One of the great things about living in Southern California wasn’t just the delicious authentic Mexican food, it was the cheap delicious authentic Mexican food. Here in Massachusetts, we get to pay double for mediocre, non-authentic Mexican food.

Or, I could just learn how to make it at home!

Over the past two years, I’ve developed a modest arsenal of authentic Mexican recipes, including Pioneer Woman’s salsa. I’d never made fish tacos though. I don’t cook much with fish. I used to not like seafood much, but even now that I’ve grown out of my fish-aversion, I still don’t really think about it as a meal option. But when Michelle at Brown Eyed Baker raved about the fish taco recipe she snagged from Martha Stewart’s new Power Foods cookbook, I knew I had to try it. And I can say with confidence that fish will be making a more regular appearance on our dinner table now, because these fish tacos were awesome.

The recipe calls for skin-on striped bass or red snapper, but my grocery store didn’t carry either of those, so I used skinless tilapia, which worked out just fine. The recipe comes together fairly quickly, although there is half an hour to two hours of marinating time, which needs to be factored in. You rub the fish with a mixture of chili powder, oregano, salt, pepper, freshly minced cilantro and olive oil, and let it rest in the fridge while you prepare the accompaniments – lightly salt some shredded cabbage and set aside, and make a batch of pickled veggies. I wasn’t too sure about the pickles but they added a nice touch to the tacos.

These tacos are delicious and authentic. The fish is very flavorful, and when piled high with shredded cabbage, pickles, sour cream, and cilantro, the tacos are pretty irresistible. I definitely recommend using hot sauce, because the tacos won’t be spicy without it, and I thought they really came alive with a sprinkling of Tabasco.

Grilled Fish Tacos

Slightly adapted from Martha Stewart’s Power Foods, via Brown Eyed Baker

Yield: Makes 12 tacos*

Prep: 20 minutes Inactive prep: 30 minutes to 2 hours Cook time: 8 to 12 minutes

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 tablespoon chili powder

Coarse salt

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro, plus extra leaves for garnish

2 pounds skin-on** stripped bass or red snapper fillets, or skinless tilapia fillets

5 cups shredded cabbage (1/2 head)

Neutral-tasting oil, such as canola or safflower, for grill

Corn tortillas

Lime wedges, avocado, sour cream, and hot sauce, for serving

Quick pickled vegetables, optional (recipe follows)

  1. Stir together cumin, oregano, chili powder, and 2 teaspoons salt. Mix in the olive oil and cilantro.
  2. Use a sharp knife to make shallow slits about 1 1/2 inches apart into the fish skin (or the fish flesh, if skinless); rub both sides with spice mixture and set the filets in a large dish. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes to 2 hours.
  3. Toss together cabbage and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt in a medium bowl. Let sit for 30 minutes.
  4. Prepare pickled vegetables, if using.
  5. Heat grill or grill pan to high (if using charcoal grill, coals are ready when you can hold your hand 5 inches above grill for just 2 to 3 seconds. Lightly oil grates or pan. (If using a grill pan indoors, be sure to turn on your stove’s ventilation fan – and possibly disable your smoke detector temporarilybecause the fish will smoke quite a bit.)
  6. Place fish, skin side up, on grill. Cook, without moving fish, until opaque throughout, 3 to 5 minutes. Carefully flip, using two spatulas if necessary. Cook until fish flakes slightly when pressed in the center, 5 to 7 minutes more. (I found that my fish only needed a 3-4 minutes on each side.)
  7. Transfer fish to a serving platter; let cool slightly, then shred with a fork into bite-size pieces. Garnish platter with lime wedges and cilantro sprigs. Serve warm or at room temperature (within 1 hour). Allow guests to assemble their own tacos, layering fish with cabbage, avocado, sour cream, hot sauce, pickled vegetables, and other toppings, as desired.

Note: We fried our corn tortillas in canola oil, which isn’t exactly the authentic way to serve fish tacos, but we prefer them fried. If you want to have them fried, pour about a 1/4 inch of oil into a small frying pan and heat it up until a drop of water sizzles when dropped in (watch out for splattering oil), or when you dip an edge of a tortilla into the oil and the oil immediately starts boiling around it. Prick the tortillas in the middle with a fork to prevent them from puffing up, and fry quickly in the oil, keeping the tortilla submerged with tongs – it’ll take less than a minute.

Quick picked vegetables

I only had 1 jalapeno, so I quartered this recipe. I’ve included the quartered amounts in parenthesis, in case you don’t want to make a quart of pickles. A quarter recipe will yield 1 cup.

Yield: 1 quart

Prep time: 20 minutes

2 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar (5 oz)

1/3 cup  granulated sugar (1 Tablespoon + 1 teaspoon)

2 teaspoons coarse salt (1/2 teaspoon)

3 cups cold water (3/4 cup)

4 carrots, peeled and diagonally sliced 3/4 inch thick (1 carrot)

2 small red onions, halved and sliced into 3/4 inch wedges (1/2 of a red onion)

4 jalapeno chiles, quartered lengthwise, ribs and seeds removed (1 jalapeno)

Combine vinegar, sugar, water, and salt in a sauce pan. Bring to a boil over high heat and stir to dissolve sugar. Add carrots, onion and jalapeno, and reduce heat to medium-high. Simmer until carrots are just tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Pour into a bowl and let cool before covering and refrigerating. (Pickles will keep up to 2 weeks.)

*We made 4 tacos last night and it seemed like we barely made a dent in the pile of fish. This yield depends on how much fish you stuff into one taco, but I bet we’ll get more than 12 tacos out of it.

** I question the need for the skin. I didn’t have any trouble flipping the skinless tilapia fillets, and the only reason I can think of to keep the skin on is to hold the fish together. I’m not sure if the bass or snapper would behave as nicely if they were skinless, but I have a feeling that if all you can find is skinless fish, you don’t need to sweat it.