Go Fish!

Fish tacos are a great summer dish. They are a nice change from the everyday grind. You can use fish that you caught or lean white fish from the market. There are enough varieties of toppings that you can make just about anyone happy.

Fried fish tacos are the best, just not really the best for you. The hassle of setting up the fryer and cleaning up can also be a deterrent. Griddled — or as the Spanish say, on the plancha — is a quick and easy alternative without all the mess. Using the griddle or plancha (a Spanish-style flattop grill) is not mandatory; if you have a sauté pan, it will work just as well and will be easier cleanup.

Fish is much more delicate than beef, chicken or pork; it can’t just be slapped into the pan. The cooking surface needs a little more attention before it is time to cook. This method of seasoning will work if you are using just about any metal — cast iron, stainless steel, aluminum or black steel. Heat the empty pan for about two minutes over medium heat. Add just enough oil to swirl around the in pan to coat the bottom. Once the oil starts to smoke slightly, turn off the heat. Use a paper towel and wipe the oil around the inside of the pan, including the sides. Let the pan sit for about five to 10 minutes (prepare some toppings while you wait). This allows the pores of the metal to open, fill with oil and once cool, make the pan somewhat nonstick.

Now you are ready to heat your pan. Add a small amount of oil and cook your seasoned fish without it sticking and crumbling into a million pieces.

It seems like coleslaw is more of a staple than an option when it comes to fish tacos. You find it on almost every fish taco you see. This is not your typical coleslaw; there are peppers, cilantro, lime and a whole lot of spice. The coleslaw adds a textural contrast with the cabbage crunch, creamy mayonnaise, a pop of acidity from the lime juice and vinegar, and spice from the chipotle. You can tweak the recipe — add what you have on hand, and what is in season.

Think taco toppings, but good taco toppings. You don’t just throw on some shredded lettuce and cheese on them and call it a day. Get creative and give your diners some options — avocado, green onion, cilantro, jalapeno, tomato, queso fresco, corn, black beans, lime wedges. You can have the fish and the coleslaw ready in the tortilla, and offer an array of toppings for everyone to select their own as they make their plate. Try mixing it up and find some new items at the market.

Makes 8 to 10 tacos

4 to 6 ounces shredded green cabbage
1 small red bell pepper, thinly sliced
3 to 5 tablespoons minced cilantro
1 cup mayonnaise
1 large lime (or 2 small limes), juiced
1 to 2 tablespoons cider vinegar, as needed
3 to 5 tablespoons cilantro
Chipotle powder, as needed (cayenne works as a substitute)
Kosher salt as needed

Mix all ingredients together; season to taste with chipotle powder and salt. Add more vinegar as needed for acidity to desired taste. Can be made up to 24 hours in advance and kept refrigerated. After slaw has set for 15 to 20 minutes, drain off excess liquid, season to taste and use as a topping for tacos.

1 pound lean white fish fillets (about 4 to 5 fillets of Tilapia)
Oil as needed for cooking
Chipotle powder, as needed (cayenne will work as a substitute)
Kosher salt, as needed
8 to 10 flour tortillas (double if using corn tortillas), warmed

Prepare tortillas by wrapping in foil and baking at 300 degrees for 5 to 10 minutes to warm while fish cooks.

Season pan (as instructed earlier). Sprinkle fish with chipotle powder and salt, as desired. Heat pan over medium heat for about 2 minutes, and add just enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan. If using a small pan, you may need to cook the fish in batches to keep from crowding. Carefully add the seasoned fish into the pan, placing one side end of the fillet into the pan and laying it down away from you. Shake the pan gently to make sure that the fish is not sticking and the oil is coating the pan and fish. Wait until you see a slight brown slightly creep up the side of the fish, then flip the fillets carefully and cook the other sides until the fish is flaky all the way through, about another 5 minutes.

Place cooked fish on a cutting board and slice into ½-inch strips. Using one flour tortilla per taco, or two corn tortillas (because they need a little more help to keep from falling apart), assemble tacos with fish, coleslaw and other toppings as desired. Serve with a lime wedge.

Brook Harlan is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. He is a culinary arts instructor at the Columbia Area Career Center