If you've ever been to one of the US coasts (east or west), you know they all have a fish dish they are known for. In Maine, it’s lobster rolls; in San Francisco, it’s clam chowder, in Florida, it’s crab legs and whole seafood. On the southern Pacific coast, they are known for the best fish tacos - specifically Ensenada Fish Tacos!
This is where the Ensenada tacos get their roots from. Its origins are in Ensenada Baja, California Mexico. This region is south of the California and Mexico border about 2 hours. With this close proximity, this taco has spread and become very popular in Southern California. This is where my love of it started!
What makes an Ensenada taco an Ensenada taco is fresh fish and some type of cream sauce. What is Ensenada sauce you ask? Well, it's typically made with sour cream and mayonnaise and is often seasoned. Sometimes these tacos are called Baja fish tacos, but no matter what you call them they're delicious and we're going to teach you how to make them at home!
Ingredients and Substitutions
All substitutions are a 1:1 substitute unless otherwise noted
Pico De Gallo: No taco is complete without some salsa. We love to use pic because it is about as fresh as you can get. You can use store-bought (like we did) or make your own using a recipe like this from Pip and Ebby.
Substitutions: Any chunky salsa will work. Look for salsa with tomatoes, red onion, lime, and cilantro. A delicious addition is crushed pineapple or pineapple pico or salsa!
Cilantro: I always felt bad for the portion of the population who think cilantro smells and tastes like soap. I mean it is so fresh and so tasty, it is just amazing that it can taste so different to other folks.
Substitutions: Fresh or dried can be used. If your pico de gallo has cilantro already, you probably don’t need it, but more cilantro is always better.
Corn Tortillas: A traditional street taco, or even a California taco for that matter, is made with a soft corn tortilla. Sometimes these can be finicky to deal with as they need to be thoroughly heated to bend enough to hold your fillings.
Substitutions: Any of your favorite tortillas can be used, including flour tortillas.
Red Cabbage: This is the crunch! Red cabbage is great for this because it's cheap, lasts a while, and adds great color and crunch.
Substitutions: Green cabbage can be used or radishes.
Jalapeno: Duh, of course, we were going to put jalapenos in these! You of course can leave these out if you don’t like it too spicy.
Substitutions: Sereno peppers can be used, and fresh chilis or any other medium spice-level pepper can be used. Check out our post about peppers here for more options!
Limes: Every balanced dish needs acid and that's where the limes come in.
Substitutions: While fresh is best, you can use lime juice instead.
Chipotle Sauce: As I mentioned, what makes an Ensenada taco an Ensenada taco is the cream sauce. We use our favorite chipotle sauce made with a little ranch seasoning, chipotles, and Greek yogurt to keep it a little healthier.
Substitutions: Plain sour cream with a little hot sauce can be used in place of chipotle sauce or an avocado or lime crema. An easy guacamole recipe is also a great topping.
Cod: We chose to use a white fish because it is the best at melding with the fresh flavors around it, plus it's a cheaper fish option.
Substitutions: We used frozen cod but you could definitely use fresh or use another white fish. This could be tilapia or mahi mahi. You can also use cooked shrimp if you want the same style of shrimp tacos.
Olive Oil Spray: This is critical for getting that crisp skin and minimizing the flour-like taste.
Substitutions: Any type of vegetable oil spray or drizzle can be used.
Egg: We chose to batter our fish because my favorite part of fish tacos is the crunch or the breading. And in order to get that, you need an egg wash.
Substitutions: Sorry, no substitutions for this.
Flour: Again, because we are battering the fish we need flour to make the batter.
Substitutions: We used all purpose flour but you could use bread flour or unbleached flour.
Taco Seasoning: Seasoned flour is my favorite way to batter fish! And using taco seasoning is an easy way to pack in a lot of flavors.
Substitutions: Feel free to use your favorite taco seasoning or make your own. You can also just use salt and black pepper.
How to Make this - Step by Step
Step one: Thaw fish as needed. Once thawed, rinse the fish and the pat fish dry with paper towels to minimize moisture released.
Step two: Dice the fish filet into 1” pieces. Prepare the egg in a medium bowl by scrambling it. And place the flour and taco seasoning in a large plastic bag.
Step three: Drop the pieces of fish into the egg wash and then into the bag of seasoned flour. Once all the fish pieces are in the bag, close it and mix fish until completely coated.
Step four: Place pieces of fish on the air fryer tray or basket (this will likely have to be done in two rounds) with space around each piece for air to flow. Spray them with oil on all sides to ensure they get crispy. Bake in the air fryer at 400 degrees f for 10 minutes. You can also do this at the same time and temperature in the oven.
