August/September 2013

California Fish Tacos

You can’t just wrap a fish in a tortilla and call it a California-style taco. You need light, crisp fried fish, the perfect toppings, and high-contrast flavors and textures.

Why This Recipe Works

Simple, satisfying, fresh fish tacos from the West Coast combine fried fish, sliced cabbage, and a creamy white sauce in a corn tortilla. We chose mild but sturdy white fish for our tacos and tossed it in an ultrathin beer batter to avoid a thick, bready coating. Cornstarch and baking powder in the batter ensure that the fish fries up golden brown and crispy. A quick pickle of red onions and jalapeños adds color and spice to the tacos, and we use a portion of the vinegary pickling liquid to dress shredded cabbage. Our creamy white sauce gets tang from lime juice and sour cream, and fresh cilantro leaves are the finishing touch.


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Serves 6


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1 small red onion, halved and sliced thin
2 jalapeño chiles, stemmed and sliced into thin rings
1 cup white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt


3 cups shredded green cabbage
¼ cup pickling liquid from pickled onions
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper


½ cup mayonnaise
½ cup sour cream
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons milk


2 pounds skinless whitefish fillets, such as cod, haddock, or halibut, cut crosswise into 4 by 1-inch strips
Salt and pepper
¾ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup beer
1 quart peanut or vegetable oil
24 (6-inch) corn tortillas, warmed
1 cup fresh cilantro leaves

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Serves 6

Although this recipe looks involved, all the components are easy to execute and most can be made in advance. Light-bodied American lagers, such as Budweiser, work best here. Cut the fish on a slight bias if your fillets aren’t quite 4 inches wide. You should end up with about 24 pieces of fish. Serve with green salsa, if desired.

Watch the Cook's Country cast make this recipe

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1. FOR THE PICKLED ONIONS: Combine onion and jalapeños in medium bowl. Bring vinegar, lime juice, sugar, and salt to boil in small saucepan. Pour vinegar mixture over onion mixture and let sit for at least 30 minutes. (Pickled onions can be made and refrigerated up to 2 days in advance.)

2. FOR THE CABBAGE: Toss all ingredients together in bowl.

3. FOR THE WHITE SAUCE: Whisk all ingredients together in bowl. (Sauce can be made and refrigerated up to 2 days in advance.)

4. FOR THE FISH: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 200 degrees. Set wire rack inside rimmed baking sheet. Pat fish dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Whisk flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and 1 teaspoon salt together in large bowl. Add beer and whisk until smooth. Transfer fish to batter and toss until evenly coated.

5. Add oil to large Dutch oven until it measures about ¾ inch deep and heat over medium-high heat to 350 degrees. Working with 5 to 6 pieces at a time, remove fish from batter, allowing excess to drip back into bowl, and add to hot oil, briefly dragging fish along surface of oil to prevent sticking. Adjust burner, if necessary, to maintain oil temperature between 325 and 350 degrees. Fry fish, stirring gently to prevent pieces from sticking together, until golden brown and crispy, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer fish to prepared wire rack and place in oven to keep warm. Return oil to 350 degrees and repeat with remaining fish.

6. Divide fish evenly among tortillas. Top with pickled onions, cabbage, white sauce, and cilantro. Serve.

Easier than It Looks

This recipe has several parts, but they come together faster than you might think.

Quick Pickled Onions: Just slice the onion and jalapeños, pour the vinegar mixture over, and let sit for at least 30 minutes. This can be done up to two days ahead.

No-Cook Cabbage: Simply shred the cabbage (by hand or in a food processor) and toss with the onion pickling liquid.

Simple White Sauce: Measure ingredients and whisk together. This can be done up to two days ahead.

Watch The Full Episode

Test cook Bridget Lancaster shows host Christopher Kimball how to make Pork Pernil. Then, tasting expert Jack Bishop challenges Chris to a tasting of jarred medium salsa. And finally, test cook ...