Blackened Fish Tacos

One of the joys of working in an academic library is breaks between semesters.  Don’t get too jealous–I still have to work–but my schedule changes to a perfectly normal 8 – 5 for a week or three and I get to do novel things after work like jogging, eating dinner, and yes, blogging.  

Summer has come gently upon us here in Savannah.  The days aren’t stretching beyond 9pm like back home (a fluke of being at 47N), but it’s already hot enough where my tomatoes have gotten a good start and my cilantro plant bolted.  The warmer portions of the day are spent in an air-conditioned office, and I emerge to take the hound dog for a walk and drink wine as twilight descends on the city’s venerable oaks.  I remind myself that it’s not a bad life we have here.

There still isn’t a taco truck for 30 miles, though.  We found one once, en route to the teeming metropolis (*joke*) of Ridgefield, SC, to meet our little dog for the first time. 

At the sight of the truck, I jolted violently from my game of identifying and tallying roadkill to scream, “TACO TRUUUUCK!” from the passenger seat.

J slammed on the brakes in our ancient Volvo and screeched onto the shoulder.

“Where?” he asked, a little bewildered.  “Oh, never mind, I see.”  He steered into the parking lot of an abandoned strip mall.

And there it was: a real taco truck.  I ordered a plateful of $1.50 tacos in my pidgin Spanish: deliciously obscure bits of fried meat in doubled-up mini corn tortillas, topped off with cilantro and radish.  I finished them with a hefty squirt of red and green hot sauce.   “It’s hot…” the proprietor cautioned, his tone inferring that I’d rendered them inedible.  I gave him a rakish grin and added an extra dollop before shoving a whole taco in my mouth.  Don’t worry, friend, this ain’t my first taco-eating rodeo.

We opened the back hatch of the car and happily demolished our tacos.  I resisted ordering nine more and flopped down happily, legs dangling out the back of the car.  James trotted back to tell the proprietor that he was a god among men, and then we drove off with full bellies and contented smiles.

Now, I can’t say we’ve found that taco truck since then.  We looked, a little.  I feel like we should’ve passed it (twice) that time we tried to drive to Beaufort and the car broke down, but I didn’t see it.  Maybe it was a dream, wrapped in baby tortillas with a squirt of salsa verde.

The point is, it’s been months and I haven’t had a good taco since.  Southerners on the whole aren’t into tidbits of savory meat and crisp radish slices ensconced in fluffy corn tortillas.  They like a big scoop of wet, flavorless shredded chicken with a mound of jack cheese on a stale flour tortilla.  It’s tragic.

So I made my own tacos tonight, west coast-style.  Seattle is home to Taco del Mar, notable for ‘Fish Taco Tuesdays,’ and I had some tilapia filets in the freezer, purchased on sale eons ago and banished ever since.  I’ll redeem you, fish.  How about some blackening seasoning?  You’ll go well with a quick tartar sauce and some chopped tomatoes in a tortilla, I just know it.

And the rest? You can guess.  They were delicious fish tacos, and you should go make some pronto.  Even if you can’t eat them on your porch, creaking absentmindedly in your rocking chair and shooing away a curious hound, they’ll still be great.

*Thanks to J for being my guest photographer tonight!

Blackened Fish Tacos
Serves 3
Use any fish you like here–a mild white fish like Seafood Watch-approved tilapia or true cod is ideal, but catfish or salmon would also be nice. I didn’t want to buy a whole cabbage because this recipe only uses a little, but shredded red cabbage is a more traditional choice than lettuce. I shamelessly borrowed the blackening seasoning from the Food Network, and saw no reason to alter the original recipe.
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Prep Time
35 min
Cook Time
10 min
Total Time
45 min
Prep Time
35 min
Cook Time
10 min
Total Time
45 min
  1. Blackening Seasoning:
  2. 3 Tbsp. smoked paprika
  3. 1 tsp. salt
  4. 1 Tbsp. onion powder
  5. 1 tsp. cayenne powder
  6. 1 tsp. pepper
  7. 1 tsp. thyme
  8. 1 tsp. oregano
  9. 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  10. 2 tilapia filets, about 1 lb
  11. 1 Tbsp. grapeseed or vegetable oil, for frying
  12. Tartar Sauce:
  13. 3 Tbsp. mayonnaise
  14. 1 heaping Tbsp. finely diced pickle
  15. 2 tsp. lemon juice
  16. salt & pepper, to taste
  17. Toppings:
  18. lime wedges
  19. corn tortillas
  20. diced tomato
  21. cilantro
  22. thinly sliced cabbage or lettuce
  23. sliced green onions
  1. Mix together blackening spices in a small bowl. Lay fish filets out on a plate and sprinkle generously with seasoning. Pat seasoning onto fish, shake off excess, and flip over to coat other side in a similar manner. Save the remainder for another use. Allow the filets to rest for 15 minutes while you chop up your fixings and make tartar sauce.
  2. Mix together mayo, pickle, lemon juice, salt, and pepper in a ramekin. Taste to check seasonings and set aside.
  3. Preheat oil in a 12″ skillet over medium-high heat. When oil is almost smoking, lay fish filets in the pan and fry undisturbed for 4 minutes. Flip over and fry another 2 minutes, or until fish flakes easily. Remove from pan and allow to cool for a minute.
  4. Assemble tacos: Start with fish, add lettuce & tomato, and top with tartar sauce, cilantro, and green onions. Serve with lime wedges on the side.
Adapted from Blackening Seasoning from the Food Network
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