Just in time for Cinco de Mayo, a new twist on a classic dish
Tacos are the ultimate fast food.
So let’s slow them down a bit, shall we? Because sometimes we need to savor. This dish keeps all the flavor of the original, but makes things more knife-and-fork friendly.
We replace corn tortillas with grits (also made from corn, so lots of savor there). Then we mound the other ingredients on top, for an open-faced taco.
The result is fancy (and good) enough for a dinner party. But easy enough for a quick meal. Nothing fishy about that.
Recipe: Deconstructed Fish Tacos with Grits
Traditional tacos (which can contain beef, pork, beans, or many other ingredients) are made by folding the filling into a soft tortilla, or stuffing it into a fried hard-shell tortilla.
Fish tacos usually are made from a mild white-fleshed fish like Alaskan Pollock (or sometimes a “trash” fish like shark). The fish typically is combined with shredded cabbage or lettuce and chilies.
For this recipe, we’re using salmon (which is very flavorful, and holds its own with the other ingredients). But just about any fish would work. You can grill, sauté, or fry fish for tacos. We’re going with a sauté today, but we sometimes like to use poached fish.
Instead of shredded cabbage, we’re using a modified version of our Hot Bacon Coleslaw. Because coleslaw (and, of course, bacon).
We use quick-cooking grits because they’re fast and good (avoid “instant” grits, though – they’re flavor challenged). If you want to jazz up the grits, you could use our recipe for Cheesy Grits, using a mild Mexican-style cheese. Or you could even make this dish with Polenta.
This recipe has three steps: Preparing the fish, preparing the coleslaw, and cooking the grits. But if you happen to have some leftover cooked salmon or coleslaw on hand, you can use that and cut the prep steps.
Prep time is 20 minutes or so. Add another 20 to 30 minutes for cooking time.
This dish serves 4.
For the fish:
- 1 pound boneless salmon fillets (or substitute another kind of fish; a mild white-fleshed fish is traditional)
- 1 garlic clove
- 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
- 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon ancho chile powder (may substitute regular chili powder; see Notes)
- a couple pinches of salt (to taste; see Notes)
- 6 slices of bacon
- ½ red onion (about ½ cup; can substitute white or yellow onion)
- 2 jalapeño peppers (we use ripe – i.e., red – ones; you may want to save a couple slices of pepper for garnish)
- salt to taste (several pinches of kosher salt for us; see Notes)
- 1 teaspoon ancho chile powder (may substitute regular chili powder)
- ~1 pound cabbage (about ½ medium head)
- ~3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- freshly ground black pepper, to taste (several grinds for us)
- 2 cups water
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt (or to taste; see Notes)
- ½ cup quick-cooking (not instant) grits
- ~4 tablespoons chopped cilantro (for the coleslaw)
- sliced or diced jalapeño peppers (optional)
- lime wedges (optional)
Note: This recipe requires you to juggle several separate steps, so make sure you read the entire Procedure before starting.
- Place the fish in a shallow dish. Mince the garlic clove finely and add it to a (separate) small bowl. To the garlic, add the lime juice, olive oil, ancho chile powder, and salt. Whisk together, then pour the mixture over the fish. Allow the fish to marinate (about 20 minutes) while you proceed with making the coleslaw and grits.
- Prepare the coleslaw. Follow the step-by-step directions in our recipe for Hot Bacon Coleslaw. However, substitute lime juice for the cider vinegar and ancho chile powder for the celery seed. Prep time for the coleslaw is about 10 minutes. Cooking/assembly time adds another 15 minutes or so.
- While the coleslaw is cooking, prepare the grits: Add the water to a 2-quart sauce pan and bring it to a boil. Add the salt. Measure out the grits. When the water boils, slowly add the grits, stirring with a wooden spoon or a whisk. Reduce the heat to medium-low, then cover the pan. Set a timer for 10 minutes (stir the grits once or twice while cooking). When the timer goes off, take the grits off heat and set them aside until ready to use. Try to time the grits so they’re ready about the same time as the fish (next Step).
