Oven-Fried Fish Tacos for Cinco de Mayo

When we had kids at home and both worked full-time, tacos were on the regular weeknight dinner rotation, often on Tuesday because — Taco Tuesday. There were no special steak or roast pork or shrimp versions on tiny charred handmade corn tortillas topped with an amazing variety of fresh, crunchy vegetables and choice of piquant sauces. Instead our kitchen turned out pans and pans of ground meat specials served up on oven-heated stacks of flour tortillas and topped them off with shredded lettuce, fresh tomatoes, and grated cheese — whatever kind was on sale. We always had jarred salsa, too, of course, probably the kind made in New York City even though we lived in San Antonio for 4 years. Like them or not; that was dinner. Mostly they liked them. If there was meat leftover (and this was a big if), there might be a taco salad the next night. You could guess: lettuce, ground beef taco meat, tomatoes, cheese, crushed tortilla chips, and bottled creamy Caesar dressing were the ingredients. Olives if we were lucky. As time changed and incomes increased, there was the occasional fajita meal featuring both grilled chicken and steak along with a big bowl of sautéed or grilled onions and peppers and a dish of Abuelita’s Rice. While fajitas still fall into our summer cooking routine these days —or even in the winter if I do the sheet pan version — the tomato-y, chili powder laden ground beef tacos have gone the way of boxed macaroni and cheese and canned tomato soup with grilled cheese sandwiches for Saturday lunch. Only a tiny sigh here.

Jump to Recipe

When Cinco de Mayo comes a long each year, I occasionally think back to all those Taco Tuesdays in 25 different houses on two continents, but am mostly happy to have moved onward and upward in our taco-making.

I make these a day or after roasting a couple of pork tenderloins. That’s what tacos look like now at our house.

And maybe you’re like me and find “Cinco” a great time or excuse to work on Tex-Mex cooking skills and/or make someone like my husband Dave incredibly happy with something like fish tacos for dinner — which I’m pretty sure originated in Baja California and not in Texas.

Modern fish tacos emerged in the 1950s in the Baja city of either Ensenada or San Felipe; it’s an ongoing debate, with both cities claiming to be the “home” of the fish taco. From their tiny stands, street vendors in these cities produced simple, inexpensive fare fast. The fish taco was hot, fresh and delicious — the perfect combination for hungry workers and market goers. 

It’s no surprise then that San Diego surfers heading across the border to chase the best “swell” (a word I heard countless times before I realized they were talking about waves) were some of the first people from the States to appreciate fish tacos. 

Among them was Ralph Rubio, a San Diegan so smitten after his first taste, that in 1983 he opened a restaurant in Mission Beach, Calif., that specialized in fish tacos. Defying skeptics who thought Americans would find fish in a tortilla unappetizing, Rubio has now sold more than 50 million fish tacos at his 160 Rubio’s Fresh Mexican Grill restaurants in California, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada and Utah.

NPR: “In Love with the Fish Taco…”

It’s also a great time to break our your best margarita recipe. I let Dave make the margaritas, which are another one of my Ina favorites. Not too sweet, not too sour…kind of Goldilocks right.

POST/RECIPE

A few weeks ago, while still blogging my yearly spring FISH FRIDAYS, I posted a fish salad made from oven-fried tilapia. We loved it, but I did figure out those fillets would make scrumptious fish tacos, which I typically make from pan-sautéed fish rather than breaded. I didn’t do it then, but I made that fish again the other day just to make fish tacos this time and got to test the basic recipe one more time to boot.

Whether you make a big batch of fish for both a salad and tacos or plan on making only the tacos, do consider cooking extra fish. As it cooks in only 10 minutes, you might as well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb. I know we don’t always think about making more fish than we need, but you can then later have salad, fish and chips, a “fried fish” sandwich, or maybe even MORE TACOS!! for lunch one day. Whatever you do, be careful to season each element in the prep (the flour, the eggs, the bread crumbs, and the fish) before baking to ensure the most tasty (muy delicioso) tacos. I’ll look forward to hearing all about it when you try this:

Oven-Fried Fish Tacos

Fish tacos are so easy to make at home, there’s no reason to wait to order them for take-out. While it’s simplest to sauté spiced fish in a flash in a skillet, here I dredge them in seasoned flour, egg, and bread crumbs to bake in the oven. The resulting tacos taste like fried fish without all the messy and caloric frying. By changing the spices and/or the salsa, along with other toppings, this favorite meal can go in many different ways. The blog includes some ideas for different salsas if you’d like to ramp up your Taco Tuesday or Cinco de Mayo. No tacos for you? Serve the fish over your favorite greens for a full meal salad or tucked into a fresh bun for a “fried” fish sandwich.
serves 4

