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Jun 3, 2014
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WINE WITH…Fish Tacos

Fish tacos are right up there among the world’s most forgiving recipes. As long as you don’t overcook the fish or under-season the taco, it’s hard to go wrong. Fish tacos demand fresh salsa, which can be made from any number of basic ingredients including pineapple, mango, avocado, corn, and/or beans. We tend to favor a classic fresh tomato salsa. Good salsa can be purchased in most markets today, but nothing has the vibrant fresh taste of homemade.

Of course juicy, ripe, locally grown summer tomatoes are usually best in a salsa (or most anything else), but an excellent substitute might be those smallish red-brown Kumatoes. To make a simple salsa, we dice up a few tomatoes and add sliced scallions (or minced shallots or onions), plenty of minced cilantro, finely minced jalapeno or other fresh pepper (not bell pepper), a drizzle of olive oil, and a squeeze of lime juice. We add chunks of ripe avocado when available, and season it all liberally with salt and pepper.

For these tacos, we used mild-tasting flour tortillas, but corn tortillas are terrific too. For a lighter touch we added a garnish of sliced radishes for crunchiness, and eschewed the traditional rich, sour-cream garnish.

Fish Tacos

Serves 4

12 flour tortillas
1 tablespoon each cumin and chili powder
cayenne or red pepper flakes to taste
salt and pepper to taste
1-1 ½ pounds mild, white boneless and skinless fish filets such as tilapia
1 tablespoon olive oil

Thinly sliced radishes
Grated cheddar cheese
Lime wedges

Preheat oven to 350°

Wrap the pile of tortillas securely in foil and place in the oven to heat (10-15 minutes usually does it).

On a dinner plate or other flat surface mix together the cumin and chili powder, along with the cayenne or red pepper flakes and the salt and pepper. Spread the mixture out over the plate, then press each fish filet into it, coating both sides liberally.

Heat the olive oil in a sturdy skillet and cook the fish until nicely browned on both sides, about three minutes per side, working in batches if necessary. As they are cooked, remove the filets to a serving plate and cut (or tear) them in pieces. Serve the fish with the warmed tortillas, passing the garnishes at the table.

* * *

Choose a wine with some sweetness, whether from residual sugar or fully ripe fruit, to pair with these tacos. Their hint of heat will be tamed by this sort of wine, while a tauter or more tannic wine will clash with the salsa and spice. This general principle means that whites tend to fare better than reds. At the same time, though, a juicy, fruit-filled red can provide a very satisfying match. Again, the key to success here is succulent sweetness, no matter where it comes from.


Approx. Price


Bonterra, Mendocino County (California) Zinfandel 2011


Here is a fun, lush fruity red that worked well with our fish tacos. Though you might guess that it would be too robust for the dish, its bright berry character enabled it to pair quite well.

Fairview, Darling (South Africa) Chenin Blanc 2013

(Imported by Vineyard Brands)


Like many Chenin Blancs, this fairly fleshy wine ends on a juicy, somewhat sweet note. That note is precisely what cooled the heat in the salsa and made the wine such a good partner for the dish as a whole.

Laurent Miquel Père et Fils, Pays d’Oc (France) Chardonnay 2012

(Imported by Miquel et Fils)


Showing just a dash of vanilla and spice from wood, this wine tastes more obviously of bright apple fruit, with just enough acidity for balance. It played a supporting rather than a leading role in this match.

Morgan, Monterey (California) Sauvignon Blanc 2012


The fruit flavors here resemble citrus more than anything else, but they too are bright and juicy, with a sweet echo in the finish. So while the flavors differ from any of the other wines we are recommending, the basic profile of the pairing remains much the same.

Chateau Ste Michelle, Columbia Valley (Washington) Gewürz-traminer 2012


The sweetest wine we are recommending, with an enticing rose petal bouquet, this wine seemed somewhat flabby when tasted on its own. The piquant salsa, however, gave it structure, and so made for a very tasty match.