- While the coleslaw and the grits are cooking, sauté the fish: Place a frying pan (preferably one that's nonstick) over medium heat. When hot, pour the marinade into the frying pan (the oil in it will lubricate the pan). Place the fish (skin side down) in the frying pan, then cook for 5 minutes. Flip the fish, and continue cooking until done (it will just begin to flake; total cooking time should be 8 to 10 minutes for a 1-inch thick piece of fish, or proportionally less or more depending on the thickness of the fish).
- Now plate the food: Spoon the grits onto 4 dinner plates. Using the back of a spoon, spread the grits out over most of the plate. Chop the cilantro garnish, and toss it with the coleslaw. Spoon the coleslaw on top of the grits. Cut the fish fillets into smaller pieces (if you wish), and place them over the coleslaw.
- Serve, garnishing (if you wish) with jalapeño dice/slices and lime wedges.
- Wild salmon from the Pacific Northwest and Alaska are just about in season now, and would be perfect for this dish.
- BTW, we think the crispy salmon skin works well in this dish. But remove it before plating if you don’t like it.
- We often add extra sliced onions as a garnish. Chopped tomatoes or avocado would also work well. Or sliced radishes. You could also add a bit of sour cream, plus some crumbles of mild Mexican cheese.
- Want to make this dish a bit spicier? Add a dollop or two of salsa to each serving.
- Put some hot sauce on the table, too, and let people spice up to their heart’s content.
- Ancho chile powder is sold in most supermarkets. If you can’t find it, you can substitute chili powder, which is a mix of chile powder (the powder of dried chilies) and other spices like cumin and coriander.
- We like to use kosher salt for cooking. Because it’s coarser than table salt, it’s less salty by volume. So if you use regular table salt, reduce the amount we suggest by about half. But adjust the salt to your taste, not ours.
- Tacos originated in Mexico, where they were (and are) a common street food. They’re often made with a protein like beef or pork folded into a tortilla, along with chilies and other veggies.
- Along coastal Mexico – particularly the Baja California peninsula, south of the US state of California – the protein component of tacos often is fish.
- In the US, fish tacos first became popular in southern California. But it’s hard to keep something that good a secret for long, so now you can find them in restaurants throughout the US.
“Teach a man to fish, and you have fish to clean,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “Give a man a fish, and you get fish tacos. Yum.”
“Is that a real saying?” I asked. “Sounds fishy to me.”
“Don’t give me the fish eye, fry boy,” said Mrs K R. “I’m praising your skill here.”
“At least I don’t have to fish for compliments,” I said.
“That reply was too easy,” said Mrs K R. “Like shooting fish in a barrel.”
Yup. Maybe I should cut bait.
Shredded-Beef Soft Tacos
Quick and Easy Hard-Shelled tacos
Hot Bacon Coleslaw
Tex-Mex Shredded-Beef Enchiladas
Or check out the index for more recipes
Fish taco and grits...what a unique and delicious combination!
Hi Angie, this is such a flavorful dish! You'll love it. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Wow you have all the best flavors in these salmon taco bowls! Love that you added your amazing slaw instead of just cabbage - they must taste amazing. Great recipe and it is perfect for Cinco de Mayo!
I've only had grits once and loved them. These deconstructed fish tacos look amazing!
Hi Tricia, that slaw + fish = mouth happiness. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Pam, we don't have grits often, but always enjoy them. And they're perfect in this recipe! Thanks for the comment.
Very creative improvisation on an old favorite!
best... mae at maefood.blogspot.com
Can I please just tell you how much I love grits? And fish tacos? This is such a perfect twist on a taco. Love it!
John, I love this! Jumped right out at me on Twitter - just had to retweet it! Now I'll Pin it!
I haven't made grits in forever. What a tasty alternative to taco night! Your scrumptious post has me longing to move past the usual tortilla fare.
Hi Mae, best of all, it's really good! :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Kelsie, this is a really great combo of flavors! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Jean, definitely worth pinning! :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Deb, we like tortillas, a lot, but grits really add something special to this dish. Thanks for the comment.
