Crispy Fish + Creamy Slaw = All the Best Taco Textures 😍
Crispy fried fish & crunchy-creamy cabbage slaw might just be one of the best combinations of texture that our taco-loving hearts have ever had! 🤤 Even so, Baja-style tacos with beer-battered fish or deep-fried fish often leave us feeling a little heavy. That’s exactly why we love this particular Crispy Fish Taco recipe so much – it’s light & feel-good, but still offers everything you love when a fried fish taco craving strikes.
The key is dredging the seasoned fish with light & crispy panko breadcrumbs then shallow-frying them until they’re tender, flaky, & golden brown. (If you’re familiar with our Friday Night Fish Fry recipe, this method will look very familiar!) Since it uses less oil than deep frying, shallow frying is a super approachable method for frying fish at home, plus it always yields the best golden-brown results thanks to the extra-flaky panko coating.
From there, simply nestle the crispy fish in a smoky charred tortilla with homemade cilantro ranch cabbage slaw & a dollop of mashed avocado to up the feel-good factor. We think they’re the best fish tacos, & after just one bite we think you’ll understand exactly why we’re so obsessed with this recipe! 🌮
Fried Fish Taco Recipe Highlights
These crispy panko fish tacos are so much fun! You’ll love them because they’re…
LIGHT & FEEL-GOOD. There’s no at-home deep frying required for this fried fish taco recipe! Panko-crusted & pan-fried fish is nice & light compared to classic beer-battered or crispy Baja fish tacos. All of the texture & none of the mess — a total taco night win!
TEXTURE-LOADED. Load your crispy fish tacos with a crunchy & creamy cilantro ranch cabbage slaw & serve in charred corn tortillas. A little creamy smashed avocado takes the textures & fresh flavors totally over the top!
GREAT FOR ANY OCCASION. This crispy fish taco recipe is easy enough for a weeknight, fun to serve to friends, & a great pescatarian dinner option. Taco night is always a good idea!
Pescatarian taco perfection! ♡ Read on to learn more about how to make Crispy Fish Tacos with Cilantro Ranch Slaw, or jump straight to the recipe & get cooking!
Like most of our favorite taco recipes, this crispy fish taco recipe layers only a few simple ingredients to create a masterpiece of flavor & texture.
Note: Full ingredients list & measurements provided in the Recipe Card, below.
- Fish — We like to make our fried fish tacos with thin white fish, like tilapia or flounder, since their delicate fillets layer into a tortilla beautifully. Most white fish will do though, & fresh & frozen both work great in this crispy fish taco recipe. Check the ingredient Spotlight, below, for more tips & tricks!
- Taco Seasoning — Store-bought taco seasoning packets are a great convenience here, but you can also feel free to make your own! We make our homemade taco seasoning using 1 teaspoon each of chili powder, cumin, & paprika and a ½ teaspoon each of garlic powder & dried oregano. For an extra kick of heat, add in a few dashes of cayenne pepper.
- Panko breadcrumbs — Fish tacos with panko are the best! Panko is a flaky Japanese-style breadcrumb that turns extra-golden & crispy in the oil, creating perfect fried fish with very minimal effort.
- Fried fish staples – Rice flour & eggs for dredging the fish fillets & frying oil for pan-frying. A neutral vegetable oil with a high smoke point is best for pan-frying fish.
- Cilantro ranch cabbage slaw — This homemade cabbage slaw brings the whole fried fish taco together! Toss thinly sliced cabbage, red onion, & plenty of cilantro in a homemade ranch dressing made with sour cream, buttermilk, mayo, garlic, lime, & ground cumin. It’s fresh, crunchy, creamy, & absolutely delicious!
- For serving — Charred corn tortillas to nestle the fish in, mashed avocado for extra creaminess, & more cilantro, lime, or whatever else your taco-loving heart desires!
The Best Fish for Fish Tacos
We like to make fried fish tacos with thin white fish, such as flounder or tilapia, since their delicate fillets are the perfect size to tuck into a tortilla!
You can really use any white fish with firm flesh to make this crispy fish taco recipe though – cod, halibut, catfish, mahi mahi, grouper, snapper, or whatever’s most accessible to you! Keep in mind that the cooking time will vary depending on the thickness of your fish. For example, center-cut cod fillets are thicker than flounder & will take longer to pan-fry as a result.
