Baja Fish Tacos
Many years ago, Michael and I rented a convertible and drove up the California coast. One of our favorite stops was La Jolla, where we strolled around town and stumbled upon a Mexican restaurant with great food and breathtaking views of the Pacific ocean. I don’t know if it was the scenery, the margaritas, or the fact that we were on vacation, but the fish tacos were out of this world. I’m happy to say that this version — made of crispy beer-battered cod tucked into corn tortillas with a cabbage slaw and smoky chipotle sauce — comes pretty darn close.
What I love about this recipe is that it’s easy enough for a weeknight dinner but also festive enough for company. You can prepare most of it ahead of time, and then just lay out all of the components for everyone to help themselves. Most of the ingredients are pretty straightforward, except maybe the canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. If you’ve never had them, get ready to add a new staple to your pantry! They’re small peppers (usually red jalapeños) that have been dried and smoked, and they come in a spicy tomato sauce that has a smoky flavor. You can find them in the Latin section of most supermarkets.
Begin by making the slaw, which is a combination of shredded red cabbage (which you can buy pre-shredded in a bag), chopped red onions, cilantro, apple cider vinegar, oil and salt.
Next, make the chipotle sauce by combining the chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, mayonnaise, lime juice and garlic in a mini food processor or blender. I use three peppers for a spicy sauce; of course, use less if you prefer a milder sauce.
When you’re ready to fry the fish, prepare the beer batter by whisking together the flour, salt and pepper in a small bowl.
Slowly pour in the beer, whisking all the while.
Cut the cod into 1-inch wide x 4-inch long strips.
Then dip the fish into the beer batter.
Pan-fry the fish until golden brown, about 2 minutes per side. As you can see, there’s no need to deep fry the fish. I use about a 1/2-inch of oil, which is plenty as long as you flip the fish midway through.
If you’re wondering if you can skip the beer batter and frying altogether and just grill or pan-sear the fish, the answer is yes but the tacos won’t be nearly as good. Fried fish has a wonderfully crispy texture and depth of flavor that really can’t be achieved any other way. It’s worth it! Plus, even fried, the tacos are still amazingly light and fresh.
When the fish is golden brown, drain on a plate lined with paper towels.
Warm up the corn tortillas (I do it in the microwave), then assemble the tacos with a generous amount of chipotle sauce, a heap of cabbage slaw and a piece of crispy cod. Serve with lime wedges, lots of napkins and enjoy!
The slaw and chipotle sauce for this recipe are adapted from Cook’s Illustrated.
Baja Fish Tacos
For the Cabbage Slaw
- 5 cups (or one 10-ounce bag) shredded red cabbage
- 3 tablespoons minced red onion
- 1/2 cup fresh chopped cilantro
- 3 tablespoons cider vinegar
- 1-1/2 teaspoons vegetable oil
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
For the Chipotle Sauce
- 3/4 cup mayonnaise, best quality such as Hellmann's
- 2 tablespoons lime juice, from one lime
- 2-3 chipotle chiles in adobo sauce (canned), roughly chopped, plus 1-2 teaspoons sauce (see note below)
- 1 large garlic clove, roughly chopped
For the Beer Batter
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 cup beer
For the Fish and Tortillas
- 1-1/2 pounds skinless cod, cut into 1-inch wide x 4-inch long strips
- Vegetable oil, for frying
- 12 (6-inch) soft corn tortillas, warmed
- Lime wedges, for serving
- Toss the cabbage, red onion, cilantro, vinegar, oil and salt together in a medium bowl and set aside.
- Combine the mayonnaise, lime juice, chipotle chiles with sauce and garlic in a blender or mini food processor and blend until smooth. Set aside.
- Mix the flour, salt and pepper together in a medium bowl. Gradually add the beer, whisking until the batter is smooth with no lumps. Set aside.
- In a medium skillet, over medium heat, add enough oil to reach a depth of 1/2-inch. Heat the oil until a deep-fry thermometer registers 350 degrees F, or when the end of a wooden spoon sizzles when dipped into the oil.
- Working in batches so as not to crowd the pan, dip the fish strips in the beer batter and coat on both sides. Let the excess batter drip off, then fry the fish in the hot oil until golden brown and cooked through, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels to drain.
- Smear each tortilla with a generous amount of the chipotle sauce, then top with the cabbage slaw. Lay one piece of fish inside each tortilla and serve with lime wedges.
- Note: 3 chipotle peppers and 2 teaspoons sauce will give you a spicy sauce. Use less for a milder sauce. You can freeze any leftover chipotle peppers from the can.