Fish tacos are not a new thing.
I’ve seen them on menus for probably 15 years or so – and that’s just when I first became aware there was such a thing.
For 14 of those years, my response was always a wrinkled nose and a muttered “yuck.”
Tacos are among my all-time favorite foods. Beef tacos. With hamburger. BEEF. Not fish.
And, while I like fish – love it, even – I could never imagine combining fish with tacos. No way.
Then my husband and I went to a restaurant for some sort of special occasion. I think it was for the anniversary of the day we first kissed – the only anniversary (besides our wedding anniversary) that he agrees is worthy of celebrating. We’ve been going out for a fancy dinner in honor of that day for years now. So last fall, we celebrated our eighth anniversary (EIGHT. Holy freaking moly.) of togetherness and went to a restaurant on the lake. [EDITED TO ADD: My husband maintains that this dinner was for our first wedding anniversary. He has a good memory, I do not. So wedding anniversary it is!]
I remember three things about that dinner:
1. We got spectacular views of the lake, as this restaurant literally juts out OVER the water, and I spent many minutes imagining what would happen should an earthquake occur just then and the restaurant crack in half and dump us all in the icy depths of Lake Erie.
2. There was something wonky in the kitchen so that we waited about 45 minutes for our appetizer and then our salad came WHILE we were eating our appetizer and then our main course came WHILE we were trying to get through the salad, which meant that I was too stuffed to enjoy my filet. FAIL.
3. The appetizers. They were fish tacos. Teeny tiny crispy fish tacos with itty bitty toppings (including tomatoes, which I’d asked them to omit from our order. DOUBLE FAIL.) and some sort of amazing delicious avocado-y sauce. I could have eaten ten thousand of those little tacos. My mouth is filling up with saliva just thinking about it, and believe me, I hate the word “saliva” almost as much as I hate the IDEA of saliva, so I must really have loved those tacos.
Anyway. After that dinner, there was no going back. I was a fish taco convert. Whenever I saw them on a menu (which was pretty infrequently, although I did have them TWICE on my Super Fun Two-Week Vacation – once in Palm Springs, and once in Montana, which was WEIRD. Not the tacos – they weren’t super, but they were normal – but the fact that a restaurant in Montana would have them. It’s not the most Mexican place, Montana.), I had to try them.
We made them on Memorial Day, per Kate’s instructions. (Wait – she didn’t instruct readers to make them on Memorial Day. We just made them according to her instructions.) And while they weren’t as good as my memory of those appetizer tacos (and really, it’s hard to live up to a memory), they were fantastic. [EDITED TO ADD: Someone who shall remain nameless mentioned that he read so far as to see my insult Kate's recipe. Which was totally not my intention! Hence the phrase "they were fantastic." The tortillas were probably the reason that these tacos weren't QUITE as amazingly wonderful as the restaurant tacos. Also, the cabbage. But neither of those things are Kate's fault! Please don't hate me Kate! I love this recipe!]
These tacos had a wonderful interplay of textures – the flaky tilapia and the creamy guacamole and the crisp cabbage and the crunchy tortilla – and flavors – the mild fish against the bite of the jalapenos and the sweet tang of the dressing. Plus, it just tasted fresh and summery and delicious.
My husband commented that they were good enough to be eaten in a restaurant, which is massively high praise. I’ve never heard him say anything like that about the food we make – even the meals we could eat every day for a month.
Without further ado…
Pan-Fried Tilapia Tacos with Kate’s Cilantro-Lime Vinaigrette
First, the dressing.
Assemble your ingredients. Vegetable oil (although Kate suggests canola oil), limes, white wine vinegar, garlic, cilantro, sugar, and salt.
Step 1: Add ¼ cup lime juice, ¼ cup white wine vinegar, 4-5 cloves of garlic, ½ teaspoon salt, and 2 teaspoons sugar to a blender and blend until all the ingredients are combined. If you feel like throwing in 10 cloves of garlic instead of 4-5, go for it. Whomever you are eating with will also have dragon breath, so why not?
Step 2: Add one cup of canola or vegetable oil to the blender while it’s running. Do not listen to your husband if he suggests using half vegetable oil and half olive oil. Even if he comes up with a convincing argument about how olive oil is better for you and enhances things’ flavors and yada yada yada. Because then you will taste ONLY olive oil in the dressing, despite your husband’s protests that he can only taste cilantro. Perhaps you are imagining it or perhaps you have been completely scarred by that one time you accidentally used olive oil while making sugar cookies and they tasted like crumbly, greasy, olive oil cookies instead.
Step 3: Add ½ cup of roughly chopped cilantro leaves (no stems, please!) to the blender, blending until you have a thick, creamy, green mixture. I forgot to take a photo of this step, so you get a picture of cilantro instead.
Step 4: Add Cilantro-Lime Vinaigrette to a bottle. Like so. Make sure you taste a few drops/spoonsful, “conversing” all the while about whether it has a potent olive oil flavor.
Now for the tacos themselves…
Assemble your ingredients. You’ll need mild white fish, guacamole, olive oil, tortillas, shredded lettuce or cabbage, and crumbly white cheese like cotilla or feta. If you like tomatoes, you’ll need those too. I won’t judge.
Step 1: Put some fishies on a plate. We used tilapia because it is cheap. Also, it has good flaky texture and the magical ability to take on the flavor of whatever you put on it. Yum. But you can use any kind of mild white fish your heart desires – like cod, red snapper, or mahi mahi. Or you can go hog wild and use shrimp or scallops. Salt and pepper your fishies on both sides. Slather them with a healthy coating of the Cilantro-Lime Vinaigrette.
Step 2: Cook your fishies. You can grill them if you are lucky enough to have a grill. Or you can pan fry them, which is what we did. Cook them for 8-12 minutes or until you can flake them with a fork. I apologize for not having a photo of our cooked fish, because it was beautifully browned. But we were too anxious to get to the eating.
Step 3: Whilst the fishies are cooking, line a cookie sheet with foil. Brush your tortillas (we used corn ones) lightly with olive oil. Argue with your spouse over exactly how much olive oil is too much.
Step 4: Put the tortillas on the cookie sheet and shove them into an oven at some heat that you don’t remember. Possibly 425, because that is the temperature at which you bake pretty much everything.
Step 5: Remove the tortillas after a couple of minutes and realize you overcooked them and there is no way they will fold into a taco shape. Repeat step 3.
Step 6: Experiment with putting the tortillas between the slats of a cooling rack, trying to force them into taco shape. Watch them break under their own weight in the oven.
Step 7: Determine that no matter how you cook the tortillas, they are not going to adhere to taco shape. Resign yourself to eating them like little pizzas.
Step 8: Slather the flat tortillas with homemade guacamole while your husband flakes the fish into small and manageable pieces. (By the way, I made this guac for a July Fourth barbecue this weekend and it was gobbled up in short order. Guacamole FTW!) Make sure you taste the guacamole on a chip or seven to ensure that it’s good enough for the tacos.
Step 9: Add the fish to the guac-clad tortillas. Top with shredded cabbage, cotilla cheese (although feta cheese will do in a pinch), hot sauce, and a generous drizzling of Cilantro-Lime Vinaigrette.
Step 10: Annoy your husband by insisting on photographing the tacos before you eat them. Ignore his protests that Kate has already photographed the whole process and that your readers can simply go to her blog to see it.
Step 11: Indulge in food ecstasy.