How to Thaw Frozen Fish
If you’re opting for frozen fish, just be sure to properly thaw it completely before cooking. The best way to thaw frozen fish is to place the fish fillets in a ziptop bag & submerge it in water, letting the cool temperature slowly thaw. Refer to the Recipe Notes, below, for more guidance.
How to Pan-Fry Fish for Crispy Fish Tacos
Frying fish at home may sound intimidating or complicated but it’s actually very simple when you pan-fry the fish. This might sound familiar to you since this is the method used for our popular Friday Night Fish Fry. We love how this fried fish taco recipe always yields super light & crispy results with very easy clean-up (no messy deep fryer required! 🙌🏼).
Full Recipe Directions, including step-by-step photos, are included in the Recipe Card, below.
Prep the fish. Pat the fish as dry as possible & lightly dust the fillets in taco seasoning to add a little spice. To bread the fish, dredge each of the strips through a seasoned rice flour mixture, egg, & a generous coating of panko breadcrumbs. No batter required! 🙌🏼 Tip! ⇢ The easiest way to bread fish is to create a dredging station with 3 shallow bowls — one for each layer of the breading — & work each piece of fish down the line until it’s coated.
Preheat the oil. Pour oil into a medium skillet so it comes about halfway up the side of your thickest fish fillet. The exact amount needed varies depending on the size of your pan & fish — just eyeball it! You’ll know the oil is hot enough if a breadcrumb crisps up immediately as you drop it in. The best oil to fry fish? ⇢ Vegetable or avocado oil work great for making fried fish tacos because they have a neutral flavor & high smoke point that can handle the heat.
Pan-fry the fish. Use tongs to carefully add the panko-crusted fish to the hot oil. Be sure not to overcrowd the pan, which lowers the temperature of the oil — we want it to stay nice & hot for the crispiest results! How long to fry fish? ⇢ Thin fish like flounder & tilapia only need to cook for about 1-2 minutes on each side. The goal is to get each fillet nice & golden brown. If you’re using another kind of white fish with thicker fillets, cook times may be a little longer.
Repeat! Once it’s fried, place the crispy fish on a wire rack or paper towel-lined plate to drain any excess oil. Repeat the process until you’ve fried all the fish. Tip! ⇢ It’s totally okay if the fried fish breaks into pieces after it’s cooked – you’re just stuffing it into a tortilla anyway – it doesn’t have to be perfect!
What to Serve with Crispy Fish Tacos
Fried fish tacos are best enjoyed fresh when the fish is flaky & tender & the panko breadcrumb coating is crispy. All you need are some toppings & charred tortillas to bring the meal together!
Homemade Cilantro Ranch Slaw
The ultimate topping for panko fish tacos! Cabbage slaw & fried fish are a match made in heaven since the crunchy, creamy texture & fresh flavor of a good slaw helps to balance out the richness of the crispy fried fish.
To make the homemade slaw, very thinly slice some red or green cabbage (or use a blend of the two for even more color!) & red onion. Toss the veggies with finely chopped fresh cilantro & an easy homemade ranch made with mayonnaise, buttermilk, sour cream, garlic, cumin, & lime juice.
Love an extra kick of heat? ⇢ Add some thinly sliced jalapeño to the slaw, or amp up the ranch dressing with a little adobo sauce from a can of chipotle peppers!
Meal Prep Tip!
Prepping the cilantro ranch slaw is the most time-consuming part of this crispy fish taco recipe, so feel free to get the work done in advance. Prep the veggies & whisk the dressing, then store them separately in the fridge. The ranch will last a few weeks, while the veggies will last about 5 days. When taco night rolls around, simply toss everything together & go!
Full Recipe Directions, including step-by-step photos, are included in the Recipe Card, below.
Charred Corn Tortillas
Quickly charring store-bought corn tortillas over a gas burner is a game-changing taco night trick! Doing so adds a little extra crispiness & smoky flavor that pairs beautifully with fried fish tacos & cabbage slaw.
Simply pop the tortillas over the open flame on the stove, rotating every so often until both sides are evenly charred. If you don’t have a gas burner you can also do this on a hot griddle, heavy-bottomed skillet like a cast iron pan, or use your outdoor grill. Learn more! ⇢ For a step-by-step walk-through, check out our Roasted Sweet Potato & Cauliflower Tacos recipe.
More Fried Fish Taco Topping Ideas
Fried fish tacos are practically perfect with just some cilantro ranch slaw in a charred corn tortilla. But if you want to add a few more toppings then feel free!
