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