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Low-Maintenance Fish Tacos

July 15, 2014

In Cooking from Every Angle, we hear from our fearless leaders: Food52 co-founders Amanda & Merrill.

Today: Amanda shares her recipe for low-maintenance fish tacos -- no frying required.

Roasted fish tacos

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I came late to tacos, which I long associated with too many bowls and a marathon of chopping. And while I could eat a fish taco every day, the purist in me never wanted to make them at home. My god, you’d have to deep fry. For a taco. 

I also came late to the realization that I can do what I want in life. And in this life, I’m not going to fry the fish for my fish tacos, dammit! I’m also not going to chop much for them, nor am I going to be suckered into dirtying a bunch of bowls. And now we have delicious fish tacos every few weeks.

Roasted fish tacos

More: If you must chop, here's how to do it like a pro.

Roasted fish is the key to zen fish tacos. By roasting, you can control the speed of cooking and keep the fish moist. Lost crunch from the frying can be made up for with pickled red onion (I usually make a huge batch and then use the leftovers for lunches and any other excuse I can find). The onions get a bowl, as does the avocado, which turns out to be conveniently soft and sliceable by 7-year-olds. Cilantro sprigs and lime -- I put them in a pile right on the countertop for serving -- and Cholula hot sauce on the table make up the rest of it. 

If I make the onions ahead of time (using this magical recipe), I can have fish tacos ready in 15 minutes. While the fish, rubbed with cumin and ground ancho chile powder, roasts, I clean the cilantro and toast the corn tortillas in a dry pan. My kids slice the avocado and my husband pours lemonade and opens beers. You can guess who gets what. 

Roasted Fish Tacos

Low-Maintenance Fish Tacos

Serves 4

For the pickled onions:

1 red onion
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 part water
2 parts cider vinegar

For the fish tacos:

3/4 pound pollack or hake or other good white fish
Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground ancho chile or chipotle 
1 tablespoon olive oil
Pickled onions
1 avocado, cut into 1/8-inch slices, lengthwise
1 bunch cilantro, washed and dried
2 limes, each cut into 6 wedges
12 corn tortillas 
Hot sauce of your choice (we like Cholula)

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by James Ransom

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A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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Amanda Hesser

Written by: Amanda Hesser

Before starting Food52 with Merrill, I was a food writer and editor at the New York Times. I've written several books, including "Cooking for Mr. Latte" and "The Essential New York Times Cookbook." I played myself in "Julie & Julia" -- hope you didn't blink, or you may have missed the scene! I live in Brooklyn with my husband, Tad, and twins, Walker and Addison.


