About a year and a half ago, before anyone outside of the state of California even heard of the fish taco, Nation’s Restaurant News (NRN) went out on a limb and declared that it would be the food of the year this year. I am kidding about non-Californians not knowing what a fish taco is, but you have to admit that fish tacos weren’t exactly trendy in the Midwest circa 2009. As it turns out, NRN knew what it was talking about; it’s summer of 2011, and seemingly every restaurant in the city of Chicago now features its own version of the fish taco.
My desire to eat something a little on the lighter side coupled with a trip I made today to my aunt’s garden for some fresh cilantro resulted in today’s dinnertime experiment in homemade fish tacos. Authentic I do not claim this recipe to be, but I think that’s the true beauty of taco making—there’s really no right or wrong or downright disgraceful way to do it. As per usual, I kind of made up my own recipe—I hope you like it as much as I did.
½ cup shredded red cabbage
1 tbsp. white balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp. ranch salad dressing mix (I like the Hidden Valley brand)
1 tbsp. cilantro, finely chopped
¼ cup buttermilk
Hot sauce (to taste)
1 large tilapia filet
½ cup panko breadcrumbs seasoned with 2 tbsp. of parmesan cheese and garlic powder, salt, and pepper (to taste)
½ cup all-purpose flour seasoned with garlic powder, salt, and pepper (to taste)
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
4 extra thin corn tortillas (I like the Mission brand)
Combine the red cabbage and vinegar in a small bowl. In a separate small bowl, combine the ranch salad dressing mix, cilantro, buttermilk, and hot sauce (I like it hot, so I used about 1 tbsp.). In a third small bowl, beat the egg.
Cut the tilapia fillet into 8 bite-sized pieces. Dredge the tilapia pieces in flour, dip the floured tilapia pieces into the egg (coating the entire piece), then roll the flour- and egg-coated tilapia pieces in the panko breadcrumbs.
In a cast iron skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat, being careful not to burn the oil. Place the tilapia pieces in the skillet, cooking until the panko breadcrumbs are golden brown, then turn the tilapia pieces over until the other side is golden brown (ensuring the fish is cooked thoroughly). Remove the fish from the pan and place the fish on a paper towel to drain any residual oil.
Place the corn tortillas directly onto flame from the gas burner to heat (about 10 seconds on each side).
Add two pieces of fish to each tortilla, and then add cabbage and the buttermilk cilantro sauce (to taste). Serves 2.
**Update** I made these tacos a second time and added a pineapple salsa (1 tbsp. of finely chopped cilantro, 1/4 of a small white onion, diced, and 1 cup of pineapple, diced) as an additional garnish, and it was a fantastic addition! Enjoy!