These fish tacos with creamy chipotle cabbage slaw are composed of pan-fried fish, creamy coleslaw, lime, cilantro, and corn tortillas. Perhaps even better than what you find in Baja, California.
Okay, so these fish tacos with cabbage, lime, and cilantro aren’t exaaaaaactly like what we’ve experienced in Baja. But they’re close. Close enough, anyways. Maybe even better thanks to the creamy chipotle slaw. (You can always make it a touch more traditional by doubling up on the tortillas. See, thin, delicate corn tortillas have a tendency to fall apart due to the moisture from the hot fish. A second tortilla wrapped around the first deftly keeps your fish and slaw from dropping in your lap.)–Renee Schettler
☞ Table of Contents
Fish Tacos with Creamy Chipotle Cabbage Slaw
For the slaw
- 4 cups shredded green cabbage (1 medium to large cabbage)
- 1 cup shredded purple cabbage
- 2 medium carrots shredded
- 1 small red onion very thinly sliced
- 3 large scallions (white and light green parts) thinly sliced
- 1 jalapeño seeded and minced
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt (preferably full fat) or sour cream
- 1/4 cup fresh lime juice or 1/8 cup fresh lime juice plus 1/8 cup Champagne vinegar, white wine vinegar, or apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar or honey
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin (optional)
- 1 teaspoon chipotle powder (optional)
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
For the fish tacos
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon chipotle powder
- 1 teaspoon finely ground sea salt or to taste
- 1 pound mild white fish (such as cod, halibut, or tilapia) cut into 4 fillets
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
For the assembly
- 8 small corn tortillas warmed (or 16 tortillas if you want to be authentic)
- Cilantro leaves for garnish (optional)
Make the slaw
- Combine the cabbages, carrots, onion, scallions, and jalapeño in a large bowl.
- In a medium bowl, whisk the mayonnaise, yogurt or sour cream, lime juice or lime juice and vinegar, sugar or honey, and the cumin and chipotle powder, if using, until smooth and creamy.
- Pour the dressing over the cabbage mixture and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes before serving and up to 2 days. (If refrigerating for more than an hour or so, drain off any liquid that pools at the bottom of the bowl just prior to serving.)
Make the fish tacos
- In a shallow bowl, combine the flour, chipotle powder, and 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste. Pat each fish fillet dry and lightly dredge in the flour mixture, shaking off any excess flour.
- Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a skillet over medium heat and place 2 fillets at a time in the pan. Gently fry for 3 to 6 minutes, until the underside of the fish turns opaque. Use a spatula to flip the fillets and cook until opaque throughout. Place on a paper towel-lined plate, drain the remaining oil from the pan, and repeat with 1 tablespoon oil and the remaining 2 fillets.
- To serve, for each fish fillet, heat tortillas in a clean skillet in batches with the 1 remaining tablespoon oil, flipping them once, then place them on a plate.
Assemble the tacos
- Cut each fillet in half and divide the fish evenly among the tortillas. Toss the slaw to recombine and then add a spoonful to each taco along with some cilantro, if desired. (Chances are you will have excess slaw. Just cover it and stash it in the fridge and serve it alongside pulled pork, grilled chicken, or just about anything.)
Gluten-Free Fish Tacos VariationSimply skip the step where you dredge the fish in flour and instead sprinkle the fish with the chipotle powder and salt.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
I love fish tacos, and these were really good. I used tilapia, and it held up really well to the frying. I think that a little more salt could be used in the flour and chipotle mixture, but this was fixed with a light salting after removing the fish from the oil. I especially liked the slaw and think that it really made the dish. The slaw held up nicely after the initial refrigerator time. The next day, it was also okay but did require some mixing because there was more liquid. The flavors were still there and undiluted. If you like things a bit spicier, you could definitely increase the chipotle, or add a nice spicy salsa. Although the recipe didn’t include these items, I think that the addition of a nice salsa and even guacamole would really bring together the flavors. The tacos are good on their own, but these items would just take it to another level. These were really good fish tacos that I will definitely be making again in the future.