Ingredients

FRESH SALSA (PICO DE GALLO)

  • 3 plum tomatoes cut into small dice
  • 2 minced scallions — green and white parts
  • ½ small jalapeño, seed and deveined, minced
  • 1/3 cup minced fresh cilantro
  • Pinch each salt and pepper
  • ½ teaspoon lemon zest
  • ¼ cup diced red bell pepper, optional

FISH

  • 1 cup flour whisked together with ¼ teaspoon each: salt, pepper, and chili powder
  • 2 eggs beaten with 1 tablespoon water and whisked together with ¼ teaspoon each: salt, pepper, and chili powder
  • 1 ¼ cups fresh bread crumbs whisked together with ¼ teaspoon each: salt, pepper, and chili powder
  • 4 (4-5 ounce) tilapia fillets —or other white fish such as catfish, cod, halibut, etc., rinsed and patted dry with paper towels
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon fresh ground pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon EACH: ground cayenne and ground cumin

TOPPINGS

  • ½ cup grated sharp Cheddar cheese or crumbed Cotija cheese
  • 2 cups finely shredded cabbage
  • 2 ripe avocadoes, peeled, pitted and diced
  • Crema — see notes for recipe
  • 2 limes, cut into wedges
  • Tabasco or your favorite hot sauce (pass at table)

8 CORN TORTILLAS—Warmed on griddle, in oven, or over stove burner flame

    Instructions

    • PREHEAT OVEN to 400 degrees and set rack at center.
    • MAKE THE SALSA and set aside: Stir together the salsa ingredients in a medium bowl. Taste and adjust seasonings. Set aside while you cook the fish.
    • PREP THE FISH: Put the flour, egg, and bread crumb mixtures into 3 separate shallow bowls. Mix the ½ teaspoon kosher salt, ¼ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper, 1/8 teaspoon each ground cayenne and ground cumin in a small cup and sprinkle both sides of the tilapia fillets with the mixture, patting the spices into the flesh of the fish. Dip each fillet on both sides into first the flour mixture, then the egg mixture, and then the bread crumb mixture, shaking them off a bit after each and patting the crumbs into both sides of the fish. Place fillets at least 2 inches apart on a rimmed sheet pan lined with foil and sprayed with cooking spray. If one end of a fillet is a lot thinner at the end than it is in the middle, tuck that under to avoid over cooking.
    • BAKE THE FISH Bake for 10 minutes (no need to turn over) or until fish is firm, opaque, still juicy, and flakes when nudged with a fork. (approx. 140 degrees F on an instant read thermometer. The temperature will rise as the fish rests.) Cut the fillets into 6-8 pieces each.
    • MAKE THE TACOS: Place a few pieces of cooked fish onto the center of a warmed tortilla. Add 2 tablespoons shredded cabbage, a piece or two of avocado, a sprinkle of grated cheese, a small spoonful of salsa, and a drizzle of crema – or to taste. Repeat for remaining tortillas. Serve with lime wedges. Pass hot sauce at the table. Serve hot.
    • LEFTOVERS: Store leftovers well-wrapped in the fridge for 3 days.

    Notes

    Crema – Whisk a ¼ cup of sour cream with ¼ cup mayonnaise, a tablespoon milk, the juice of half a lime, a pinch each salt and pepper, and a shake or two of Tabasco until smooth. If not thin enough to drizzle over tacos, add a little more milk. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding more lime or Tabasco as desired.
    Copyright Alyce Morgan, 2021. All rights reserved.

    DRINKS: Fish tacos deserve a Mexican beer. If you prefer wine, go with a spritzy white; read up here.

    TIPS FOR REDUCING A LITTLE FOOD WASTE FOR THIS RECIPE: Grate the limes and use the zest soon or freeze it for later. Wrap the lemon you zested for the salsa and save it for juice or juice it right away and store the juice in the fridge or freezer. Make the breadcrumbs from stale bread or any you’re about to throw out. Don’t put bread in the garbage! (Make croutons, French Toast, save for stuffing, make Bread Pudding… … …) Rinse and save egg shells for the garden or to start seeds in.

    TORTILLA TIP: You can get better char (color) and taste on tortillas cooked right on the stove burner. Stay right there with it and check every second or two with tongs to see if it’s time to turn it over or get it off.

