Tacos are the one of the most favored of handheld foods to enjoy year round. Pork, chicken, or beef can be roasted in the oven, tossed into a slow cooker, sautéed on the stove top, or grilled and become a taco no matter what the date shows on the calendar. Fish tacos contrarily, I’ve found, are often restricted to summer regardless of preparation, be it off the barbecue or served with a fried golden crust and then topped with a crunchy slaw.
These fish tacos, on the other hand, contain the essence of summer but are the product of a craving acquired during chillier months. Salmon, rich with fat, requires no batter or a pool of oil to fry in to become protein worthy of comfort. The crunch of red cabbage and sour green apple produce a crisp seasonal accompaniment to the salmon that beautifully cuts the rather oily fish that, while pan seared, still requires something to mellow it down before it becomes excessive. And, let’s be honest, no one can only have one taco without feeling a bit deprived!
That cabbage and apple slaw is not just to cut the fat. It balances the strong flavor of the salmon by making it have a tang and subtle warmth that has nothing to do with the element of fire. A squeeze of lime forces the cabbage to soften while adding a sour element; honey and mustard add a hint of earthy spice with concentrated sweetness, and a large dollop of yogurt to add creaminess while keeping the freshness intact. Green cilantro leaves and the one thing that, in my opinion, pulls all those flavors together; a peppering of sweet and sour dried cranberries finishes it off.
Folded around all that deliciousness is what puts this in the category of “taco”; warm, soft, freshly homemade wheat tortillas. Traditionally tacos are made with corn tortillas, but too often the proper masa harina can prove to be rather elusive to come by. However, while a corn tortilla is delicious, I don’t think that means you should have to deny yourself, and others, a delicious taco. I make these tortillas just to eat them, they don’t even have to be a vehicle for other foods for me to enjoy.
If that doesn’t pique your hunger, and inspiration, for these fish tacos, I don’t know what will!
Pan Seared Salmon Tacos with Cabbage Apple Slaw and Dried Cranberries
- 3 cups all-purpose flour plus extra
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup warm milk
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Warm water if needed
- ½ small red cabbage
- 1 green apple
- ½ bunch cilantro
- 2 teaspoons mustard seed
- ½ cup Greek yogurt
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon honey
- ½ tablespoon mustard
- 2 limes
- 1 pounds salmon filets
- 1 teaspoon coarse salt
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 tablespoons dried cranberries
Mix the flour, baking powder, and salt together in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in the milk and olive oil. Stir the dry and wet ingredients together, pulling the dry into the wet to form a sticky but firm ball. If the dough is too dry add water a tablespoon at a time, if too wet add flour a tablespoon at a time.
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead it for about 5 minutes.
Cover the dough with a damp cloth and let rest 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes, cut the dough into 12 equal pieces and roll each into a ball.
Press the dough ball down into a thick, small circle before either rolling it out with a rolling pin or pressing it flat between two pieces of parchment paper or plastic storage bags with a tortilla press. If using a tortilla press, roll it out again after with a rolling pin for a thinner tortilla.
Heat a griddle or large non-stick pan over medium heat. Lay the rolled out tortilla on the hot pan and allow it to cook about 1 minute on each side or until brown marks show and the tortilla has risen slightly or formed bubbles.
Transfer the cooked tortillas to a plate and cover with a slightly damp cloth to keep them soft and warm.
Thinly slice the cabbage on a cutting board. Shred the apple on a grater, discarding the core, stems, and seeds. Roughly chop the cilantro. Put each into a medium sized bowl.
Add the mustard seed, Greek yogurt, salt, honey and mustard. Cut the limes open and squeeze the juice into the bowl and mix everything together. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
Lay the salmon filets on a cutting board, dab each with a paper towel to remove extra moisture, and sprinkle each with salt.
Heat the olive oil in a non-stick pan over medium-high heat. Lay the salmon fillets in the pan, skin side down and allow it to sear about 3 minutes.
Turn the salmon over and sear the other side for 4-5 minutes. Pull the skin off of the salmon and lay it back in the pan to let it crisp up if desired for the tacos. Make certain the salmon is cooked all the way through, leaving no dark pink in the middle, only the light cooked pink.
Transfer the cooked salmon to a cutting board and the skin to paper towels to drain of excess oil.
Using 2 forks flake the salmon apart and crumble the skin.
To assemble the tacos, add the salmon to a tortilla, a generous amount of slaw on top, and finish with the dried cranberries, crushed crisp salmon skin, and additional cilantro if desired.
