My life has been a quest for the platonic ideal of the fish taco. I've tasted it twice (or made it so in memory): once with my pal Jeffrey Bell at Pescado near the Santa Monica pier, and, more recently at El Pelon Taqueria near Fenway Park before they switched their recipe and then abandoned the fish taco altogether. And for the last few years, I've devoted my home test kitchen to creating my own version.
There are three keys to the ultimate fish taco: spicy sauteed fish (no breading) with a little crispness; a vinegar-based slaw to top the fish (the toughest part to get right); and the perfect cerveza accompaniment (for me, it's Pacifico).
Well, people. I've done it. Two-plus years of experimentation and persistence have resulted in a Santa Monica-worthy fish taco. And enough people have asked for the recipe that I'm making it public. Like any good recipe, adjust to your tastes.
The Perfect Fish Taco (at last)
1 pound flaky white fish, such as mahi mahi or tilapia
1/4 cup canola oil
1 lime, juiced*
1 Tbsp ancho chili powder
1 jalapeño, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
8 corn tortillas
1/4 head red cabbage, chopped
2 Tbsp canola oil
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 Tbsp sugar
* the lime gets juiced, not you (until after you make the tacos)
Preheat grill to medium-high heat. Place fish in a medium-size dish. Whisk together the oil, lime juice, ancho, jalapeño, and cilantro and pour over the fish. Marinate for 15-20 min.
Remove the fish from the marinade, place onto a hot grill. Grill the fish for 4 minutes on the first side, then 2-3 on the other side. Let rest for 5 minutes then flake the fish with a fork.
Place tortillas on the grill and grill for 20 seconds.
Chop cabbage. Mix oil, vinegar, and sugar in a small bowl. Pour over cabbage.
Make tacos and smile. Supplement with your favorite Mexican beer.