How would I describe this fish tacos recipe? Simply delish! I used a nice Pacific cod, which was the perfect complement to the bold chipotle slaw. My intention was to make the recipe exactly as written. I must say I was on track to do so until I saw the basket of market-fresh cherry tomatoes on the counter. At the last moment I added a handful of these flavor bombs, diced in half, to the slaw. We really enjoyed the freshness and bright flavor the tomatoes added to the slaw as well as the beautiful color. I did find that the recipe made much more chipotle dressing than required to dress the slaw. This worked perfectly for me as I used a bit of the remaining sauce to dress the tortilla before layering the pan-fried fish and slaw on the tortilla. As my kids like white extra-sharp Cheddar cheese on their fish tacos, I made half the batch with the addition of the cheese. Both versions were divine. My teenage daughter said we should have these more often. Some augmentations that would be fun to try in the future: Add jicama for crunch and a way to tone down the sauce, should it be too spicy for your diners. Although totally out of the norm for Baja-style fish tacos, I enjoy a garnish of fresh tomato salsa on my fish tacos and, if I’m really hungry, a slice of avocado as well. I also plan to make the slaw separately to serve with other dishes—grilled/fried/baked chicken, pork roast, pulled pork, and just about any seafood plate. This slaw would be the perfect zesty side dish or salad for picnics or buffets. The ingredients are available year-round, which makes this recipe good for any day of the year.
We really enjoyed these fish tacos. I made them with cod, the special at the fish market that day. It looks like there are a lot of ingredients for the slaw, but the recipe is straightforward, simple, and comes together quickly and easily. Since there was chipotle powder on the fish, I left it out of the slaw. With the slaw only resting for 20 minutes, I didn’t refrigerate it because I didn’t want ice-cold slaw going onto my hot fish. Otherwise I followed the instructions exactly. We liked the slaw so much that I was glad I didn’t decrease the recipe, even though we had about half of it left over. We just ate it with some burgers the next night. Weeping wasn’t much of a problem, even on the second day. There was just a little liquid that I simply stirred back into the slaw. Since my preference is for crunchy tacos, I tried mine in store-bought crispy shells and liked those.
We loved this slaw! We made it 2 days in a row, and we will make it again. The second time I substituted good olive oil for the mayo, and our tasters ate it all with compliments. I cannot help but futz around with this type of recipe. I’ll definitely try adding other vegetables, like jicama and cucumber. Lena will make the recipe again, too, without the red onion, which she thought was too vibrant. A delicious slaw!
I am torn. I love fish tacos and have been making and eating them for years. This is not my idea of a fish taco. However, if I had to rate the chipotle slaw alone, I would give it the highest rating because it’s that darn good. And that’s the problem. The slaw is so flavorful, with just enough bite from the jalapeño and depth of flavor from the cumin and chipotle powder, that it completely overwhelms the fish. I’d be inclined to try the slaw with a pork taco, pulled pork sandwich, or as a side dish with—you guessed it—pork. It really needs something that can stand up to all of those flavors. Making the slaw is pretty straightforward. I used 5 cups green cabbage, 1 cup shredded carrots (2 carrots), 2/3 cup red onions, and 1/2 cup scallions. I used goat’s milk yogurt in place of the Greek yogurt. Although it’s much thinner, it didn’t yield a watery dressing, even after some time in the fridge. I used the juice of 2 limes and added the cumin and chipotle powder, which I would not suggest omitting. If you’re sensitive to spicy foods, you could do without the jalapeño or use less. I thought it was the right amount, but I like my food to bite back! I went to the neighborhood farmers’ market and bought a fresh-off-the-boat fillet of weakfish, or squeteague, as my Dad used to call it (the Native American name for this common sea trout of Narragansett Bay). It’s delicately flavored but holds together well in the frying pan. I cooked the fillets for 4 minutes on the first side and 3 on the second. They were lovely. I just lightly brushed my tortillas with oil and grilled them on my grill pan before assembly. Forget the cilantro. You can’t even taste it with all the other flavors going on. I ate 4 tacos all by myself. (See? I told you I was torn.) Both the pepper mixture and the slaw yielded at least twice the amount required for the recipe. It was perfectly fine with me, though, as I had a lovely pork butt covered in the spice rub in the fridge that I intended to slow cook. That cabbage slaw came in very handy.