Step five: While the fish cooks, heat the soft corn tortillas and prepare the veggies and sauce. It is crucial to heat the tortillas for the corn tortillas to hold the fillings. Typically this can be just 30 seconds in the microwave (stacked with as many as you need).
Step six: Once the fish is done, it’s time to assemble your tacos however you like! I like to spread the chipotle sauce on the bottom of the warm corn tortillas, then add the fish, then veggies, and finally a squeeze of lime juice.
Watch How to Make This - Step by Step
As I mentioned, corn tortillas can be temperamental to work with. If they are old, they will crack. Even when fresh, they need to be heated to bend and be pliable. The best way to do this is to either heat them on a stovetop or in an oven set to broil for 1-2 minutes on each side or until heated through. But, you need to be able to watch them closely when heating this way so they don't burn. This is why we don’t recommend it as the way to heat tortillas for these tacos, and instead use the microwave. No sense trying to watch a billion things while making this meal. But you can if you want!
Facts and Common Questions
How do you make Ensenada?
Okay, this is a trick question. You don't make Ensenada tacos, because Ensenada is a place. But to make Ensenada-style fish tacos, follow this recipe!
Is this the same recipe as the Cheesecake Factory fish tacos?
This is the best Ensenada fish tacos recipe it happens to be very similar to the original fish tacos at the Cheesecake Factory! The big difference is that the Cheesecake Factory fish tacos recipe has avocado, and this recipe doesn't. The Cheesecake Factory recipe also has an option of beer-battered fish.
What is the white sauce on fish tacos made of?
This is often made of either seasoned sour cream or a combination of sour cream and mayonnaise.
What fish is used in fish tacos?
Whitefish is typically used in fish tacos. This can be cod, mahi mahi, grouper, or tilapia. All of these fish are very mild in flavor and hence are great for these tacos because all of the fresh ingredients also have delicate flavors that are then able to shine!
Can I fry the fish on the stove?
Yes! You can certainly cook the fish on the stove if you don't have an air fryer. To do so, heat a large skillet with oil on medium-high heat. Then, place each piece of fish in the hot oil and fry the fish on the first side for approximately 5 minutes. Flip with a pair of tongs and cook on the second side for another 3-4 minutes.
Each fish fillet should be crispy and golden brown on the outside and white and flaky on the inside when done. When cooking on the stove there's more oil involved, so place fried fish on a paper towel or wire rack set to let some of the oil come off.
Want to Save it for Later? Here’s how!
By nature, fish doesn't keep well and is always best enjoyed fresh. These can be saved in the fridge using the tips below. However, we don't recommend freezing these.
Fridge: To save these you can either save the ingredients separately in air-tight containers or you can store the assembled taco. The fish will keep for 3 days in the refrigerator.
To reheat: To eat later, I recommend enjoying the assembled taco cold or removing the fish to heat it in the microwave or air fryer separately from the other ingredients. If storing separately, again heat the fish separately for 5-10 minutes in the oven or 1 minute in the microwave. Reheat the tortillas and then assemble everything and enjoy!
This whole time we have been talking about Ensenada, but what is the meaning of Ensenada? It means “a small bay” typically on the coastline or inlet of the sea. Ensenada, Mexico is known as the Capital of Mexican wine and is the entrance to the wine route in Baja California. So while we know it for tacos, this region has many wonderful specialties to offer.
Want some ideas to pair with fish tacos?
Did you try this and love it? Leave us a review, we would love to hear from you!
- 12 oz cod
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- ½ cup taco seasoning
- ½ cup pico de gallo
- ¼ cup chipotle sauce
- 6 corn tortillas
- 2 limes
- ¼ cup cilantro
- ½ cup red cabbage
- 1 jalapeno
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Thaw fish as needed. Once thawed, rinse the fish and the pat fish dry with a paper towel to minimize moisture released.
- Dice the fish filet into 1” pieces. Prepare the egg in a medium bowl by scrambling it. And place the flour and taco seasoning in a large plastic bag.
- Drop the pieces of fish into the egg wash and then into the bag of seasoned flour. Once all the fish pieces are in the bag, close it and shake until completely coated.
- Place the fish pieces on the air fryer tray or basket (this will likely have to be done in two rounds) with space around each piece for air to flow. Spray them with oil on all sides to ensure they get crispy. Bake in the air fryer at 400 degrees F for 10 minutes. (You can also do this at the same time and temperature in the oven)
- While the fish cooks, heat the soft corn tortillas and prepare the veggies and sauce. It is crucial to heat the tortillas for the corn tortillas to hold the fillings. Typically this can be just 30 seconds in the microwave (stacked with as many as you need).
- Once the fish is done, it’s time to assemble your tacos however you like! I like to spread the chipotle sauce on the bottom of the warm corn tortilla, then the fish, then veggies, and finally lime juice. Enjoy!