    CHANGE IT UP: Use other white fish like catfish, halibut, pollack, cod, etc. Add additional/different veg like thinly sliced radishes; pickled onions or jalapeños or green beans; slaw in place of plain shredded cabbage, and so on. The crema is basic, but you can leave it out, make it more spicy, or simply add a dollop of plain sour cream. If you skip the salsa indicated in the recipe, you can try something new/different:

    SALSAS:

    “Salsa” just means SAUCE in Spanish.Not all salsas are created equal or the same. If you don’t want to make salsa (I wish you would; it only takes a few minutes), use your favorite jarred variety. I like Mateo’s Medium Gourmet Salsa for a basic red purchased salsa; it’s also great on eggs or for quick quesadilla dipping.

    Want to create your own brand new salsa? Read up: “The Art of Making Delicious Salsa”/EPICURIOUS

    Or make one of mine:

    FRESH TOMATO SALSA (not spicy)

    FRESH CORN AND BACON SALSA (mild heat)

    BLUEBERRY-PEACH SALSA (mild heat)

    GRILLED PEACH AND CORN SALSA (mild Heat)

    “GREEK STYLE” SALSA:   ( spicy or not)

    Roasted peppers make a delicious salsa. No grill? You can do this under the broiler, on a stovetop grill, or right on the burner.

    SIDES:

    Try my Cucumber-Radish Salad with Fennel and Avocado
    Try my AVOCADO SALAD

    IF YOU LIKED THIS, YOU MIGHT LIKE MY SIRLOIN STEAK TACOS WITH RED PEPPER SAUCE AND BLUE CHEESE:

    POST/RECIPE

    or my FRIDAY FISH: Air Fryer Shrimp Louis Tacos:

    POST/RECIPE


    MORE INFO THAN YOU WANTED:

    more recipes to add to your “gonna make this” list plus stuff I found interesting this week

    Helen and Alyce’s Fish Tacos in 5 Minutes/MORETIMEATHETABLE

    Daves’ Easy Huevos Rancheros with our Cheep A** Bloody Marys/MORETIMEATTHETABLE

    Salmon Tacos with Basil Pesto-Yogurt Sauce/MORETIMEATTHETABLE

    Instant Pot Bacon Pintos/MORETIMEATHTETABLE

    Watch Rick Bayless Make Baja Fish Tacos on You Tube

    Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch — Info on Tilapia

    19 Light and Easy Tilapia Recipes/THESPRUCEEATS

    “Nigella Lawson Wants to Talk to People”/HELEN ROSNER…NEWYORKER



    ORCHIDS BLOOMING AT OUR HOUSE.

    LIFE GOES ON:

    Good friends from our wine group invited us out to a restaurant for an anniversary dinner. No kidding; I put on an outfit, real shoes (boots), a little makeup, jewelry, and even my dress coat. Dave got out a collared shirt and dress pants. What a great night! Between having precious friends for Easter, traveling to Florida two weeks ago for a funeral, this fun dinner I didn’t have to cook, and good friends in the kitchen for brunch yesterday, things do seem to be changing — at least in the U.S. Thank God for the vaccines.

    Last night on the news, I heard completely vaccinated Americans would be welcome in Europe this summer. There wasn’t a definite date, but it felt sketchy because while I can hardly bear to watch the images from India right now, I do read about it. We are one world no matter what.

    Just received Nigella Lawson’s stunning COOK, EAT, REPEAT. Will let you know what I think when I’ve had a little more time to peruse it. Just blown away by the Twitter feed over this book, but knowing me, I might start with the Chicken in a Pot with Lemon and Orzo.

    I’ll see you in my kitchen again soon (YAY!!), though if I’m briefly out of touch, know that I’ve gone to spend a few days with our kids and grandkids in the mountains. It’ll be the first time our own little family is together since December of 2019. I can’t wait. When I’m back, I’ll be celebrating 12 years of blogging at More Time at the Table. I keep thinking I’ll go back and re-do some of those old posts, but how would I know where I started if I do that? I couldn’t even figure out how to take a photo and get it into the computer for the first posting or two. Before I began, I don’t think I had ever seen a food blog before, though I quickly found davidlebovitz.com and a couple other wonderful sites — phew and lots of grateful feelings still. Thanks for being along on the journey. It’s the longest job I’ve ever had and I never think of it as a job. That’s the clue.

    Life goes on if you’re cooking tacos,

    Alyce

    P.S. Starting today and then on-going you’ll be seeing some small tips for reducing food waste within my recipes. Keep an eye out!

    Granddaughter, Piper (left) and daughter, Emily (right) in December of 2019 playing cards in our living room. Those sneaky feet belong to our handsome grandson, Rhyan.

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