If you had asked me, say 10 years ago, whether I’d be eating, let alone recommend making fish tacos I’d have said you were nuts. Before I lived in Texas I had a weird, Taco Bell-informed concept of Tex-Mex where I assumed everything would be (should be?) spicy, melted-cheese covered, and possibly involving pinto beans. None of those words, perhaps with the exception of spicy, was anything I wanted anywhere near fish. Eww. No way.
And so, I avoided the fish tacos on every menu like the plague until one fine day shortly after we moved to Dallas we stopped at a roadside taco stand housed in a converted gas station called Rusty Taco. The menu was a revelation to this Yankee that things other than ground beef and a ton of shredded jack cheese could be contained in a soft tortilla. Mike and I ordered a variety of their offerings, pork with pineapple, brisket, and you guessed it: fish.
Another revelation. I loved the bright freshness of the white fish topped with a squeeze of lime, layered over a bed of crunchy thinly sliced red cabbage, and lightly drizzled with spicy crema. I was a new convert to the dish and psyched by the realization that stopping for a taco (or 2 or 3) didn’t have to mean a queso-induced food coma.
The recipe below isn’t a direct interpretation of Rusty’s version, just my personal preferences drawn from the many variations I’ve eaten since. But I’ll still remember and tip my cap to that first bite sitting under the whirling fan, just out of the hot Texas sun with a cold margarita to keep me company.
Mahi Mahi Fish Tacos with Mango Salsa (serves 4)
2 pounds fresh mahi mahi, skin removed
1 package small soft tacos, 8 flour or 16 corn (plan to double up if using corn)
2 cups shredded red cabbage
2 cups (2 medium) diced ripe mangos
1/4 cup finely diced red onion
4 limes, divided
3 tablespoons minced cilantro, divided
5 ounces lime yogurt
2 tablespoons olive oil
Ground black pepper
Zest and juice three of the four limes. Cut the fourth lime into 8 wedges and reserve. Next, peel and dice the mangos into 1/3 inch pieces and place in a medium mixing bowl. Add the red onion, cilantro, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and 2-3 tablespoons lime juice according to taste. Mix the ingredients together until evenly combined and set aside in the refrigerator.
Next, in a small bowl mix the lime yogurt with 1 tablespoon lime zest, 1 tablespoon lime juice, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and set aside in the refrigerator.
To cook the fish, heat the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat until it shimmers and just begins to smoke. While the oil heats, pat the mahi mahi dry with paper towels and cut into 1/2 inch wide strips. Sprinkle one side generously with kosher salt and ground black pepper just before adding to the pan placing the seasoned side down.
Cook in batches if necessary to give the fish plenty of room, and don’t try to move or turn them until 3-4 minutes have passed and the edges have begun to turn golden brown. If the pieces begin to curl up, or aren’t getting enough contact with the pan, gently press the fish down with a spatula. While the first side is cooking, sprinkle the unseasoned side with kosher salt and pepper.
When you’re ready to turn, use a spatula to gently nudge the edges, they should come away from the pan with minimal effort. Flip and cook another 3 minutes on the other side until the fish is just opaque. Same rules apply – no fiddling, give them room.
When all the fish has been cooked, assemble the tacos by layering 2 corn tortillas, then topping with a drizzle of the lime cilantro crema, shredded red cabbage, and 2-3 pieces of mahi mahi. Add a spoonful of the mango salsa and serve immediately with the lime wedges.
Salsa adapted from Bon Appétit’s Mango Salsa. Need more advice on handling mangoes? Real Simple has a great video tutorial! What about your fish pan-frying game? Saveur and Fine Cooking both have excellent advice on the subject.
Small Kitchen Friendly?
Yes! I used a medium mixing bowl, small bowl, and 12” sauté pan along with a Y-shaped peeler, chef’s knife, microplane grater, a rubber spatula and a metal spatula. (A flexible fish spatula would be ideal, but I don’t own one at the moment!) You’ll also want a liquid measuring cup, measuring spoons, and some paper towels.
And, depending on your ventilation situation a small fan placed in the kitchen window is a useful addition.
To me, this dish just sings of summer whether that’s in a breezy coastal location or punishingly hot North Texas and is the perfect dinner to make when it’s too hot to cook, but not quite too hot to eat. The mahi mahi is tender underneath it’s thin golden exterior, red cabbage gives the taco a crisp texture, and the whole package is jubilant with it’s punchy lime-spiked crema and fragrant mango salsa dressings. Simple and perfect.