Overall, these fish tacos were great, and making them as the recipe states yielded the perfect amount of heat. I first made a lunch version of this dish with a very good friend who’s a caterer. We both agreed the recipe was amazingly easy, healthy, flavorful, and fast. The texture of the fish was crisp on the outside and moist on the inside. It was almost like it was lightly fried, but I used only 1 tablespoon oil, so it’s much healthier than frying. I couldn’t wait to make it again that night for my family, knowing that something this easy and this delicious would be a hit. It was extra late when we got home, and everyone was hungry. In trying to speed up an already quick and simple recipe, I cut my pound of halibut into 1-inch pieces rather than the 4-ounce fillets that the recipe called for, so each piece had much more seasoning than if I’d left it as whole fillets. This took the perfect amount of heat in the original recipe and made it way too much. Then I added the chipotle powder and cumin to the slaw which made things a little spicy, too. The combination was too much heat. My son, who has started speaking in movie references a little too often, compared it to “Texas Pete on more steroids than Stallone.” After adding sour cream, the heat from the tacos was a little more bearable. But the real proof that the tacos were amazing was that everyone kept eating the fish and drinking milk every so often to cool off their burning tongues. I will make this again, following the recipe exactly next time. I decided to use flour tortillas instead of corn tortillas just because it’s what my family prefers.
I did not expect to like this fish tacos recipe as much as I did. I have my own idea about what a fish taco is supposed to be, but the fact is, this made for a really tasty dinner. The slaw holds up pretty well, so it could be made a couple of hours in advance. I made it 1 hour ahead, and it didn’t get “weepy” in the fridge. The next day, however, the leftover slaw did have some excess liquid. The fish, on the other hand, does not keep well, so make just what you plan to eat in 1 sitting. The chipotle powder in the slaw was not at all overwhelming. The slaw did have a kick to it, but that was more from the jalapeño, and will vary depending upon how much you use and how hot your jalapeño is. Lately I’ve been getting unusually hot ones. In frying the fish, I went ahead and cut the fillets into the final-size serving pieces before frying them. This made it a bit easier to fit them in the pan, and saved the trouble of trying to divide the cooked fillets. I used snapper, as it was the best option in my market. My fillets were fairly thin, so the lowest end of the frying time given, 3 minutes per side, was perfect. The composed taco of sautéed fish and crunchy slaw had a great balance of flavors in which no one component overwhelmed the others. A very enjoyable dish, and a nice reminder that sometimes a recipe that isn’t following the rules can be a winner.
While there are a few tweaks I’d make, based on my personal taste, I think this fish tacos recipe rates as a Testers’ Choice. I used tilapia fillets, and they were perfectly cooked at 3 minutes a side. I thought every component needed more salt, so I added salt to the fish while it was cooking and even sprinkled some salt on the corn tortillas while they were warming. I’m not a huge fan of corn tortillas, so I cooked them a little longer than probably intended by the author in order to give them a little crispiness and some brown spots. I didn’t care for the Greek yogurt in the slaw and would try sour cream next time—I thought it had an odd tanginess that didn’t really go with the rest of the flavors. I’d also try to substitute one of the vinegar options for half of the lime juice. I did add the cumin and chipotle powder to the slaw—these spices, to me, are what made the dish. Without those flavors, the tacos would’ve been bland (except for that jalapeño!). I made the slaw about an hour before serving, and it held together well, and even the next night, it had only weeped a little, and the liquid was easily mixed back together with the slaw. I thought the sautéed onions and peppers were a great addition, and the second night, we even added avocado.
Originally published May 18, 2016