Don’t skip the cranberries! It changes the entire taste of the slaw/salmon combo.
The salmon skin can be left out, but if you’re the adventurous type, it can give a satisfying crisp crunch.
Corn tortillas can be substituted for the wheat ones made in this recipe if they are preferred.
Steps 7 and 8 can be done ahead of time if needed. Don’t make the tortillas ahead of time if it can be helped as they won’t be nearly as delicious as they are fresh!
STEP ONE – MIX DOUGH FOR TORTILLAS
Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl.
Form a well in the center and pour the olive oil and milk into it.
Using the handle of a wooden spoon, start stirring the milk and pull the flour into the middle at the same time. Stir until a ball forms, adding water or flour to make the correct texture; a firm but sticky ball.
STEP TWO – KNEAD DOUGH
Sprinkle flour on a cutting board and turn the dough out onto it.
Flour the top a little before kneading the dough for about 5 minutes until it becomes a smooth ball.
STEP THREE – COVER DOUGH AND REST
Return the ball to the original bowl and cover it with a damp cloth to rest for 30 minutes.
STEP FOUR – DIVIDE DOUGH
Turn the dough out onto a cutting board and cut it into 12 equal pieces. Roll each in between the palms of your hands to form small balls of dough.
STEP FIVE – ROLL/PRESS TORTILLAS
Lay a plastic storage bag or sheet of parchment paper on one side of a tortilla press. Flatten a ball of dough between your palms before laying it down on the press. Top it with another sheet of parchment paper or bag and close the press on top of it to flatten it into a round tortilla shape.
Remove the tortilla from the press and roll again with a rolling pin if needed to make the desired thickness.
If using a rolling pin, lightly dust a flat surface with additional flour and roll the dough out into a circle.
STEP SIX – COOK TORTILLAS
Heat a dry non-stick pan or griddle over medium heat and lay a flattened tortilla on it. Let it cook about 1 minute and turn once bubbles have formed.
Cook the other side another minute and transfer to a plate and cover with a very lightly dampened cloth to keep them warm and soft while cooking the rest of the tortillas.
STEP SEVEN – CUT VEGETABLES FOR SLAW
On a clean cutting board, thinly slice the cabbage and shred the apple on a grater down to the core, which then needs to be discarded. Lay the cilantro on the cutting board and roughly chop it with a chef’s knife. Put them all into a bowl.
STEP EIGHT – MIX SLAW
Add the mustard seed, yogurt, and salt to the bowl and mix. Cut the limes in half and squeeze the juice from each into the slaw.
Add the honey and the mustard and mix them in as well. Cover the bowl and refrigerate until ready to use.
STEP NINE – PREPARE THE SALMON
Lay the salmon on a clean cutting board, skin side down. Dab each filet with a paper towel to remove moisture so they’ll brown and crisp nicely when cooked.
Sprinkle salt on each filet.
STEP TEN – COOK SALMON
Heat olive oil in a clean non-stick pan over medium-high heat. Once the pan is hot, add the filets to the pan in a single layer, skin side down, and allow them to cook about 3 minutes. Turn the salmon over and cook the other side for another 4-5 minutes.
If the skin hasn’t become firm and crisp, turn the salmon over and cook another couple of minutes.
STEP ELEVEN – REMOVE THE SKIN
Turn the salmon so its skin side up and gently slide the tip of a spatula in between the meat and skin. Lift up to pull the skin off of the salmon and place it back into the pan, brown and crispy side up to let the other side crisp as well. Check the rest of the salmon for doneness; it should be a light pink and firm with no darker pink in the middle. Transfer the cooked salmon to a clean cutting board. Line the other side of the cutting board with paper towels and place the crispy skin on top to drain off any excess oil.
STEP TWELVE – FLAKE THE SALMON AND CRUSH THE SKIN
Using two forks hold down the salmon with one and use the other to pull the salmon apart in flakes.
With a paper towel, press down on the crispy skin crush it in to pieces.
STEP THIRTEEN – ASSEMBLE THE TACOS
Place a tortilla on a flat surface and top with salmon, slaw, a sprinkle of dried cranberries, cilantro, and the crispy salmon skin. Serve immediately.
These salmon tacos with crispy skin can easily modified to fit the season by throwing the fish on an outdoor grill. And while you’re at it, switch out the flour tortillas for a corn version or, to make them even lighter, use big lettuce leaves instead!
What is your favorite fish for tacos? Do you prefer fried or grilled? Let us know!