Transport Yourself to California with Easy, Crispy Baja Fish Tacos
Sitting oceanside, cold beer in hand, enjoying a crispy fish taco — that’s what summer dreams are made of.The next best thing? Recreating that moment at home, and this California-inspired fish taco recipe lets you do just that.
The key to mastering homemade fish tacos is all about achieving the light, airy, and satisfyingly crisp exterior on the fish. Most restaurants do that by deep-frying, but we knew there had to be an easier, less messy way to do it at home. Here’s how to get that same crunchy coating and tasty taco without a lot of time or effort.
The Secret to Super-Crispy Fish, No Deep-Frying Required
Deep-frying fish creates a crispy crust that adds texture to the taco and keeps the fish tender and protected as it cooks. My mission was to recreate that same delicious bite, minus the deep-frying.
I started by coating the fish fillets (which I’d seasoned with salt and pepper) in a simple breading made with flour, spices, and panko breadcrumbs, which have a lighter, airier texture than other breadcrumbs. Then, I got my pan nice and hot, and waited until I saw deep, rippling shimmers in the oil (rather than a light glean) before adding the fish. As soon as the fillets were in the pan, I used a fish spatula to firmly press down on all parts so that they evenly adhered to the hot pan — key for that crunchy exterior. The result? Perfectly flaky fish with a deeply golden crust. Mission accomplished.
How to Serve Homemade Fish Tacos
I like to top my fish tacos with raw sliced cabbage, which adds another crunchy element to the meal. To save time, you can buy pre-cut red cabbage, and use leftovers to make a slaw for another meal, like this Red Cabbage and Dill Slaw. These tacos are also delicious with creamy slices of avocado, fresh cilantro, a drizzle of Sriracha mayo (recipe below) and/or a simple pico de gallo. I like to set out the toppings individually and allow everyone to dress up their tacos as they wish.
These tacos are best eaten immediately, so you’ll want to prepare all the ingredients and toppings, set the table, and open the wine or beer before cooking the fish. I suggest working in this order: make the Sriracha mayo, prepare the toppings, then warm the tortillas. You can warm the tortillas on a sheet pan in a 200ºF oven, in a dry skillet over medium heat, or wrapped in a clean kitchen towel and microwaved for 20 to 25 seconds. Then, wrap them in a clean towel or foil to keep them warm at the table while you cook the fish. As for the avocado, coat the cut surfaces with a little bit of lime juice to avoid browning while you wait for the fish to cook (I like to add a little pinch of salt, too, for extra seasoning).
- 1 cup
- 1/4 cup
Sriracha hot sauce
Juice of 1 medium lime (about 1 tablespoon), plus wedges for serving
(6-inch) corn tortillas
- 1 teaspoon
- 1 teaspoon
kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
- 1 teaspoon
freshly ground black pepper, plus more for seasoning
- 1/3 cup
- 1/4 cup
plus 1 tablespoon panko breadcrumbs
- 1 1/2 pounds
skinless white fish fillets, such as cod, halibut, snapper, flounder or tilapia
- 2 tablespoons
olive oil, plus more as needed
- 1 teaspoon
butter or ghee (optional)
- 2 cups
shredded red cabbage
- 1 cup
fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems, coarsely chopped or left whole
medium Hass avocado, sliced
Pico de gallo or salsa, for serving (optional)
Stir the mayonnaise, Sriracha, and lime juice together in a small serving bowl. Taste and season with salt if needed; set aside.
Heat a 12-inch cast-iron skillet or other heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat. Add 1 tortilla and heat until warmed through. Transfer to a clean kitchen towel or aluminum foil to stay warm, wrap it up, and repeat with the remaining tortillas; set aside.
Stir the flour, panko, chili powder, salt, and pepper together in a shallow bowl or pie plate. Season the fish with salt and pepper, then toss to coat evenly in the flour-breadcrumb mixture.
Heat the oil in the same pan used to heat the tortillas over medium-high heat until shimmering. Working in batches if needed, add the fish and immediately using a flat spatula to firmly press down on it so that it adheres to the pan. (Make sure to press the ends and not just the center.) Cook until the fish is opaque about halfway up the sides and the bottom is deep golden-brown, 3 to 5 minutes.
Using a sturdy spatula, flip the fish over (if it sticks to the pan, give it about 15 to 30 seconds longer and try again). Cook until the fish is cooked through and easily flakes when gently prodded with a fork, 3 to 6 minutes more. If the pan looks dry at any point or during the last minute of cooking, add the butter, ghee, or more oil, swirling it around the pan. Remove from the heat.
Use a fork to break the fish apart in rough 2-inch pieces, or as best you can depending on shape of the fish. Divide the fish between the warmed tortillas. Serve with the Sriracha mayonnaise, cabbage, cilantro, avocado, and salsa.
Make ahead: You can make the spicy mayo one day ahead and store covered in the fridge.
Heating tortillas: You can heat the tortillas wrapped in a clean kitchen towel in a microwave for about 20 to 25 seconds. You can also heat them in a 200°F oven until warmed through, wrap them in aluminum foil, and keep warm in the oven.
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