Fish tacos are delicious, feel like a party, make a small mess that’s worth it, and satisfy the crunchy, sweet, spicy, textural experience I seek out. Cod is my fish of choice here, but is not always available at the fresh fish counter. Check the freezer section at your grocery store. Wild-caught, seasonally caught, carefully managed fish is always available in the freezer section.
I like to let the cod only slightly defrost before coating and cooking; it’s easier to handle and the coating crisps without overcooking and drying out the fish. I use an idea from Jacques Pepin who published a recipe for crispy fish about 20 years ago in Food and Wine. He used instant potato flakes as the coating and now so do I. Potato flakes are not full of crummy ingredients – only potatoes. And, bonus, they last forever in the pantry; I transfer them from the box to a jar.
1 pound thick cod fillet cut into 2- by 4-inch batons
1/2 cup rice flour, cornstarch, or all-purpose flour
1 cup potato flakes
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Vegetable oil for shallow frying
To serve: warmed corn tortillas, slivered iceberg lettuce or cabbage, sliced radishes, pickled (or fresh) jalapeno slices, and a spicy sauce made with equal parts Sriracha and mayo, although sour cream or plain yogurt work, too.
Set up a dredging station. I use a sheet pan with a shallow bowl in the center. On the left, pile the rice flour, in the center, crack the egg, on the right pile the potato flakes. Generously sprinkle salt, pepper, and paprika over each element. Whisk the egg.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Dredge the fish pieces, using your left hand for the “wet” transfer from the flour to the egg, and your right hand for the “dry” transfers, first patting the flour on all sides of the fish, and, after the egg, patting the potato flakes in place. Lift the coated fish pieces one at a time and place on the parchment paper. When finished, the coated pieces may be covered and refrigerated for no more than a couple of hours before cooking.
Pour about 1/2 inch of vegetable oil into a straight sided skillet (I use my trusty cast iron, of course) over medium high heat. When the oil shimmers, check to see if it is hot enough with a pinch of the potato flakes. When the flakes bubble instantly and rise to the surface, the oil is hot. Add the fish a few pieces at a time, never crowding, but cooking in batches instead. The fish may need to be cooked on three or four sides, or only on 2, depending on the shape and how thick the fillet. Watch as it turns golden brown and turn to brown the other side. The pieces will take anywhere from 5 to 8 minutes to cook depending on the thickness of the pieces and if they are still frozen in the center.