Essentials: Fish Tacos Recipe

Photograph from blair christensen on Flickr

Since I was raised on wonderfully lardy, cheesy Tex-Mex, it took me a while to come around to the ungloppy goodness that is a fish taco. In the early 1990s fish tacos became something of a craze in Houston, if I remember correctly, but I was not on board. In my wisdom and maturity today, however, I embrace all foods Mexican or Mexican-ish, including tortillas (corn or flour) full of fish (fried or grilled) and slaw (or salsa, or avocados, or whatever feels right).

This is the sort of thing a competent and intuitive cook can put together with no recipe. I have made brilliant fish tacos off the top of my head, but I have also made some less satisfying ones, with poorly cooked fish or unbalanced flavors. When I can get it right every time, I will know that I have arrived as a home cook. Until then, I rely on recipes to reorient me when I get off track. This is my current favorite. It's fast and fairly healthy but always feels somehow celebratory to me.

Instead of tilapia, I use the cheapest wild-caught flaky white fish available. I never cut the fish into strips before cooking. Plain yogurt (which I always have at home) is a perfectly acceptable substitute here for sour cream (which I never do).

Recipe Facts



Total: 0 mins
Serves: 4 servings

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  • 1/4 cup reduced-fat sour cream or plain yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • Coarse salt and fresh ground pepper
  • 1/4 small red cabbage, thinly shredded (about 2 1/2 cups)
  • 4 scallions, thinly sliced (about 1/2 cu)
  • 1 jalapeno chile, halved lengthwise, one half minced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 pound tilapia fillets (or other firm white fish), cut into 16 equal strips
  • 8 flour tortillas (6-inch)
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves


  1. In a large bowl, combine the sour cream and lime juice; season with salt and pepper. Transfer half the mixture to another container; set aside for serving. Toss the cabbage, scallions, and minced jalapeno with the remaining sour-cream mixture. Season again with salt and pepper.

  2. In a large nonstick skillet, heat the oil and remaining jalapeno half over medium-high heat; swirl to coat the bottom of the pan. Season the fish on both sides with salt and pepper. In two batches (starting with any larger pieces), cook the fish until golden brown on all sides, 5 to 6 minutes. Discard the jalapeno.

  3. Meanwhile, warm the tortillas. I do this on top of the stove in another skillet as I cook the fish.

  4. Fill the tortillas with slaw, fish, and fresh cilantro leaves. Drizzle with the reserved sour-cream mixture and serve immediately.