Whenever I think of fish tacos, I remember eating them in San Diego, when we met a friend for dinner by the pier. The place was so crowded and noisy that we were almost certain we wouldn’t get a table, but we squeezed between the patrons and managed to find a place to sit. Salty air blew through the windows from the ocean, and the light changed gradually as the sun set outside. I had a great time. It was the perfect place to eat a fish taco.

So it’s a pity that the tacos themselves were pretty forgettable. Fried and battered fish fillets, probably with lots of shredded cabbage, tomato, and sour cream. Nothing special.

But these fish tacos, homemade in Maryland? They’re so much better. They’re everything the San Diego tacos should have been. And when I eat them, they taste like summer and sunshine.

summery fish tacos

These fish pieces are baked, not fried; however, because they’re individually dredged in flour, they still have a nice dry outer shell. (That was K’s idea; I was just going to broil fish and slice it after. This took a little extra time, but it works so much better.) We didn’t have cabbage and tomatoes aren’t in season, but we used pickled vegetables for crunch (another of K’s brilliant brainwaves) and red bell pepper for color. The result is colorful, delicious, and perfect for summer.

You’ll need:
3 tilapia fillets
flour
cornstarch
oil
1 lemon, cut into wedges (a lime would also work)
1 red bell pepper, sliced small (we would have used tomatoes, but they’re not in season yet)
small corn tortillas
sour cream
pickled carrot and daikon radish
cilantro, washed and roughly torn

Prepare a shallow bowl of equal parts flour and cornstarch. If you want, season this with a little cayenne pepper. In the oven, position a rack about 12″ underneath the broiler element, and set the broiler to HI.

Cover a cookie sheet with tinfoil and oil it lightly.

Cut each tilapia fillet in half lengthwise, then slice it into strips, working against the grain where possible. Dredge these strips in the flour mixture, then lay them on the prepared baking sheet.

Sprinkle some salt and pepper over the strips, and drizzle with lemon juice. Stick the pan underneath the broiler until the fish are done. I just break one apart to see if it’s cooked inside. The outsides will be crispy, and the insides will be white and firm. It won’t take long.

On another pan, stick some tortillas inside the oven to toast. Don’t let them overcook; you want them to be warm and just starting to crisp, but still flexible enough to bend. If you forget they’re in there, you’ll have tortilla chips in no time. (In which case, I suggest making some guacamole.)

To assemble a fish taco: layer fish strips, bell pepper, pickled vegetables, cilantro, and sour cream into a tortilla in whatever order you like. Finish with a squeeze of lemon juice. Enjoy.