CORNMEAL CRUSTED FISH TACOS
You know you’ve made a good recipe when your partner says to you “I’m so glad we FINALLY have a go-to fish taco recipe!”. These cornmeal crusted tilapia fish tacos are LEGIT.
We’ve been playing around with various fish taco recipes for years, never settling on one until we created this recipe. And now we eat these homemade fish tacos on the regular. Inspired by a WW recipe, we love that these crispy fish tacos are light, healthier, and darn delicious.
TELL ME ABOUT THESE CRISPY FISH TACOS
Level of difficulty: Moderate to difficult. In my book, any time you’re dealing with boiling oil, that’s an automatic ‘moderate’ because of the increased level of awareness you need for both safety and food quality purposes! If you’ve never fried in oil before (this is just pan-frying, though, not deep frying), you may need to make this recipe more than once to really nail your timing and cooking temperatures.
Flavor: Sweet and zesty cornmeal crust surrounds fish that’s got a fresh and buttery flavor.
Texture: The cornmeal breading will get nice and crispy, and the tilapia should get flakey and tender. Mix that with some crispy slaw and a soft tortilla, and you’ll see why texture is as important of a component in fish tacos as the flavor!
Time: It will take you about 25 minutes to make cornmeal crusted fish tacos.
KEY INGREDIENTS NEEDED FOR CORNMEAL CRUSTED FISH TACOS
Tilapia fillets: we’ve found that using smaller, thinner tilapia fillets make the best tacos because they become more crispy and have a nice breading-to-fish ratio. We use 3oz fillets that we can buy in the frozen section of our grocery store, nothing fancy!
Cornmeal: the cornmeal creates the crust for your homemade crispy fish tacos.
Southwest seasoning: mixing this seasoning into the cornmeal crust takes these tilapia fish tacos to the next level
Neutral oil: needed for pan-frying your tilapia. Canola oil or vegetable oil are great options!
OVERVIEW: HOW TO MAKE CORNMEAL CRUSTED TILAPIA TACOS
Make breading: mix together cornmeal and seasoning on a dinner plate and set aside
Prep fish: Pat thawed tilapia fillets dry with a paper towel. Press each fillet into the cornmeal mixture to create a thin and even coating on each side. Move the fillets around to also cover the edges. Set breaded fillets aside.
Pan fry fish: Place ~1/3 C of oil into a large skillet to create an even, thin layer across the entire bottom of the pan. Heat over medium-high heat until a small drop(s) of water sizzles. Cook 2-3 fillets at a time until golden brown on each side and internal temperature is at 145°F (~2mins per side)*
Eat! Break fillets into smaller pieces and serve with your favorite tortillas and toppings
SERVING SUGGESTIONS FOR THE BEST HOMEMADE FISH TACOS EXPERIENCE
Pick a good tortilla. It may sound simple, but choosing a good tortilla makes a big difference! Whether you prefer corn tortillas or wheat tortillas, these cornmeal crusted tilapia fish tacos will be delicious.
Taco toppings: One of the beauties of making homemade fish tacos is that you can put on whatever toppings you like! Here are the taco toppings I usually pair with this tilapia taco recipe:
Shredded cheddar cheese - not needed, but awesome with these
Cabbage slaw - shredded cabbage on tacos adds the perfect crunch to your bite!
Salsa - I love using a fresh red salsa on these. Tomatillo or salsa verde is also great!
Avocado - I mean, avocado on tacos is always a hit.
Cilantro - adds a nice herby punch to your tacos.
Side dishes for tacos: fill out the meal by adding a couple of sides to go along with your cornmeal crusted fish tacos. Here are a few of our favorites that we rotate in with this meal:
Corn - grilled corn, Mexican street corn, or even a ‘steamers’ bag of frozen corn
Beans - black beans or pinto beans, either regular or refried, are my go-to side dish for taco night. Top with cheese if desired
Chips and salsa - a classic taco night appetizer and/or side
Guacamole - you can never go wrong with guacamole. Enjoy with chips or on your taco
Grilled vegetables - I know, I know, I’m a vegetable pusher... but adding a side of veggies to your meal is a great way to create a balanced meal. We’ve enjoyed grilled peppers and grilled zucchinis with these, but get creative with your favorite veggies.
Side salad - keep it simple or go elaborate, but having a crunchy side salad along with these cornmeal crusted tilapia fish tacos is a nice addition!
FAQS FOR MAKING CORNMEAL CRUSTED FISH TACOS
Do I have to use tilapia for these cornmeal crusted fish tacos? While I like and recommend making this recipe with tilapia, you do not need to if you’d prefer a different fish! Cod is another popular choice for fish tacos. If you are using a fish other than tilapia, note the thickness of the fillet. If you have a thicker fillet, this is important for a few reasons. Your breading-to-fish ratio will likely be heavier on the fish (so less of a crispy bite than noted for the tilapia in this recipe). The cooking time will also be longer than noted in the recipe due to a thicker fillet, so make sure to use an instant read thermometer to ensure your fish is fully cooked.
Why do I have to pat the fish dry with a towel?
‘Moisture’ is the sworn enemy of ‘crispy’. If you want crispy fish for your cornmeal crusted fish tacos, and of course you do, you need to remove the surface moisture from the fish before coating the fish in cornmeal. If you skip this step, your cornmeal coating will turn out soft and mushy. No thanks.
How can I tell when the fish is ready?
Aside from a set of sharp knives, the most important kitchen tool for making repeatedly delicious/quality proteins is an instant-read thermometer. With a standard kitchen thermometer, it may take 5-10 seconds before you get an accurate temperature reading. During that time, your hands are right above a hot pan of oil, which means two things can happen: 1) your hands get uncomfortably close to very hot oil and you may get hurt, or 2) you pull the fish out of the pan too quickly to save your hands.
With an instant-read thermometer, though, you’ll know your accurate temp instantly and can act accordingly. If you don’t have one, they’re relatively inexpensive and something I would recommend adding to your kitchen tools.
What if I don’t have Southwest seasoning for the crust? No problem! You can substitute the Southwest seasoning for your favorite taco seasoning blend instead.
Is cornmeal gluten free / is this taco recipe gluten free? Generally, cornmeal is considered gluten free, meaning you can make these fish tacos gluten free! Cornmeal is a coarse flour made from corn. However, it’s always a good idea to double check the packaging for a gf marking if you’re serving these fish tacos to a family member or friend with celiac. Checking the label can tell you if the brand of cornmeal you’re looking at is processed in a facility that also processes wheat products. Also make sure to verify your toppings (primarily the tortillas) are gluten free if that is of concern to anyone who may be enjoying this recipe.
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