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How to Make Fish Tacos

Make the familiar Baja fried fish taco, or try a spicy grilled version from the Yucatán.

August/September 2014 Issue
Photos: Scott Phillips
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My family moved to Mexico City when I was a teenager, and I fell in love with the city’s energy, the earthy smell of an afternoon downpour on the uneven streets, and the fruity, musky perfumes of the market. My first taco there, wrapped in a hot, soft, freshly made corn tortilla, tasted like the city felt: bursting with local flavor.

Years later, after a formal culinary education in France, I returned to Mexico and resumed my infatuation with tacos. I got to know regional takes on them, and eventually wrote a book about them (Just Tacos, Taunton Press 2011). Among my favorites were two very different types of fish tacos: crispy fried fish ones from the Baja Peninsula and a marinated grilled fish variety from the Yucatán.

Baja, which juts into the Pacific Ocean in northern Mexico, is a mecca for deepsea fishing and home to fertile valleys cultivated with acres of vegetables, like the fresh, crunchy cabbage and radishes that adorn its local fish tacos. Its cuisine has been influenced by migrant workers, including a large Chinese population and a smaller Japanese contingent, both of whom often batter and deep-fry meats and vegetables. That may be why the fish in these tacos is coated in a light-as-air batter and fried. Drizzled with a creamy, mildly smoky lime-and-chipotle sauce, this style of taco is comforting and complex, with less heat than its Yucatecan counterpart.

In southern Mexico, the Yucatán Peninsula sits between the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. Its residents enjoy abundant seafood from a massive reef system. Baby shark, or cazón, is popular for fish tacos, although meaty mahimahi and swordfish are good substitutes. The region is also lush with tropical fruit trees, such as mangos and bitter oranges (a Spanish import), and vibrant with local spices, such as earthy red annatto seeds, used in traditional Mayan spice pastes. Those ingredients come together in a colorful taco filled with flavorful grilled fish, avocado, and a sweet-hot mango-habanero salsa. Try either for a vibrant taste of Mexico.

More Taco Recipes: For more tacos of every kind, as well as homemade tortilla recipes and drinks, check out our Taco Party recipe slideshow.

Yucatecan Grilled Fish Tacos

Recipe: Yucatecan Grilled Fish Tacos

The fish may need to be turned more than once in order to cook through without burning the outside.

Using two forks makes short work of shredding the fish. If the fish has skin, pull the meat away from the skin as you go.

Baja Fried Fish Tacos

Recipe: Baja Fried Fish Tacos

Dredge the fish in flour first to help the batter stick to it.

Adjust the heat as necessary to maintain the oil temperature.


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