What Are Baja Fish Tacos?
When you think of Tex-Mex cuisine you almost always think of tacos first.
The delicious combination of your favorite proteins, vegetables and sauce nestled inside a crispy or soft tortilla is really tough to beat.
While tacos have been around since the 19th century, it wasn’t until 1983 that fish tacos gained popularity in the United States.
We’re here to break down possibly the tastiest version of them all: the Baja Fish Taco. But where exactly did this ‘street-food’ staple come from?
What is a Fish Taco?
To begin, we have to credit the true OGs, the indigenous people of North America who lived in coastal Mexico. For thousands of years, they fished from warm waters and wrapped their catches in stone-ground corn tortillas.
The fish taco as we know it today, however, has often been credited to Baja California, Mexico. This is the version that most of us picture when we think of a fish taco. This is filled with battered and deep-fried fish, drizzled with spicy mayo, and topped with shredded lettuce, salsa and a squeeze of fresh lime.
It wasn’t until 1983, however, that fish tacos gained popularity in the United States—and it all started with Ralph Rubio. The entrepreneur and San Diego native fell in love with fish tacos when he first tasted them in Baja, so much so that it inspired him to open a restaurant: Rubio’s Fresh Mexican Grill.
The trend has spread quickly since then, and taco stands have popped up all over North America, but fish tacos continue to be exceptionally popular in California, the state nearest to where they originated.
What Does Baja Style Mean?
Baja cuisine is distinct from mainland Mexican cooking. Over the centuries, many ethnic influences helped shape Baja’s culinary character.
The prototypical fish taco originated in Baja California, Mexico, and the preparation referred to in this country as “Baja-style” is similar to what you might find on the Mexican peninsula. It usually involves deep-fried white-fleshed fish, shredded cabbage, and a creamy white sauce.
The Baja fish taco was said to have been invented in either San Felipe or Ensenada. Some say that it even owes its roots to the immigration of Japanese fishermen who made their way to Mexico in the 1950s and ’60s, drawn to Baja California’s cold-water currents and biodiversity. As such, the fish taco might have been influenced by traditional Japanese tempura.
What Type of Fish is in Fish Tacos?
The best fish to use are those that are lean and flakey. They are mild in flavor, quick to cook, can be inexpensive and will hold up and not be too mushy. The most popular fish for Baja Fish Tacos:
Grilled or Fried Fish Tacos
Fried fish tacos are coated in a batter and then deep fried. In addition to the firm fish, the coating will provide a textural crunch. There are a few variations that include panko crusted, breadcrumbs or beer battered.
While not the choice for a traditional Baja Fish Taco, grilled is a fantastic alternative. Grilling the fish will impart a rich smoky flavor to the taco. These are usually a bit more healthy than their fried counterparts.
What is your favorite?
Topping Off Your Fish Tacos
This leafy veggie gives your tacos a wonderful crunch and color. And it also offers a healthy contrast to the rich elements of the dish.
As an alternative, try shredded cabbage as an even healthier substitute.
This tomato-onion-cilantro sauce is a Mexican staple. It offers a bright and zesty flavor that makes everything, especially tacos, taste.
Here’s another taco topping staple – guacamole. This rich, creamy and nutty spread is so irresistible.
Pico De Gallo
Pico de gallo is made with tomatoes, onions, serrano peppers, cilantro, and lime juice.
They are healthy, but they are also sweet, juicy, and essential in tacos. For a firmer texture, deseed the tomatoes first. Pro Tip: seasoning with a little salt will really accentuate the flavor.
For a creamier and tangier taco, add sour cream. This is also a great counterpart to any spicy toppings such as jalapenos. Just one dollop will do ya.
Add some sass to your fish tacos with hot sauce. Hot sauces have varying levels of flavor and heat, and it’s up to you to decide which ones you can handle.
Most tacos aficionados will tell you that you can’t have tacos without it. Are you one of these people? Most cheeses like cheddar and colby jack are great additions to your taco. However, for a truly authentic version, we suggest trying Cotija cheese. It’s a Mexican cheese that has a sharp salty flavor that works great with tacos.
Cilantro gives a wonderful herby flavor and vibrant color to tacos. You either love it or you hate it. Which are you?
This versatile vegetable offers a sweet and crunchy contrast to your taco toppings.
If you want to spice things up a little, you can’t go wrong with jalapeños. This hot chili pepper is a traditional Mexican spice, so you already know its flavor works well with tacos.
A little acidity goes a long way and lime juice is the perfect citrus. Lime juice has such a strong tanginess that enhances the flavor of your taco toppings and seasonings.
Sauce It Up
Baja sauce is typically made with peppers, parmesan cheese and seasonings blended with mayonnaise to make it creamy (some recipes call for yogurt instead of mayonnaise).
Mayo is the base for any chipotle sauce. Sour cream adds extra creaminess and a slight tanginess. Chipotle peppers in Adobo is the key ingredient that gives this sauce its smoky and spicy flavor. A splash of lime juice adds the acidity and balances out the spiciness.
It is made with avocado, sour cream or Greek yogurt, mayo, lime juice, salt, cumin and garlic powder. These handful of ingredients transform into the silky flavorful Avocado Crema that is amazing with any of your favorite Mexican foods
What’s a Good Side With Fish Tacos?
While Baja Fish Tacos or any taco is great on its own, why not make it a complete meal.
Elote, sometimes referred to as Mexican Street Corn, is made with corn on the cob, slathered with mayonnaise, seasoned with chili powder and fresh lime juice, sprinkled all over with salty Cotija cheese and cilantro. It’s messy to eat but worth every bite. This makes the perfect summertime side dish for any Mexican-inspired meal.
Refried Beans get their name not because they have been fried twice but because the word comes from the Spanish name for the dish – Frijoles Refritos. The word “refritos” means “well fried”.
Chips, Salsa and Guacamole
One of the most traditional accompaniments.
Fish tacos have exploded in popularity. The trend has spread quickly since then, and taco stands have popped up all over North America. While the Baja Fish Taco originated in California, they are equally loved throughout the country.
Have a craving for Baja Fish Tacos? Head on over to Tijuana Flats for some of the best.