I love this idea. Quite frankly it can be challenging eating tacos at a party especially while standing. This sounds perfect and I like the idea of using grits as a base. Nice recipe!
Hi Vicki, traditional tacos are messy -- no way around that. Part of the fun, but at a dinner party? Not so much. Hence, these. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Oh that looks so much better than a taco. I am not a fan of a meal of just tacos, this changes my mind in de deconstructed way. And salmon is a great choice. Thanks for the inspiration!
Hi Evelyne, salmon is wonderful in this dish! Its flavor really stands up to the bacon and other goodies. :-) Thanks for the comment.
This dish is certainly easier to eat than actual fish tacos! Very smart! BTW, polenta and grits are all cornmeal - ground corn.
Hi Mimi, yup, grits and polenta are essentially both cornmeal porridge. :-) Actually, grits are usually made from hominy—dried maize that has been treated with an alkali (often slaked lime), but you're right -- they're both ground corn, and cook up basically the same. Thanks for the comment.
Wow! This is a cracker of a dish. Love it!
HI Liz, this is a good one. :-) Thanks for the comment.
I have had fish tacos with snapper, tilapia and cod but not with salmon. Now I am wondering why I haven't as the salmon is so abundant here in the Puget Sound/Pacific NW and I am always looking for a new way to prepare it. Thanks for this idea, it is on my 'to do' list :) Pat
if I didn't have such a severe case of jet lag I would make this dish tonight. I have only eaten grits once but I love salmon and your coleslaw sounds delicious.
You're a man after my heart John! I LOVE grits and I LOVE fish tacos. So what you have done here is right up my alley. Your dish looks SO good and of course, you made it irresistible with the bacon. :)
Hi Pat, you can get great local salmon, so I'd definitely give it a try! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Gerlinde, grits are worth trying, and they're perfect for a dish like this where all the other flavors dominate. Thanks for the comment.
Hi MJ, bet you'll like this! Better than fish tacos, IMO. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Wow! This is such a great idea - I love this idea!
Fun dish -- swapping out one corn-based item for another. I like it! Plus grits are comfort food. You can't go wrong serving them anytime.
Hi Alyssa, isn't this a neat dish? Really good stuff. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Carolyn, this is about as basic a dish as you can get. Basically good, that is. :-) Thanks for the comment.
I tend to think of tacos as a grazing sort of meal but this looks like proper dinner! Winner of a dish, John.
What a fun dish! Two favs in one!! Great pic as well!
This sounds delicious! What a lovely idea - although I've never had grits!
This is one very delicious one plate meal! It has it all going on from a texture perspective and flavors. You added bacon now that will win the hearts of the on the fence kind of fish eaters...
Hi Maureen, tacos probably are a grazing dish most often, but fish tacos are so good, I always want more. Hence, this dish. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Ansh, we're all for two in one! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Carolyn, grits are virtually the same thing as polenta, which I'll bet you've had. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Bobbi, bacon and fish is a wonderful combo! It's worth saving rendered bacon grease to use in the frying pan when you cook fish. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Such a lovely post, John. And this fish taco is and grits sounds like a delicious and inviting combo. Love this is simple to prepare. Thanks for this lovely share. :)
That looks so good!!! But I confess the name taco was enough to make me come to your page.
I am about to cry because I WANT SALMON RIGHT NOW!!! Your post makes me DROOL!!
Tacos are my "last meal" before execution choice. I think this version makes a lot of sense for that occasion. It's much easier to linger over "tacos" with a knife and fork than hand-held on your way down the hall... GREG
Oh John, this is much easier to eat, as I find tacos too messy, everything falling and dripping...thanks for the awesome idea, and yes for grits!
I hope you are enjoying your week :)
Hi Anu, this really is a wonderful combo of flavors! Thanks for the comment.
Hi Denise, hard to resist a taco, even when it's deconstructed, isn't it? :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi GiGi, knowing your love of salmon, figured you'd like this. Make that love. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Greg, yup, deconstructed tacos for your deconstruction. :D Thanks for the comment.
