Fish tacos, anyone?


Unanimous “yes”es flooded my inbox from the crew. I am so glad I’m no longer dating a seafood-hater. Fish may thrive underwater, but I think they do smashingly well on a hand-ground corn tortilla against cool, creamy slaw and snappy herbs, and drenched with tangy lime juice. I overheard mention of “getting fish tacos” while on the boat leaving Governor’s Island two weekends ago, when the above ninety-degree heatwave was in full swing and the legendary Baja-inspired surfer food was the only thing that could wake anyone’s otherwise dormant appetite. It was like hearing the word of God. It almost hurt to not be able to drop everything and make fish tacos immediately over the course of the next week and a half. There was too much to do, and too many barbecues in between; but when time came to have a fish taco party, did we ever rise to the challenge.

Taco night was a team effort, really. The first step took place after meeting the founder of Hot Bread Kitchen at Brooklyn Flea. Inspired by the innovative social mission that the non-profit bakery is based on — it employs immigrant women from the community to make the breads of their various ethnic cuisines, like tortillas and lavash — I purchased a pack of fresh, hand-ground blue corn tortillas. Recently declared the “best in the city” by the New York Times, these were handmade in the traditional fashion, from fresh masa using a tortilla press. They’re kept chilled and sold in vacuum-packed bags of eight for $5, a bargain if you ask me, least of all for its rustic authenticity. I grabbed the blue corn tortillas, because I’d never had nor seen ones before (plus, I thought they’d make lovely contrast against the white fish). I couldn’t wait to warm them on a grill.

Hot Bread Kitchen
‘s blue corn tortillas

Founding Director Jessamyn selling her goods while enjoying another’s at Brooklyn Flea

Next, I’d recently experimented with a mango, cabbage, lime, scallion, cilantro and fresh mint coleslaw for a barbecue last weekend, and found it to be a hit. A crunchy, creamy cabbage slaw is the classic fish taco topping, after all, so why not re-purpose it here? When the designated fish taco night came around, Matt picked up some tilapia fillets. Karol brought the homemade guac and chips. And everybody else brought Coronas. All the ingredients were in: it was a well-coordinated mission.

the makings of a memorable meal

However, a glitch in the master plan came about when it began raining, just as soon as we had convened on a roof patio. This was not the beach bumming, surf-rocking day I had dreamed of. The charcoal was starting to get soaked, but our spirits were still high. Like most showers in the last week, this one didn’t last terribly long, and we grilled the fish fillets up amidst a slight drizzle that I have to wonder might have contributed to their juiciness when thoroughly cooked.

lightly seasoned fillets

a secure layer of foil on the grill keeps all the juices in

I didn’t do terribly much to these fillets, and I didn’t want to bread them and deep-fry. The simple lime, salt and pepper marinade could have used a little kick of hot pepper. But as they were, all you could taste was fresh, clean, tender fish. It’s commonly said that the freshest fish doesn’t taste “fishy,” so I’m not quite sure how to describe the mild flavor (or lack thereof?) of fresh grilled fish, especially one as benign as the tilapia. But there’s something there… a whiff of the sea, perhaps.

the herbivore’s dilemma: fresh cilantro, mint and scallions

The mango slaw in this recipe can always be made as a side course, with the herbs in the recipe tossed in. It keeps its refreshing taste and crisp bite unexpectedly long, and always tastes better after chilling for a while in the fridge, flavors marrying. Even though it hurts the Green Factor ratings of my recipes (and literally gives me a slight pang of guilt/regret) I still can’t resist putting mangoes in things. They’re far from locally grown, but so are lemons, limes and black pepper, and I can’t resist those, either. So I hope you’ll recognize by now that the Green Factor rating is there not to chart an upwards battle to be the most eco-perfect eater. It’s about being aware and engaged. Which is, sometimes, the best I can do.

and… the envy shot

Fish Tacos with Mango Slaw
(makes 8 tacos, about 4 servings)

1 1/2 lb white fish fillets
8 small corn tortillas
3 limes
1/2 small head cabbage, cored and finely shredded
1/2 large, juicy mango, julienned
1/2 small red onion, julienned
1/3 cup mayonnaise (or sour cream/crema or Greek-style yogurt)
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
for garnish
1 large scallion, julienned
1/2 bunch cilantro, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped

Sprinkle the fish with salt, pepper, the juice of one lime and the olive oil. Cover and chill while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

In a large bowl, combine the cabbage, red onion, mango, juice of 1 lime, mayonnaise and a pinch of salt. Add a little of the cilantro, too, if desired. Fold together until evenly distributed. Cover and chill (can be done a day ahead).

Spread foil on top of a grill rack and fold securely over the edges (this will prevent it from shifting when you flip the fish). Heat up the grill until nice and hot. Place the fish fillets on the foil with some space in between them. Wrap the tortillas tightly in foil and place on the side of the grill. After about 2 minutes, or depending on how thick your fillets are, flip the fish over once. Grill for approximately 2 minutes longer, or check by breaking the pieces apart a bit to see if the flesh is completely cooked through. Remove from grill and place on a serving dish. Break into large-ish chunks. Serve immediately with the warmed tortillas, mango cabbage slaw, herbs, and a cut-up wedges of the extra lime as a make-your-own buffet.

