Cast Iron

Skillet-Grilled Fish Tacos with Cilantro-Lime Crema

June 21, 2016
Photo by Alexandra Stafford
Author Notes

A few years ago, Bon Appétit ran a story on “plancha”-style cooking featuring chef Eric Ripert and a slate-grilled summer menu. The photos of steak searing, sourdough bread charring, and all the summer vegetables caramelizing on a smoking-hot slab nearly had me running to Home Depot to buy untreated slate (as Ripert reportedly does), but as I read on, a more appealing idea caught my attention: I could use my cast iron skillet instead. BA noted that a griddle or cast iron pan set on a grill like a plancha allows “food to pick up smoky grill flavors without the risk of flareups,” and is “particularly suited to delicate foods like fish and small vegetables that would otherwise fall through or be shredded by a grill grate.”

Last week, when summer finally hit upstate New York, and nothing sounded better than grilled fish, I remembered this article and set my cast iron skillet on the grill as it preheated. About 10 minutes later, when the grill temperature had climbed to 550° F and the skillet had turned white hot, I poured in a little oil, carefully lowered in a haddock fillet, closed the grill, and set the timer for 3 minutes. Much to my delight, when the timer dinged, the fish had seared beautifully, the heat of the skillet creating a light bottom crust, which allowed the fillet to release from the pan with the gentlest push of a spatula.

Because I use a gas grill, no smoky flavor was imparted; nothing emerging from my grill will taste like burning briquettes or a summer campfire—but this is something I’ve come to accept about my backyard grilling undertakings. My gas grill, in essence, is a very hot outdoor oven that excels at searing without setting off the fire alarm; if you're working with a charcoal grill, I think the fish will be as good if not even better for the flavor of the coals.

In addition to haddock, I’ve had success using this method with fillets of cod and grouper, each about 1/2- to 1-inch thick. Seasoned with salt and cayenne pepper, the flaky fish can be eaten simply with a squeeze of lemon, though it’s particularly good broken into pieces over a bed of slaw and wrapped in tortillas warmed directly on the grill grates (which only takes about 30 seconds). With a simple slaw and crema, a summery skillet-grilled dinner can materialize in no time.

Note: On the fish, I like to use cayenne for both color and heat, but if you are sensitive to heat, you can use other dried spices such as paprika, cumin, or dried ancho chile. The slaw and crema can be made a day in advance. —Alexandra Stafford

  • Prep time 20 minutes
  • Cook time 8 minutes
  • Serves 2
  • Cilantro-Lime Crema
  • 1 cup (heaping) cilantro, about 1 ounce
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice, plus more to taste
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • Skillet-Grilled Fish Tacos
  • 1 pound fillet of haddock, cod, or grouper (or other), 1/2- to 1-inch thick
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • Cayenne pepper to taste, see above
  • Grapeseed or other neutral oil
  • Tortillas, (I like Whole Foods' soft corn tortillas)
  • Slaw, see above
  • Lime wedges for serving
In This Recipe
  1. Cilantro-Lime Crema
  2. In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the cilantro with the lime juice until fine. Add the sour cream, sugar, and salt, and purée until smooth. Taste, adjusting seasoning with more salt or lime juice. Alternatively, mince the cilantro by hand, then add the remaining ingredients and whisk until smooth.
  1. Skillet-Grilled Fish Tacos
  2. Set a cast iron skillet on a grill. Close the grill, set it to high, and let it heat up to 550° F or 600° F.
  3. Meanwhile, if the fillet of fish is long, cut in half so that it will fit in your skillet. season the fish generously with salt on both sides. Season with cayenne according to your heat tolerance—go light if you are sensitive to heat. Gather your tools for the grill: a reliable potholder, a spatula, a clean platter for the cooked fish, the grapeseed oil, the tortillas, and a plate to put them on.
  4. Lift the lid of the grill. Pour a tablespoon or so of grapeseed oil into the hot skillet—enough to coat the bottom in a thin layer. Using the potholder if necessary to bring the skillet closer to you, carefully lower the fish into the skillet. If you are slow and controlled, the oil won’t splatter.
  5. Close the lid. Set a timer for 3 minutes. Check the fish by prodding it with a spatula—it should flake fairly easily. If it doesn’t, close the lid and cook for 1 minute more. Remove the fish with a spatula, using the potholder as needed, and transfer it to a platter.
  6. Turn off the grill. Throw the tortillas on the grill, leaving it open. Check after 20 seconds or so, flip, and cook for another 20 seconds or until tortillas are soft and have nice grill marks on each side. Transfer to a platter.
  7. To serve: Spoon slaw into tortillas. Break fish into pieces over top. Drizzle with crema. Squeeze fresh lime over top and serve with more lime on the side.

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I write the blog alexandra's kitchen, a place for mostly simple, sometimes fussy, and always seasonal recipes. My cookbook, Bread Toast Crumbs is available everywhere books are sold.