Mexican cuisine has been popular for a long time, but my recent travels around our country have persuaded me that fish tacos are big now in a way they never were before. Naturally, perhaps, they are easiest to find in regions with a strong Hispanic influence particularly California, Texas and Florida but I've also been bumping into them in Chicago and New York. Soon enough, they should be just about as ubiquitous as falafel. It's a happy thing.
Folks in Mexico's coastal cities where fresh fish and tacos are both plentiful have been enjoying fish tacos since before the arrival of the first Europeans. But if any one individual can take credit for the north-of-the-border spread of this culinary delight, it is Ralph Rubio.
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On spring break from his studies at San Diego State University in 1973, Rubio flipped for the fish tacos in San Felipe, a port town on the Baja California peninsula. Ten years later, back in San Diego, he opened Rubio's Baja Grill, which specialized in fish tacos. Today, there are hundreds of Rubio's locations, including one in Brooklyn, N.Y.!
Traditional fish tacos consist of battered fish topped with shredded cabbage, a drizzle of citrus mayo, all wrapped in a corn tortilla. But there's plenty of room for variation.
These days the fish might be grilled rather than battered and fried. Sometimes it's served on flour tortillas, sometimes on corn tortillas. It's almost always topped with some kind of creamy sauce, as well as with shredded cabbage and/or avocado. Whatever. I've never met a fish taco I didn't like.
My version is light on calories, but heavy on flavor. The fish is lightly-floured and sauteed rather than deep-fried. The citrus mayonnaise sauce went bye-bye in favor of a purée of avocado and buttermilk. The avocado contains healthy fat, and the buttermilk is as lean as skim milk, but much tastier. Topping it off is shredded cabbage, carrots and radishes tossed with vinegar, salt and a pinch of sugar.
Fans of chilies will love the sliced jalapeño garnish. I think the cilantro is key, too, but if you were born with the anti-cilantro gene (a real thing!), you can swap in basil instead. Finally, those of you who worry that corn tortillas are high in calories can relax; two 6-inch corn tortillas, softened up and toasted without oil in a dry skillet, weigh in at just 80 calories.
A note about the fish: I used tilapia because it is sustainable, affordable and widely available all year. But substitute any fish you like. Just keep in mind that a thinner fish will take less time to cook.
• Sara Moulton was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years, and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows. She currently stars in public television's "Sara's Weeknight Meals" and has written three cookbooks, including "Sara Moulton's Everyday Family Dinners."