A few ideas to get you started…
- Mashed avocado. We love mashing avocado with lime juice & adding it to pretty much any taco. In crispy fish tacos, its creaminess perfectly balances the fried fish.
- Salsa or a quick pico de gallo (we love this winter citrus pico!)
- A drizzle of dairy-free cashew crema (try the cilantro lime version!)
- Plus, more chopped cilantro & lime wedges for squeezing!
We can’t wait for you to try these Crispy Fish Tacos with Cilantro Ranch Slaw! They’re so simple but absolutely loaded with all the best crispy, crunchy, creamy textures. Guaranteed to make your mouth water!
If you do give them a try, be sure to let us know! Leave a comment with a star rating below. You can also snap a photo & tag @playswellwithbutter on Instagram. We LOVE seeing your PWWB creations! ♡ Happy cooking!
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Favorite Taco Recipes
There’s something inherently satisfying about fish tacos – tender, flaky fish encrusted in a golden, shatteringly crisp coating, & served with a cooling, crunchy slaw. It’s texture heaven, & these Crispy Fish Tacos with Cilantro Ranch Slaw are the go-to version here at the PWWB House.
Rather than beer battering & deep frying, the fish is dusted with taco seasoning, coated in panko breadcrumbs & shallow fried just until the fish is golden & tender. The result is light, extra-crispy, & won’t leave you feeling heavy afterward. Plus, the flavor & texture of the fish really comes through!
As far as fish goes, you can use any white fish for this recipe. Tilapia (pictured) is a great choice that’s readily available at most conventional grocery stores, but cod, mahi mahi, grouper, & snapper are all great options too. Use whatever you love most – just be sure to cut it into smaller strips that nestle into your tortillas easily.
And since a fish taco is incomplete without a crunchy slaw, we pair these crispy fish tacos with an epic cilantro ranch slaw. While the oil preheats, it’s easy to whip up cumin-spiked ranch dressing & toss it into finely shredded cabbage, onions, & cilantro.
Tuck the crispy fried fish into charred corn tortillas (the best!), then top with slaw & whatever fixings your taco-loving heart desires, & perhaps the only thing missing is a killer margarita. ♡ Happy cooking!
- frying oil
- 1 pound white fish of choice, such as flounder or tilapia (see Recipe Notes)
- one 1-ounce packet taco seasoning (see Recipe Notes)
- ½ cup rice flour
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
- kosher salt & ground black pepper, to season
- for serving, as desired: charred corn tortillas, cilantro ranch slaw (below), mashed avocado (1 medium avocado + juice of 1 lime) or guacamole, chopped fresh cilantro, lime wedges, etc.
for the cilantro ranch slaw:
- 1 small head cabbage, finely shredded (approx. 4 cups, we like a combination of purple & green)
- 1 bunch cilantro leaves & tender stems, finely chopped (approx. ⅔ cup)
- ½ small red onion, very thinly sliced
- ½ cup sour cream
- ¼ cup buttermilk (see Recipe Notes)
- 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped or grated
- 1 lime, juiced (approx. 1 tablespoon juice)
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- kosher salt & ground black pepper, to season
- Prepare the cilantro ranch slaw: Add the shredded cabbage, chopped cilantro, & sliced onion to a large bowl. Toss to combine well & set aside. In a small bowl, combine remaining listed ingredients – sour cream, buttermilk, mayonnaise, garlic, lime juice, & cumin. Season with ½ teaspoon kosher salt & ground black pepper as desired. Mix to combine well. Toss enough ranch dressing into slaw to coat the veggies well & reserve the rest for serving. Set aside.
- Prepare the frying oil: Pour the oil into a medium skillet. The amount of oil needed depends on the size of your skillet & the thickness of the fish – use just enough such that the oil comes halfway up the sides of your thickest piece of fish. Preheat over medium-high heat. The oil is ready once it sizzles when you sprinkle a breadcrumb or two into the skillet, approx. 350-375 degrees F.
- Prepare the fish: Cut the flounder or tilapia fillets into uniform pieces that will fit inside your tortillas well, approximately 4-5 inches wide. Using paper towel, pat the fish as dry as possible, then give each piece a liberal dusting of the taco seasoning.
