friday fry: tempura fish tacos

As stated before, I’m a big fan of tacos. In particular, I like making tacos at home because they leave you with really good, useful leftovers. For instance: the day after entertaining friends with a platter of tinga tacos, you’re left with some flavorful, spicy pork shoulder, probably some shredded cabbage and sliced radishes, and leftover salsa and crumbled cheese. You can go a lot of directions with ingredients like this: more tacos, sure, but how about adding some chopped romaine and making a taco-style salad? Or griddle up some tortillas and make quesadillas with the tinga, salsa, and cheese, then dress the cabbage and radishes with some vinaigrette and call it a slaw. Or use that pork in one of my favorite applications: fried rice (the cabbage would be good in there too).

This is all to say that while you don’t need to be really Sandra Lee-obsessive about it, if you plan ahead you can usually rework your leftovers into other meals later that week. And if you keep your fridge organized (I love those clear plastic deli containers – either wash and reuse the ones from Chinese takeout or get yourself to the restaurant supply store. Unless they’re really funky or melted or something, I can clean them and use them at least 4 or 5 times before they get recycled), you can quickly make sense of what foods you have on hand to work with.


Anyway, the Friday fry. We are big fans of fish tacos! Often I’ll just sautee some chunks of snapper or tilapia, but sometimes we’ll get fancy, like with these Korean Fish Tacos. Every once in a while I’ll make Baja-style fish tacos, which feature fish that’s fried in a batter. Batter-fried things (such as onion rings or fish and chips) have a crispy exterior but a really soft, gently cooked interior. If you think about it, you’re basically making a fried pancake around a filling that is essentially steamed – the wet coating traps the moisture inside and crisps up the outside.


As I drove home from the store, I thought about garnishes. Sure, I could do the standard cabbage and radish, with a squirt of lime and a mayonnaise-based sauce. But if we consider that the batter fried fish is really just a form of tempura, things get more interesting. Toss the fish with powdered chile (I used kochukaru – Korean chile powder – but you could use powdered ancho or New Mexico or even cayenne). Keep the cabbage, ditch the radish (or keep it, but to be honest, I didn’t have any on hand. Shredded carrot would be good, too). Instead of a chipotle-spiked mayo, add ginger, soy, and scallion. If you’re feeling adventurous (I was, Sarah wasn’t), top with thin strips of toasted nori for extra crunch and umami. We’re left with something that’s still basically a fish taco, but with some twists that make it a little more interesting.

Tempura fish tacos

Tempura Fish Tacos with Ginger Mayo and Nori Shreds

serves 4


  • 1 pound red snapper fillets, cut into about 12 strips
  • salt
  • 1 tablespoon mild chile powder such as New Mexico or Ancho, or 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 cup rice flour (or use 2 cups all-purpose flour)
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 cups sparkling water or club soda, chilled
  • oil for deep frying (probably about 2 quarts)
  • 1 cup good-quality mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon finely minced or grated ginger
  • 2 scallions, finely minced
  • 1 teaspoon Sriracha, or more to taste
  • 1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce, or more to taste
  • for serving: warmed corn tortillas, shredded cabbage, lime wedges, and 2 sheets of nori (Japanese seaweed like you’d use for sushi), cut with scissors into very fine shreds (optional)

Fried fish doesn’t keep very well, so before you do anything else, prep your garnishes and sauce. Combine the mayo, ginger, scallion, Sriracha, rice wine vinegar, and soy sauce. Taste for salt and acid; it may need more of both. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Place your cabbage in a bowl, cut up your limes and nori, warm your tortillas and set in a folded up clean dishtowel until you’re ready to serve (I like this method, but however you warm them, they will hold for up to 30 minutes properly wrapped. If you’re really paranoid, place the bundle in the oven at its lowest temperature).

Prepare the fish: toss snapper strips with chile powder and a good pinch of salt. Let sit at room temperature for up to 15 minutes while you prepare the batter and oil.

Set up a pan for frying and a deep-fry or candy thermometer. Heat the oil over medium-high heat until it reaches 375 degrees.

While the oil is heating, make the batter. Combine the flours, cornstarch, and a big pinch of salt in a medium bowl. Beat the egg yolks and add them to the flour. Pour in the chilled sparkling water and whisk until just barely smooth (a few lumps are fine; you don’t want to overmix this, especially if you didn’t use rice flour).

When the oil is ready, dip a piece of fish into the batter and then gently set in the oil. Repeat with about half the fish (if you’re using a smaller pan, you might use just a third of the fish). Cook, stirring occasionally, until the fish is starting to become golden-brown, about 3 minutes. Remove to a paper-towel lined plate and repeat with the rest of the fish.

To assemble tacos, lay 2 or 3 tortills out on a plate (I like to double stack my tortillas, but you don’t have to). Spread a dollop of ginger-scallion mayo and place a piece of fish down. Top with cabbage and nori and serve with a wedge of lime.


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