The hot summer months here in Chicago always make me think of a few things: milkshakes at Susie’s, burgers on the patio at Paradise Pup, and mostly, tacos. To be more specific, fish tacos. Don’t get me wrong, I love tacos all year round, but when it’s hot outside and there’s a cold beverage in my hand, very few things satisfy me like a great fish taco.
Baja fish tacos are a tradition in southern California and especially San Diego. While purists might find that my recipe strays a little bit from the norm, I like to think outside the box and adjust recipes to my (and more importantly, my fiancé’s) taste. Neither of us are huge fans of mayonnaise-based slaws especially when it’s hot outside. In this type of climate, we both tend to favor a citrus/vinegar based slaw on our tacos.
True fish taco fanatics will also tell you that frying the fish is the only way to go for a real fish taco. I don’t necessarily disagree with this theory, but if I’m going to be outside grilling the side dishes why would I then spend the time and effort to fry some fish in the kitchen while all the windows are closed because the AC is on. A good beer batter is an excellent way to prepare a piece of fish but during the summer when I want something a little lighter, I love to grill my fish.
There are so many types of fish available that you might get a little overwhelmed trying to choose fish for a specific application. Certain types of fish lend themselves better to different types of cooking styles. Small, freshwater fish like bass or whitefish really shine when prepared in a simple sauté. Shellfish is great in several ways but who doesn’t enjoy a nice fried shrimp? Farmed freshwater fish like tilapia and catfish make good tacos but can have a muddy, murky flavor which is best when topped with bright, acidic flavors. For our purposes in this recipe we will be using a firm, white fleshed, mild fish: Mahi mahi.
There are many reasons that make me lean towards using Mahi for our fish tacos. It’s mild in flavor, unlike salmon, and it holds up to flavorful toppings and marinades without overpowering the dish. Unlike flat fish like flounder or halibut, Mahi has more fat content and holds up to grilling quite well. It’s also easily accessible and relatively cheap meaning you can get frozen fillets at just about all your local supermarkets and wholesale stores. Your neighborhood fish monger would probably even have fresh fillets, but I actually think Mahi holds up really well to freezing, and it's a lot easier to find.
The most glaring change I make when doing my own fish tacos is that I use flour tortillas. I know that makes a lot of people cringe to read that, but I think the moist fish and slaw can destroy a corn tortilla pretty quickly and I think a flour tortilla holds up better. If you are insistent on using corn tortillas, double up your corn tortillas or make your own like The Chopping Block's Owner/Chef Shelley Young. If you are interested in learning more about grilling and Latin flavors, check out our upcoming Grilling Fiesta class on Sunday, September 8 at 11am at our Lincoln Square location.
1 head purple cabbage, shredded
1 red bell pepper, julienned
1 red onion, julienned
1 jalapeno, de-seeded and julienned
Juice of 1 lime
1 Tablespoon of apple cider vinegar
2 Tablespoon of chopped cilantro
Kosher salt to taste
1. Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl and toss.
2. Let slaw sit in the fridge, covered for 1-2 hours to allow flavors to marry.
Fish Taco Marinade
1 Tablespoon canola oil
1 teaspoon fresh ground cumin
Zest of 1 lime
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
2 4-6 oz. Mahi fillets
1. Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl.
2. Toss mahi fillets well to coat.
3. Let marinate, covered in the fridge 2-3 hours.
4. Grill according to the fish taco recipe.
Grilled Fish Tacos
1 recipe, Lime-Vinegar Slaw
Marinated mahi fillets
Tortillas (I prefer flour for this recipe, sorry Shelley!)
Sliced avocado (optional)
Sour cream (optional)
1. Heat the grill on high for 10 minutes. Make sure you clean the grill grates really well.
2. Grill the Mahi fillets over high heat until well-marked and just starting to flake apart, about 3-4 minutes per side depending on the size.
3. Grill the tortillas.
4. Using a pair of tongs, break the fish apart into bite size chunks.
5. Add fish to a tortilla, top with a healthy serving of the slaw.
6. Garnish with cilantro leaves, lime wedges, sour cream, and some sliced avocado.