- Prepare a dredging station & bread the fish: Create a dredging station by placing the rice flour, beaten eggs, & panko breadcrumbs in separate shallow bowls or containers. Season each bowl with a good pinch of kosher salt & ground black pepper as desired. Working one by one, give each portion of fish a light dusting of flour (shaking off any excess), followed by a light coating of egg (shaking off any excess). Place the fish into the panko breadcrumbs, pressing to adhere & coat the fish as completely as possible. Shake off any excess breading & set aside. Repeat with the remaining fish.
- Shallow fry the fish: Once the oil is hot, use tongs to carefully transfer the prepared panko-crusted fish into the skillet. Work in batches to avoid overcrowding the pan. Cook 1-2 minutes per side, or until the panko coating is golden brown & the cod is cooked to your liking – total cook time depends on the thickness of the fish. Once both sides are golden brown, transfer the fried fish to a paper towel-lined plate to drain excess oil. Season with a good pinch of salt while the fish is still warm. Repeat with the remaining breaded fish. (While you wait between batches is a great time to lightly char up some corn tortillas for serving if desired! Check the Recipe Notes, below, for a full how-to.)
- Assemble & serve: Place the crispy fried fish in a warm taco with smashed avocado & pile the cilantro ranch slaw over top. Drizzle any remaining ranch over top, then finish with any other toppings your taco-lovin’ heart desires – chopped cilantro, lime juice, salsa, etc. Enjoy!
- Ingredient Notes:
- Best fish to use: We like to use flounder or tilapia for these crispy fish tacos since their naturally flat fillets fit into a tortilla nicely. If you prefer to use another type of fish, your best bet is a white fish with firm flesh, like cod or catfish. Cook times will vary based on the thickness of the fish fillets you use – e.g. center-cut cod filets are thicker than tilapia or flounder & require a longer cook time as a result.
- Thawing frozen fish: The fastest & safest way to thaw frozen fish is to place it in a zip-top bag & submerge in cool water. The steady, cool temperature of the water creates a really controlled environment for the frozen fish to come up to room temperature. This is better from a food safety standpoint, since it limits bacterial growth. Refresh the water every 10 minutes or so, until the fish is completely thawed – 25-30 minutes, tops!
- Buttermilk substitution: Buttermilk’s creamy-tanginess is key for a well-balanced ranch dressing. If you do not have buttermilk on hand, you can make a quick substitute for this recipe by adding 1 scant teaspoon lemon juice or vinegar to a scant ¼ cup milk. Stir to combine & let the mixture sit for a minute to thicken slightly.
- Charred corn tortillas: To char corn tortillas on the stovetop, pop a tortilla directly over open flame on a gas burner. Once you see a little smoke coming off the tortilla, then continue to rotate it until it’s lightly charred. Continue until both sides of the tortillas are evenly charred. It’s very important not to over-do it as this will completely dry the tortillas out – just aim for a little color! Once it’s as charred as desired, transfer to a tortilla warmer or wrap it in a damp paper towel to prevent it from drying out until you’re ready to serve.
- Storage & Reheating: Crispy fish tacos are best enjoyed while they’re still warm from frying, though leftovers will keep in the refrigerator for a few days. Store the crispy fish, cilantro ranch slaw, & any leftover ranch dressing in separate airtight containers. The fish will keep 1-2 days in the refrigerator, the slaw 4-5 days, & the ranch dressing 1-2 weeks. The best way to reheat crispy fish is to toast it in the oven or air fryer:
- Reheating in an oven: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Place the crispy fish on a baking sheet and bake for 3-4 minutes per side, until toasty & warmed through.
- Reheating in an air fryer: Preheat the air fryer to 375 degrees F. Place the crispy fish in the air fryer basket & air fry for 2 minutes per side, until toasty & warmed through.
- 20-Minute Meal Prep: Nearly all of the active prep work for these crispy fish tacos comes from prepping the slaw veggies & ranch dressing. Prep either or both in advance for a great head start on your crispy fish tacos at dinnertime – it’ll take 20 minutes, tops:
- Prep the veggies: Finely shred 1 small head cabbage, finely chop 1 & thinly slice ½ small red onion. Transfer to an airtight container & store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. (<10 minutes active prep)
- Prep the ranch dressing according to Step 1 of Recipe Directions, above. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 1-2 weeks. (<10 minutes active prep)
Keywords: fish taco recipe, crispy fried fish, panko crusted fish tacos, easy taco slaw recipe
Recipe and Food Styling by Jess Larson, Plays Well With Butter | Photography by Rachel Cook, Half Acre House.