Fish tacos are a favorite quick and easy weeknight meal. Choose cod, tilapia, or halibut, quickly pan-sear in a skillet, and serve with a simply cabbage slaw. 20 minutes start to finish!
Photography Credit: Sally Vargas
Since moving to California nearly 10 years ago, I am fairly confident that I have eaten my weight in fish tacos several times over. There are just so many variations — I have to try them all, right?!
I’ve had tacos with halibut, snapper, and even salmon. I’ve enjoyed tacos with deep-fried fish and tacos with grilled fish. I’ve sampled tacos with tongue-tingling tingling mayo and tacos with tangy fruit salsa. I’ve had tacos at fancy San Francisco restaurants with white tablecloths and tacos from open air taquerias overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
But there really is only one kind of fish taco that I routinely make myself at home: these easy pan-seared fish tacos with citrusy mayo and a simple cabbage slaw. They’re ready in about 20 minutes and they hit the spot every time.
Best Fish for Fish Tacos
Cod, tilapia, or halibut are my go-to choices for fish tacos, but you could really use any white fish fillets. It doesn’t really matter if the fish is a firm variety or more flakey; you break up the cooked fish into the tacos anyway, so perfect presentation isn’t really important.
Make your life easier and pick up filets that have already been skinned. If you buy from a fish counter, you can always ask to have the skins removed for you at no extra charge.
If you end up with fillets with the skins still on, it’s no problem. Cook them as directed in the recipe skin-side on top first, then flip so they’re skin-side down. They may need an extra minute or two to cook through. The fish is done when it flakes easily away from the skin.
The Best Seasoning for the Fish
I lightly coat my fish with chili powder before searing. It adds a touch of spice to the fish and makes a nice contrast to the cooling cabbage slaw.
If you’re not a fan of chili powder, use plain paprika or any favorite spice mix. Even just salt and pepper is just fine!
What’s in the Taco Sauce?
Again, I keep it simply here. The sauce is just a simple mix of sour cream, mayo, lime juice and a splash of Sriracha.
I use this saw both to mix a quick coleslaw with red cabbage and also to drizzle over the top. (Or you can do like my husband does and smear the sauce on the tortilla so you’re sure to get some in every bite!)
Corn or Flour Tortillas?
I’ve had fish tacos with all manner of tortillas, even cauliflower! This is to say, your choice of tortilla is your own. Personally, I prefer the flavor of corn tortillas the best, especially if you take the time to lightly char them in a dry skillet or over the flames of a gas stove.
Swaps, Substitutions, and Suggestions
This is a recipe that is meant to be played with and adapted to whatever you have in the kitchen. It’s really hard to go wrong, even if you’re out of an ingredient and need to swap something else. Here are some suggestions:
Out of sour cream or mayo? Use whichever one you have! I’ve even used yogurt thinned with milk in a pinch.
Out of limes? Use lemons instead.
No red cabbage? Go for green cabbage or savoy cabbage, or skip the slaw entirely.
All the toppings are completely adaptable. I like avocados, spring onions, cilantro, and radishes, but you could use anything from chopped arugula to thinly sliced apples.
If you’re not in the mood for fish, you could make this with shrimp instead.
You can also switch up the cooking method, if you like.
To grill the fish, buy fillets with the skin left on. Follow the method in this recipe for Grilled Fish Tacos.
To deep fry your fish, follow the method in this recipe for Crispy Fish Tacos.
Love Tacos? Try These Recipes
Updated September 1, 2020 : This recipe for fish tacos is a revision of an earlier recipe that we had on the site. This recipe has been redeveloped and rewritten. Enjoy!
Easy Fish Tacos Recipe
TRY THIS! Instead of drizzling the taco sauce over top, my husband likes to smear it on the tortilla before assembling the tacos. He says that way he gets more sauce in each bite. Give it a try and see what you think!
For the fish:
1 pound cod, tilapia, halibut, or other white fish filets
2-3 teaspoons chili powder, enough to coat the fish
1 teaspoon salt
For the fish taco sauce:
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup mayonnaise
3-4 tablespoons lime juice (from 2 limes)
1 teaspoon hot sauce, optional
1/2 small head red cabbage, shredded (about 4 cups)
12 taco-sized corn or flour tortillas
1 avocado, sliced
4 radishes, thinly sliced
4 spring onions, thinly sliced
1/3 cup roughly chopped cilantro
1 Make the fish taco sauce: In a small bowl, combine the sour cream, mayonnaise, lime juice, and hot sauce (if using) for the taco sauce. Stir until combined.
2 Make the red cabbage slaw: In a medium bowl, combine the shredded cabbage with 3 tablespoons of the taco sauce. Stir to coat and add more taco sauce if you like. (The cabbage shouldn’t be dripping with sauce; aim for a very thin coating.)
3 Warm the tortillas: In a dry skillet over medium-high heat, warm the tortillas one at a time for about 30 seconds on both sides. Alternatively, wrap 1 to 3 tortillas in a damp paper towel and microwave for 30 seconds, until warm.
Keep warmed tortillas wrapped in a clean dish towel while you make the fish.
4 Season the fish: Sprinkle the fish on both sides with chili powder and salt. Gently rub in the seasonings with your fingers to make sure the fish is entirely coated.
5 Cook the fish: Warm a large cast iron or nonstick skillet on the stovetop. When hot, add one tablespoon of olive oil and tilt the pan to entirely coat the bottom.
Add the fish to the pan and cook for 2 minutes. Flip the fish and cook another 2 minutes. Flip and cook 1-2 minutes longer if needed; the fish is done when it is opaque all the way through and breaks apart easily. If any smaller, thinner pieces of the fish start to break off as you flip, just scoop them out and transfer them to a serving platter.
6 Serve the tacos: Transfer the cooked fillets to a platter and use a fork or a knife to gently break the fish into large chunks. Assemble the tacos with a few pieces of fish, some cabbage slaw, toppings of your choice, and a drizzle of taco sauce.
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Emma Christensen is the Editor-in-Chief of Simply Recipes, and has over 10 years of experience creating food and content for web and print. She was formerly the recipe editor for The Kitchn and is the author of three books on home-brewing, True Brews, Brew Better Beer, and Modern Cider. Emma is a graduate of The Cambridge School for Culinary Arts and Bryn Mawr College. She lives in San Jose, California.
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