Sometimes, you find great food in unexpected places. Last summer, I attended the BlogHer conference at the Marriott hotel in San Diego. There was a poolside restaurant at the hotel that served some amazing fish tacos. A little hotel cafe is probably the last place I’d expect to find something noteworthy– which just goes to show, I should always keep an open mind! I wrote about the tacos in my travel notebook, making my best guess at the ingredients. San Diego is known for their beer battered Mexican fish tacos, but these tacos were exceptional– ultra light and crispy with a perfect flavor, creamy cool sauce, and perfect crunch from panko breadcrumbs. I’ve been planning for a year to crack this recipe, and this past weekend I finally had a chance to work on it. I’m so excited about how this one turned out!
Recreating that super cripsy, flavorful exterior was the most challenging part. I finally solved it by beer battering the fish with a spiced batter, then dipping each piece in panko breadcrumbs for an ultra crispy coating. I wanted a really light beer batter, so I made it tempura style, adding beer for flavor– the carbonation helps to make it nice and crisp. This batter/breading combination took me many, many tries to get exactly right. My family has started calling it Tori’s “famous” Crispy Panko Coating. Yup, gotta bold that and take ownership of it, because it’s just that good. I’m excited to share the results with you!
Panko breadcrumbs are key to this recipe. These Japanese-style breadcrumbs have gained popularity in recent years due to their light, crispy texture. You can find them in most grocery stores, either near the breadcrumbs or in the Asian food section. If you’re having trouble locating panko, regular breadcrumbs will suffice, but the finish product won’t be quite as crunchy.
These tacos are pareve without sauce. If you add the sour cream (which I highly recommend), then of course it becomes a dairy dish. To keep these tacos dairy free, feel free to use a sour cream substitute for the sauce, like Tofutti. And if you like a creamier sauce, you can mix half mayonnaise, half sour cream– I like it that way, too.
You’re going to love these tacos, they’re like a fiesta in your mouth. I’m excited for you to try them! If you make them, please report back and let me know what you think. Enjoy!
Note: If you’re avoiding alcohol, you can make the batter alcohol free by substituting seltzer water for beer. This breading method allowed me to skip using egg in the coating, so those who are allergic to egg can also enjoy this dish.
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Crispy Panko Fish Tacos
- 1 1/2 lbs boneless skinless white fish fillets - choose a firm white fish like cod or halibut
- 15 corn tortillas for serving
- Grapeseed oil or oil with a high smoke point for frying
Tori's Crispy Panko Coating Ingredients
- 1 1/2 cups beer (or substitute seltzer water)
- 1 cup flour
- 1 tbsp cornstarch
- 1 tsp salt
- 3/4 tsp garlic powder
- 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 1/4 cups panko breadcrumbs
- 2 1/2 cups shredded cabbage
- 2 ripe avocados, thinly sliced
- 2 tomatoes, seeded and diced
- Fresh lime wedges for garnish
- You can add other taco toppings if you prefer-- salsa fresca, fresh chopped cilantro, jalapeno or hot sauce for a kick
- 1 cup sour cream (or 1/2 cup sour cream, 1/2 cup mayonnaise)
- 2 tbsp fresh lime juice (or more to taste)
- 1 1/2 tbsp chopped cilantro
- 1 tsp lime zest
- Salt to taste
Cut the fish fillets into chunks that are roughly 2 inches long and 1 inch wide.
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the beer or seltzer, flour, cornstarch, salt, garlic powder and cayenne pepper. Note that the beer will be difficult to measure out due to foam; you’ll need at least 1 1/2 cups of beer to make this batter. The batter should be thick like pancake batter, but if it appears clumpy or overly thick add more beer, seltzer or water until mixture is thin enough for dipping. Pour the panko breadcrumbs into another bowl. Have an empty plate handy for the breaded fish.
Dip each piece of fish into the batter. When you pull the fish out of the batter, let the excess batter run back into the bowl.
After dipping in the batter, gently roll each piece in panko crumbs to coat. Leaving too much batter on the fish will lead to clumping, so make sure your fish is only lightly coated with batter before breading. Use one hand for wet dipping and the other for dry, otherwise you’ll end up with lots of clumps in the dry coating ingredients. Place the breaded fish onto the empty plate.
When your fish is breaded, heat 1/2 inch of cooking oil in a skillet over medium high. Fry the breaded fish pieces in batches of 6. If the oil is at the correct temperature, it should bubble and sizzle evenly—no splatters or popping.
Flip the fish when they turn dark golden brown. It will take 2-3 minutes per side for the fish to become golden and crisp.
While the fish fries, whisk together your sauce ingredients. Reserve the sauce.
Place fried fish pieces on a wire rack to drain, if you have one. This will keep the fish as crisp as possible. Use paper towels to catch the oil drips underneath the rack. If you don’t have a wire rack, you can drain the fish pieces on a double layer of paper towels.
When all the fish pieces are fried, assemble your tacos. Heat the corn tortillas in a skillet till they become warm, fragrant, and flexible. Place 2 pieces of fried fish in each taco. Top with a bit of shredded cabbage, some diced tomato, 2 slices of avocado, and 1 tbsp of sour cream sauce. Serve warm with fresh lime wedges.