The best grilled fish tacos I’ve ever made combine a Baha spice rub on salmon or any firm fish, complimented by a homemade tartar sauce and cabbage slaw.
Grilling season is serious business. I get that. The flavor that grilling adds to meat and vegetables is incomparable to any other cooking method. I have a friend who says “I’m grilling six days a week now. You should do a whole week of recipes for the grill!”. While I might not grill as often as that, when I do, I know my family’s expectations are high. So for my grill-obsessed friend as well as for all of you, let me say – These are the best grilled fish tacos I’ve ever made.
Let’s break down the components of this recipe- Fresh ingredients are key here. When are they not? Let’s begin with the fish. Your fish should not smell “fishy”- ask the butcher or fish monger to let you smell it. If it’s fishy, take a pass, it’s not fresh and that fishy smell will translate into how it will taste (blech) when it’s cooked. Wild salmon is featured here, but several firm-flesh fish options would be delicious. I’ve used mahi mahi, red snapper, halibut, even cod. And, if you can get a filet with the skin still attached, even better.
The fish is oiled and liberally rubbed with a spice combination of chili powder, coriander and cumin. If your fish has skin on one side, don’t put any rub on the skin, unless you plan on eating the skin. Place the fish skin-side down first on the grill. The skin will protect the fish from over-charring, allowing the grill’s heat to cook the fish and infuse the rub down into it. Turn it over for the last minute or two. The fish finishes super moist and flavorful and the crispy skin pretty much peels off by itself.
The tartar sauce is a fresh combination of mayonnaise, lime juice, and a few teaspoons of chipotle chili peppers and adobo sauce. The chilis and adobo will not make the sauce spicy, but will add a smoky heat that only complements the spice-rubbed fish. I chop one teaspoon of the pepper and then add a teaspoon of the adobo sauce. Yu-um!
Don’t be fooled by the simplicity of the cabbage slaw. Shredded cabbage, cilantro, and scallions that’s dressed with tangy cider vinegar and olive oil. This adds the perfect complement to the fish and tartar sauce and it’s my son’s favorite cole slaw option, any time. Cilantro in the slaw can easily be substituted with parsley if you’re like my husband and don’t care for cilantro. The amount can be reduced considerably as well.
There you have it. One of my favorite grilling recipes for fish. And for a Paleo option or if you’re just cutting back on grains in general, omit the corn tortillas and make sure your mayonnaise is made with avocado oil. Primal Kitchen’s Mayo is excellent and one of the only alternative mayonnaise I’ve tried that tastes authentic. Oh and speaking of the corn tortillas, throw them on the grill for just a few minutes to heat, soften and char them as well.
The Best Grilled Fish Tacos I've Ever Made!
- 4 cups finely shredded green cabbage
- 5 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro or parsley
- 3 scallions, sliced thin
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 4 teaspoons light olive or avocado oil, divided
- Salt and pepper
- ¾ cup mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
- 2 teaspoons minced canned chipotle chile in adobo sauce
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 2 teaspoons chili powder
- ½ teaspoon ground coriander
- ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
- 4 6-ounce salmon filets (skin on works great) or mahi mahi, halibut, or other firm fish, about 1-inch thick
- 12 6-inch corn tortillas
- Lime wedges for serving
- Toss the cabbage, 4 tablespoons of the cilantro or parsley, scallions, vinegar, 1 teaspoon of the oil, and ¼ teaspoon salt in a bowl. Refrigerate until serving.
- In a small bowl, combine the remaining 1 tablespoon cilantro, mayonnaise, lime juice, chipotles (see note below), and garlic. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate until serving.
- Lay out fish fillets and pat dry with paper towels to prepare for the rub. Combine chili powder, coriander, cumin, ⅛ teaspoon salt, and ⅛ teaspoon pepper in a bowl. Brush fish with the remaining tablespoon oil, and rub evenly with the spice mixture (placing rub on top side only if fish still has skin).
- Prepare your grill as desired for cooking fish. I use a charcoal grill and heat one side hot with a full layer of coals, and the other side with sporadic coals for lower heat.
- Once coals are to your liking, grill fish with the skin side down first until you start to see it turn opaque, approximately 5 minutes. Turn fish over carefully and grill and addition 3-4 minutes. The skin is practically falling off the fish on its own here.
- Remove fish from grill and cover with foil while you grill the tortillas.
- Working in batches, grill the tortillas, turning as needed until warm and lightly charred, about 30 seconds. As the tortillas are done, wrap them in a clean kitchen towel or a large sheet of foil to keep them warm and soft.
- Cut each fish filet into large chunks for filling the tacos. Smear each tortilla with some of the mayonnaise mixture and top with some of the cabbage slaw and pieces of fish. Serve with the lime wedges.
Recipe adapted from America’s Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook.