These Baja-style tempura fish tacos are as authentic as they come. White fish is dunked in a quick chile-lime marinade and then battered and pan-fried until crisp before being tucked in soft tortillas and topped with slaw and banana mango salsa.
This is how fish tacos happen in Baja, Mexico. None of this California-style grilled fish tacos. Nope. Pristine white fillets of fish are dunked in an ethereally crisp yet airy tempura batter and fried to perfection. In sharp contrast is a crisp coleslaw. The sweet (but with some heat) banana mango salsa may be a little untraditional but definitely tastes like it’s always belonged.–Renee Schettler Rossi
Baja-Style Tempura Fish Tacos
- Deep-fry or candy or instant-read thermometer
For the chile-lime marinade
- 1 1/2 cups cold water
- 1/2 cup fresh lime juice (from 4 to 6 limes)
- 10 cloves garlic sliced
- 2 serrano chiles stemmed and sliced
- 2 teaspoons dried Mexican oregano ground (optional)
- 1 tablespoon fine sea salt
- 2 pounds firm white fish fillets such as red snapper, halibut, tilapia, cod, or mahi mahi, cut into 4-by 3/4-inch (10-by 1.8-cm) strips
For the Baja tempura batter
- 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon ice water
- 2 1/2 teaspoons yellow mustard (optional)
- 1 cup bleached all-purpose flour
- Vegetable oil for deep-frying
For assembling the tacos
- Ten (5 1/2-inch) soft corn tortillas, warm (or if you want to be authentic, do as they do in Southern Cali and double the number of tortillas so each taco has a double thickness)
- Baja Cabbage Slaw
- Mango-Banana Salsa
- Lime wedge
- Pickled jalapeño rings
Make the chile-lime marinade
- In a large bowl, combine the cold water, lime juice, garlic, chiles, oregano (if using) and salt. Add the fish and set aside at room temperature for 20 minutes.
Make the Baja tempura batter
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the ice water and mustard. Gently stir in the flour, being careful not to overmix the batter; a few small lumps are okay. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Fry the fish
- Drain the fish and pat the pieces dry with a paper towel. Have a plate lined with paper towels or a cut-open brown paper bag at the ready.
- In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, heat at least 2 to 3 inches of oil over medium heat until it reaches 360°F (182°C) on a deep-fry or candy or instant-read thermometer.
- Remove the tempura batter from the refrigerator and stir to recombine.
- Dredge a few pieces of fish at a time in the batter, turning to coat them evenly. Gently lower a couple pieces of fish into the oil, adding a couple more pieces every 30 seconds. Fry no more than 4 pieces at a time. Fry the fish, turning as needed, until the pieces are crisp, light golden brown, and floating on the surface of the oil, about 2 1/2 minutes. Monitor the temperature of the oil throughout frying, letting the oil return to proper temperature between batches; to ensure crispness, it must remain a constant 360°F to 380°F (182°C to 193°C).
- Using a fine-mesh skimmer, transfer the fried fish to the paper towel-lined plate or brown paper bag to drain. Repeat with the remaining fish and batter, being sure to remove any flecks of floating fried batter in between batches.
Assemble the fish tacos
- Place the tortillas side by side, open face and overlapping, on a platter. (If using extra tortillas, simply double them up.) Divvy the slaw and fish equally among the tortillas. Top with salsa and desired garnishes or allow guests to do so themselves. Grab, fold, and eat right away.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
These were delicious fish tacos!
I used tilapia and would suggest marinating it for no longer than the 20 minutes. We thought the serrano pepper in the marinade would be too much with habanero in the salsa, but the mango and banana sweetened the salsa to a perfect balance with the crunchy Baja Cabbage Slaw.
This will definitely stay in my summer file for entertaining. Everything but the fish can be made ahead of time. Delicious.
These were wonderful fish tacos, loved by all. Because I’m trying to maintain a low-fat diet, I made them a bit differently: I used a thick piece of fresh halibut, which held up well to the marinade, that I broiled rather than fried.
My favorite part of this dish is the Mango-Banana Salsa. I can see putting this on a variety of grilled fish, or just serving with some chips. Another great thing about this dish is that you tailor the heat based on how hot or how mild you like your food. We tend to err on the medium side of things, so I chose a mild pepper for both the salsa and the fish marinade, as well as adding just a small bit of Tabasco in the coleslaw.
These are great all on their own with the basic slaw. Adding the Banana Mango Salsa takes things to a new dimension! The crispy tempura coating plays off the crunchy slaw, and the flavor of the marinated fish complements the salsa to create a fulfilling (and filling) result. Just the slightest squeeze from a lime wedge makes this a soft-taco sensation.
If you decide to use the salsa with the tacos, you may want to consider passing on the garnish of extra jalapeños.
A note on the batter: There’s definitely a difference between U.S. and Canadian flour. I used the latter and I needed an extra 1/4 cup water to thin the batter to start and another 2 to 4 tablespoons to thin it after the 30 minute sitting time.
These fish tacos equal yum in the mouth. They’re not a weeknight food due to the length of time they take to make, but they’d make a great weekend dish the whole family could help with.
I peeled my mango the way I normally do, but the fruit was so ripe that I ended up with mushed mango instead of the pretty little dice stated in the ingredients list.
There should perhaps also be safety tips for handling the habanero chile. I typically wear gloves when fabricating super-hot chiles, and my hands still burn anyway, so a novice could end up with serious burns if proper instruction isn’t given. Other than these few things, the Baja-Style Tempura Fish Tacos are right up there at the top of my list of favorite recipes to share with the people I love.
Originally published August 6, 2019