This spring at Athlete Food we have tossed around a dirty 5-letter word we rarely use: tired. Rebeccah and Laurel are training hard and racing often. This weekend Laurel drove three hours from Santa Monica to Pasa Robles, placed 3rd in the Wildflower Triathlon, then drove back. On Sunday Rebeccah rode 85 hilly miles, then ran a 10K.
As for me, I have three kids under six and a husband who works for a startup. Around the dinner hour, I am usually outnumbered 3-to-1. Make that 4-to-1 if you count the dog, which is tall enough to vacuum food off the counters. So when Rebeccah emailed asking for an unfussy dinner idea, I knew she was requesting a dish that doesn’t require precise chopping, a labor-intensive sauce, or standing over a hot, spattering pan. She wanted a recipe that could be salvaged from a variety of cooking sins—under seasoning, over cooking—by adding more hot sauce later.
These fish tacos are just such a dish. They are a barebones version of the fish taco spread in David Tanis’s A Platter of Figs. Would they be better with Tanis’s homemade tortilla chips, two fresh salsas, and avocado salad? You bet. But nothing tastes better with a side of grouchy.
Instead of Tanis’s avocado salad and fresh salsas, I set out bowls of toppings that double as finger foods for my kids: diced avocado, halved small tomatoes, and sliced orange and yellow bell peppers. If I find cabbage for sale by the quarter or half, I’ll buy that and shred it. But sub in whatever toppings your family prefers. Remember to keep it low-maintenance. I have served these with just lime, salsa, and tortilla chips, and no one complained.
Variations: David Tanis uses halibut for his delicious tacos. If you do the same, ask the fishmonger to cut the halibut, which is thicker than grouper and snapper, into three pieces to lessen the cooking time. Wash, dry, and prep the cilantro, peppers and lime up to 2 days ahead. Season the fish up to 2 hours before cooking.
If/when my kids convince me to stay outside for an extra 20 minutes instead of going inside to start dinner, I hack the fish into 2” pieces so it cooks in under 10 minutes. I have noticed that the small pieces cook up tougher than the uncut filet, but I think I’m the only one who notices or cares. On nights when my husband is home and everyone is content, I do what Tanis advises and warm the tortillas in a cast iron pan: Right after you pull the fish out of the oven, heat a cast iron pan on the stovetop. Toast the tortillas in the dry hot pan until they start to blister. Wrap them in a cloth napkin to keep warm.
Good Enough Fish Tacos
Time: 30 minutes
Serves 2 adults and 2 kids
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
½ teaspoon sea salt
1 1/2 pounds grouper or snapper filets
freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons olive oil
½ cup of cilantro leaves (I don’t even chop them. See “tired,” above.)
1 avocado, diced
1/2 cup small tomatoes, halved
1 orange bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 yellow bell pepper, thinly sliced
½ cup shredded cabbage
1 lime, cut into wedges
whole grain tortilla chips
hot sauce (I like Chalula.)
10 corn tortillas
Preheat the oven to 400°.
Stir together cumin, garlic powder, smoked paprika and sea salt. Put the fish on a baking sheet. Sprinkle the spices over the fish. Add a grind or two of black pepper. (I leave part of the fish pepper-free since my kids don’t like it.)
Drizzle the olive oil over the fish. Rub it all over the top, bottom, and sides, spreading the spices as you do.
On the table set out bowls of the cilantro, avocado, tomatoes, bell peppers, cabbage (if you’re using it), lime, salsa, and chips, plus the hot sauce.
Cook the fish until it flakes apart with a fork, 12 to 20 minutes depending on the size and thickness of the filets.
Stack three paper towels and drizzle them with water until damp. Sprinkle a little water on each tortilla and stack them. Wrap the stack of tortillas in the paper towels and microwave until warm, 30 seconds.
Break the fish into 1” to 2” pieces, transfer to serving dish, and enjoy.