Tina S. August 18, 2016
Sorry to be dense however....with the pickled onion recipe...I understand the concept of one part to two parts, what I am not sure of is this...the sugar and the salt would be so concentrated or diluted if I added it to a half cup of liquids or a half gallon of liquids.
Amanda H. August 18, 2016
Fair point -- since you're using 1 onion, you only need enough liquid to cover the sliced onion and while the total amount may vary depending on the size of your container, it's usually the right ratio of liquid to salt/sugar. Hope this helps.
cheryl F. July 28, 2014
Love reading a recipe from a cook who doesn't want to spend all day chopping the side dishes or using all her dishes to put them in! Thanks Amanda...also thanks to the rest of you who commented with all the other great tips.
borntobeworn July 24, 2014
I made this tonight but forgot to actually USE the pickled onions. We'll try them tomorrow on the left-overs. I used a HUGE onion so we have plenty to eat with other dishes too. Thanks!
Dawn July 16, 2014
I always bake my fish tacos, never fry. I also crumble the fish up instead of laying one big slab on a taco. It just seems more like a taco that way. I season the same as you or just with chili powder. I steam my corn tortillas because I like them soft and very foldable and I also use pico de gallo (yes you have to chop but it is worth it) and shredded iceberg instead of cabbage. Thanks for putting this up.
Amanda H. July 20, 2014
It's great to hear everyone's personal versions -- thanks for sharing.
Fairmount_market July 15, 2014
My favorite taco topping is pickled radishes: similar sweet/sour brine to the onions. They turn a pretty pink and provide a great crunch.
Amanda H. July 20, 2014
Love the sound of this.
lighthouse6 July 15, 2014
I have been making these for 30 plus years - lucky me : ) But, usually I grill my fish - virtually no clean up, great flavor, just a few minutes and your done!
Amanda H. July 20, 2014
Huge fan of grilling the fish, too -- thanks for pointing this out.
fiveandspice July 15, 2014
Fish tacos with roasted fish is almost a weekly occurrence around here. I actually prefer roasted fish to fried fish at this point. And, I toss chopped tomato, cilantro, and avocado along with shredded cabbage, jalapeno and a bunch of lime juice all together into a single bowl - the topping bowl! Abbie's pickled onions get their own bowl. :)
AntoniaJames July 16, 2014
Great idea, Emily! Will be implementing tomorrow night, with gratitude. ;o)
Amanda H. July 20, 2014
Thanks, Emily -- I make a huge batch of the pickled onions and put them on everything until they run out. My kids like to eat them straight.
aargersi July 15, 2014
TACO TUESDAY! Yippee!!! I usually make some sort of pico to go along as well ... just a bit more chopping ...
AntoniaJames July 15, 2014
Have you tried warming your tortillas in the oven too, on a hot pizza stone while the fish is roasting? We do that with uncooked phulka roti when the boys are home which means we're in a serious production mode -- need to make about 10 - 12 for dinner. It works like a charm and is even lower maintenance. You'd want to use a large pizza stone, and make sure you put the cooked ones in a wide, shallow bowl lined/covered with a damp tea towel. Even lower maintenance! We do something similar to this using tamarind + soy glaze on cod, refreshed with lime juice + the same toppings you use (with a few Persian cucumbers for crunch). Will be giving the tortillas a test drive soon. ;o)
RoseTex10 July 16, 2014
Hello to AntoniaJames,
What is a pizza stone? Thanks for the oven tip.
Pat July 16, 2014
Amanda H. July 20, 2014
I haven't tried this -- thanks for the idea.
AntoniaJames July 28, 2014
Amanda, it works! I test drove it with corn tortillas the other night, heating the stone on the top shelf, placed in the oven before turning it on. They turned out perfectly, with light browning / no burning. I use two rectangular kiln tiles that make a 16 inch square as my pizza stone (more convenient for storing in the oven if you can stack them to one side). You can easily put 6-8 tortillas on at a time, depending of course on their diameter. Your low maintenance tacos just got a lot easier. ;o)
Amanda H. July 28, 2014
Great! Thanks so much for testing it out and reporting back!
healthierkitchen July 15, 2014
Great! I sometimes make a bowl of Merrill's Salpicon to use for fish tacos!
Amanda H. July 20, 2014
good idea!
carswell July 15, 2014
I discovered the concept of fish tacos a couple of years ago - loved the flavour possibilities but hated the idea of deep fried fish being necessary. I dispensed with that right away and have been enjoying fish tacos ever since. I started with catfish fillets dredged in a blackened spice mixture and have moved on to various other spice combos - and condiments to complement.

These look good.
Amanda H. July 20, 2014
amysarah July 15, 2014
Looks great - baking the fish is a smart (and lower calorie) idea. Another alternative - not quite as Zen, but adds a little crust to the mix while avoiding deep frying shenanigans: breading thinner filets (flounder, tilapia, etc.) with basic flour/egg/crumb routine, then shallow pan frying like, e.g. chicken or veal Milanese, drained well on paper. A drizzle of sour cream thinned with lime juice is nice on there too.
Amanda H. July 20, 2014
Definitely a good way to get the fried effect without heating up so much oil -- thanks.