Baja-Style Fish Tacos

Having never been to Baja California, I can’t say that this is exactly how the locals cook them on the beach. Actually, I’m pretty sure it’s not, but this recipe still makes the best-tasting fish tacos I’ve ever had.

The secret is in the sauce.

Here’s everything you need:

Tacos

  • 2 pounds of fish (Cod, Haddock, Grouper, Tilapia, Mahi Mahi, etc.)
  • 1 small head Red Cabbage
  • 2-3 Roma Tomatoes
  • 8 Flour tortillas
  • 2-3 limes
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • Chopped Cilantro

Sauce

  • ½ cup Crème Fraîche
  • ¼ cup Mayonnaise
  • 2 tsp Adobo Sauce
  • Juice from half a small lime
  • 1 pinch salt

You’re supposed to use cod or haddock for Baja-style fish tacos, but I can get grouper and mahi mahi fresher and cheaper on the east coast. I start with a very fresh fillet of grouper:

Next, I season the fish with kosher salt, freshly ground pepper and a little ancho chili powder. No measurements are necessary; I just sprinkle it on. Then I cut the fillet into 3/4 inch strips in the direction of the grain. If you go against the grain, it’ll flake apart when cooking. Finally, I lightly coat the fish strips with all-purpose flour to give them a little crust:

I pan-fry the fish in a tablespoon of olive oil and butter over medium-high heat. I do it batches so as not to crowd the pan. This makes it easier to flip the fish strips without breaking them. Between batches, I add a little more butter to the pan:

I cook the fish until it’s barely done in and then let the pieces rest in a sealed foil pouch. That way they firm up in their own steam and marinade in their own juices. I also squeeze some fresh lime juice into the foil pouch:

While the fish is cooking, I prepare the tomatoes and cabbage. I pick really ripe tomatoes that are almost mushy to the touch and dice them into medium-size pieces. To julienne the cabbage, I remove the outer leaves, cut the head it in half, remove the core, and then slice it into thin strips:

To make the sauce, I mix the crème fraîche, mayonnaise, adobo, lime juice and salt. If you don’t have crème fraîche, you can substitute sour cream mixed with a little lemon juice or buttermilk (more here). If you don’t have adobo sauce on hand, you could probably mimic the taste by adding a little hot sauce and chili powder to the mixture, but it won’t have that hot, smoky flavor that adobo gets from chipotle peppers. Just buy a small can of peppers in adobo sauce. You can freeze the leftovers and use them the next time you make a pot of chili:

When everything is ready, you assemble your tacos on warm tortillas and garnish with freshly-squeezed lime juice and chopped cilantro:

These are so good. The soft fish goes great with the crunchy cabbage, and the sauce imparts a mild and creamy flavor the follows up with a slightly sour and spicy aftertaste.

Other popular garnishes include sliced avocado, grilled onions, roasted peppers, and ground cumin.

UPDATE: We recently had a taste test to compare arctic char vs. diced shrimp as the main ingredient in our fish tacos. Arctic Char is like a cross between grouper and salmon; it’s light orange and a little meaty.

The arctic char won the taste test, but only barely. Next time we have people over for dinner, I’m going to do Char, Grouper and Shrimp and let people try all of them on small tortillas. I’m a big fan of variety.

Baja-Style Fish Tacos
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