Cost Calculator
(for 4 servings)

1 1/2 lb tilapia (at $7.99/lb): $12.00
8 handmade corn tortillas: $5.00
1/2 head cabbage: $0.65
1/2 mango: $0.75
1/2 small red onion: $0.20
1 scallion: $0.15
1/2 bunch cilantro: $0.75
1 tablespoon fresh mint (from someone’s plant): $0.20
1/3 cup mayonnaise: $0.35
3 limes (at 6/$1): $0.50
2 tablespoons olive oil: $0.20

Total: $20.75

Health Factor

Four brownie points; This is fantastic for a dish that makes one drool the way it does. Light mayonnaise (or even better, light Greek-style yogurt) is used only minimally for that luscious, creamy sauce you want to have in your tacos, letting the flavors, especially the sweetness from the mango substitute for using it excess. Tilapia is a very lean fish, full of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids to counter its cholesterol. And with blue corn tortillas instead of white, you’ll benefit from a whole grain with more protein and less starch.

Green Factor

Five maple leaves: Let’s defer to the trusty Guide to Ocean Friendly Seafood: Tilapia scores well. As well as you can score according to this seafood guide’s ratings, for its abundance and low-pollution farming techniques. That tells some of the story, though the other part of the story — how far away it was caught — I can’t be sure about. It tasted pretty fresh, though. The mango and limes, discussed above, mar a potentially great green factor rating, since the rest of the veggies were local (i.e. on my windowsill) and the tortillas were made from organic ingredients.




19 Responses

  1. jo

    Oh yum. Love fish tacos. I’ve adapted a Bobby Flay recipe for our fish tacos. Marinated in canola oil, salt pepper, cayenne pepper, finely chopped jalepenos,and garlic. Grill it, or pan sear it, it’s all yummy with veggie toppings and lime wedges. We’ve also topped it Santa Fe style with black beans, and corn. It’s a wonderful meal in the heat of summer. Happy first day of summer by the way.

  2. Sarah

    I’ve been craving fish tacos as well–you’re right, it must be the weather. Glad the rain didn’t ruin your meal!

  3. Colloquial Cook

    Never heard of tilapia before, but god that looks good!!

  4. Kitt

    Envy shot indeed! That looks like just the thing for a summer feast, rain or no.

  5. Joanna

    Before I moved to California, I had never heard of putting fish in a taco and the idea weirded me out. But I quickly learned the error of my ways and now that I’m back on the east coast I miss them terribly! Your version looks amazing!!

    I love what you said about the green factor – being aware gets you most of the way there, I think. It sounds like you bought locally wherever possible, and only made exceptions for the ingredients that just never grow around NY… without those exceptions, you’d never have great fish tacos, and that would just be sad.

  6. Hannah

    Delish! I just made this for my dinner. I live in Japan, so I had to reinvent it slightly; firstly I had to make my own tacos (not as difficult as I thought it would be), then instead of coriander, I used shiso leaves shredded up with the green onions. Also, when I was grilling the fish i added lots of shichimi togarashi (7 flavour pepper) to give it a kick.
    By the way – I feel your pain about cooking in a heatwave, its the rainy season here right now, and its hard to get excited about cooking in 100% humidity, but NEOINY keeps me going!

  7. Christine

    It’s nothing like NY, but we’re having a bit of a heat wave here in SF. I’ve been trying to figure out what I’m craving to cool down, and this will totally hit the spot. Envy shot might be an understatement…I’m off in search of ingredients now!

  8. Jessamyn Waldman

    Mmmm. It makes me happy to see the tortillas being the inspiration for such delicious dinning.

    The interesting thing about the tortillas is that because they are a natural product, there is massive color variation in the corn. That particular batch of corn was producing almost purple tortillas– I was surprised to the photo. The newest batch is pure, sky blue– and that is without any additives!

    I know what is for dinner tomorrow. . . Thank you.

  9. michelle @ TNS

    yes, please.

    how are cilantro and mint ever a dilemma? i just don’t get the no-cilantro people.

    must get to brooklyn flea. i’m lusting after those tortillas.

  10. Saigon

    Haha! I just made fish tacos last night! I made a lime mayo slaw and grilled tilapia right on the grill after marinading for 1 hour with chopped onions, lime, cilantro, salt and pepper. Delish! I think mine are goopier and sloppier than yours (served with salsa verde):

  11. EB

    Oh that IS an enviable shot. We definitely love our fish tacos here in CA and those look like they could hold up to the best!

  12. Daisy

    Thanks for another hit! I made fish tacos last week and used your mango slaw recipe. Made another batch of slaw for a bbq on the 4th and everyone loved it.

  13. fishing fan hardy

    Of course, what a great site and informative posts, I will add backlink and bookmark your site

  14. Val Amescua

    haha,Green LED Fishing Lights will useful for your do.

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  19. […] as a marinade and the rest for dipping.Fresh tilapia grilled in foil is the key ingredient in these fish tacos with mango slaw.If you are new to startcooking, or are a regular visitor here, please consider subscribing for free. […]

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