Hi Juliana, tacos really are messy, aren't they? On of their downsides, alas. But not with this recipe! Thanks for the comment.
Fish tacos are some of my favourite foods! This looks delicious!
Hi Cathleen, this is like fish tacos squared. :-) Thanks for the comment.
This just looks so delicious. I love fish tacos, whatever form they may be.
Hi Peachy, yup, that's really what's important: Fish tacos are good, no matter how you present them! Thanks for the comment.
Tacos are one of my favorite foods and salmon is another, love how this is deconstructed and served on grits another favorite. Great meal John!
Hi Cheri, we'll never say no to a taco! And deconstructed ones are a fun twist. :-) Thanks for the comment.
This is one way to get the tortilla out of Manservant's mouth. Grits are in his blood and that coleslaw has been calling my name. Definitely planning this for fish night!
Hi Abbe, you'll like this! And grits work really well in this dish. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Now this is interesting. I've been watching the series 'Tremé' and the New Orleans chef character sometimes cooks with grits, even in fancy dishes. Always something new to try, but I'm wondering if I can find grits here in Australia- must investigate this!
Hi Fran, polenta is essentially the same thing as grits, so that'll work. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Definitely a fun twist! And a delicious twist! What a great idea!
Hi Chris, we love those fun twists! :-) Thanks for the comment.
Such a nice and easy twist... this is a keeper. Pinning that creation is a must :). Have a good weekend John.
Hi Amira, bet you'll enjoy making this, and especially eating it! :-) Thanks for the comment.
That's quite a colorful plate, John! And I'm sure it's delicious, too.
Hi Frank, a lot of stuff going on in this recipe! So a lot of stuff on the plate. :-) Thanks for the comment.
I love fish tacos, but I hate the term "fish taco," so I won't eat them! I would definitely go see a band called Fish Taco. I would definitely dance a dance called The Fish Taco. But I will not eat a fish taco. However, I will eat this!
Hi Jeff, LOL! You'll like this -- whatever it's called. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Wow. I really want to try this. And I love that plate you used.
Hi Amalia, that's a cool plate, isn't it? Cooler dish! Thanks for the comment.
This is a Fantastic dish John. I love anything with Mexican flavourings and combined with salmon it will be delicious. What a gorgeous black plate you have presented your fish taco in, it really does this gorgeous deconstructed dish justice. I have to get a hold of ancho peppers, they are not commonplace in Australia but regularly pop up in delightful Mexican dishes. Happy Cinco de Mayo day!
HI Merryn, any kind of dried red pepper will work in this dish, although of course they all have different flavors/heat levels. We like ancho because its flavor is good but its heat level is fairly low. Thanks for the comment.
What a beautiful take on an old favourite. I agree with the comment about instant grits, I once had some instant polenta left over from a photoshoot (we use it as filler and pile pretty food on top of it) so I tried it, bleh! It had a weird flavour. I love fish and I love tacos so pairing them is a grand idea, deconstructing it the way you did is great and equally as easy for a weeknight meal.
I am still unable to comment using Chrome, is anyone else having the same issue? My comment is eaten or simply sent into oblivion, whereas in Safari, I get a moderation notice.
Hi Eva, both comments did come through in my moderation panel. Weird problem with Chrome -- I wonder if anyone else if having this issue? Anyway, this is a fun dish! Thanks for the comment.
I love the combination of the grits, salmon, and coleslaw. This looks really delicious!
Hi Dawn, isn't this a neat combo of flavors and textures? SO good! :-) Thanks for the comment.
This is a great idea to include fish into my diet! Delicious recipe!
Hi Agness, even people who don't "like" fish like this! Thanks for the comment.
Great idea, John!! Wow, I really can't wait to give this a try. Sounds amazing and I just know we will love it :)
Hi Marcelle, this IS amazing! Really good stuff. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Mmmmm I'd much rather have this flavorful fish and slaw over grits than in a taco shell! Scrumptious!
Hi Jamie, the grits are SO nice in this dish! Fun flavor and texture. :-) Thanks for the comment.
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