:

  • 1 1/2 pounds skinless cod fillets
  • 1 lime
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup cornmeal
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 cup whole milk, heavy cream, or buttermilk
  • 4 cups high heat oil, such as canola oil
  • 10 small (5-inch) flour tortillas, street taco style

Method

1 Make the slaw and crema: Zest both limes, then slice in half. In a medium bowl, add lime zest and lime juice from 1 1/2 limes, honey, oil, salt, and black pepper. Whisk to combine. Add the cabbage, radishes, onion, cilantro, and jalapeño pepper. Toss to combine. Set aside.

To make the crema, stir together sour cream, juice from the remaining lime half, chili powder, garlic powder, cumin, and salt. If the crema seems top thick, you can always thin it with a little milk or additional lime juice. Set it aside.

Baja Fish Tacos - vinaigrette with cole slaw ingredients

2 Prepare to fry: Line a platter with paper towels to drain the fish after you fry it.

3 Prepare the fish and breading: Zest the lime and put the zest on a medium plate, add the flour, cornmeal, paprika, salt, garlic powder, and cayenne pepper. Set it aside.

On another medium plate, add the milk, and juice from half of the lime. The milk will thicken and look slightly curdled.

Cut the fillets on the bias (a diagonal cut) into strips about 1 inch thick, season them with the juice from the remaining lime half, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Easy Fish Tacos - slicing cod on a cutting board

5 Heat the oil: In a large Dutch oven, add the oil. Heat it to 360°F. It will take about 15 minutes for the oil to come to temp. If you don’t have a thermometer to test the temperature of the oil, sprinkle a little of the breading into the oil. If it sizzles and pops, it’s ready.

Crispy Fish Tacos with chili lime crema - heating oil to fry

6 Bread the fish: While you’re waiting for the oil to come up to temperature, dip the fish in the milk, then coat it in the flour, spice, and cornmeal mixture. Bread all of the fish before you begin to fry it.

Battered Fish Tacos - dunking fish in milk to bread Crispy Fish Tacos with chili lime crema - breading fish

7 Fry the fish: Once all the fish is breaded, gently place the fish one piece at a time in the hot oil. Depending upon the size of your Dutch oven, you can probably fry 4 to 6 pieces at a time.

Fry the fish in batches so you don’t bring down the temperature of the oil too much. Cook on each side for about 2 to 3 minutes, until the coating is a deep amber brown. Remove from the oil and drain on paper towels.

Breaded Fish Tacos - frying fish in oil Breaded Fish Tacos - breaded fried fish

8 Serve: Transfer the fish to a platter, serve alongside tortillas, slaw, and crema. Let everyone assemble their own tacos. Start with a little slaw; add a piece of fish, and drizzle with the crema.

Hello! All photos and content are copyright protected. Please do not use our photos without prior written permission. Thank you!

Products We Love

This post may contain links to Amazon or other partners; your purchases via these links can benefit Simply Recipes. Read more about our affiliate linking policy.

Summer Miller

Summer Miller is an Associate Editor for Simply Recipes based in Nebraska. Her work has appeared in Bon Appetit, Eating Well, Grit, SAVEUR, and Every Day with Rachael Ray, among others. Her first book is New Prairie Kitchen (Agate Publishing, 2015).

More from Summer

6 Comments / Reviews

No ImageCrispy Fish Tacos with Red Cabbage Slaw

Did you make it? Rate it!

  1. Vinnie

    The oils you recommend for frying are oils I would never use since they have been deemed to be “not so healthy” by several sources , There is no such thing as a “Canola”
    and that particular oil comes from a plant called “Rapeseed” I believe a better choice would be Extra Virgin Olive Oil or Grapeseed oil which has a higher flash point and works well at higher temperatures !

    Show Replies (1)
  2. Dixie

    Can you bake the fish after breading instead of frying it?

    Show Replies (1)
  3. Sally Mappin

    This recipe is perfect. I cannot think of any way to improve it. My husband made these just on Friday using fresh halibut. Definitely a keeper.

    xxxxxyyyyy

    Show Replies (1)
Best Fish Tacos with slaw and crema - fish tacos on grey slate with crema and limeCrispy Fish Tacos with Red Cabbage Slaw