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In the Kitchen With: Melina Hammer’s Fresh Fish Tacos

by Kristina Gill

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Photographer and stylist Melina Hammer has been one of our more frequent contributors in the past, providing easy-to-make, flavorful and seasonal recipes. This week, she shares a recipe for Fresh Fish Tacos, which is designed to be simple enough to get kids in the kitchen and cooking along with you. It comes from her new cookbook, Kid Chef. Kid Chef is a book full of many great recipes that kids can learn to tackle on their own, or to help out with in a meaningful way. The clear and concise recipes are, however, great for novice cooks of any age and keep with Melina’s dedication to eating in season, and with flavor. —Kristina

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Why Melina loves this recipe: I love this recipe because it is foolproof and the payoff in bright flavors and textures is amazing. Juicy, flavorful fish mingles with zingy pickled onions and bright salsa, creamy sour cream and lacy slaw. The combination is just so good. And, because the various elements can largely be made in advance, this dish asks only a little of your time to bring it all together — great for kids who want quick satisfaction, as well as for grownups pressed for time. I must confess, this was the first fish taco recipe which made me excited to eat it. This one is a game-changer!

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Fresh Fish Tacos
Prep Time: 15 minutes plus 50 minutes to marinate
Cook Time: 15 minutes

Serves 4

Tools /Equipment

– Small sauté pan
– Small Mason jar with lid
– Mortar and pestle
– Small bowl
– Baking sheet
– Aluminum foil
– Tea towel

For Quick-Pickled Onions

– ½ red onion, sliced thin
– Pinch black peppercorns
– 1 bay leaf
– ¾ cup white vinegar

For the Tacos

– 1 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted
– 1/3 cup olive oil
– 1 ½ teaspoons chili powder
– ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves, plus more for garnish
– ½ to 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced
– Kosher salt
– 1 pound flaky white fish (such as flounder, red snapper, or cod), cut into 4 pieces
– Freshly ground black pepper
– 8 fresh corn or flour tortillas
– 1 recipe of your favorite fresh salsa and/or your favorite savory slaw, for serving
– Sour cream, for serving
– 2 limes, quartered

To Make the Quick-Pickled Onions

Marinate the onion. In a small mason jar with a lid, arrange the onion slices, adding a pinch of peppercorns and a bay leaf, and pour in enough white vinegar to cover. Set aside to marinate for at least 30 minutes.

To Make the Tacos

1. Marinate the fish. Grind the toasted cumin into a coarse powder with a mortar and pestle. In a small bowl, mix the olive oil, chili powder, cumin, chopped cilantro, and jalapeño, and season with salt. Place the fillets on a baking sheet and pour the marinade over, making sure to coat the fillets well on both sides. Marinate for 20 minutes at room temperature.

2. Cook the fish. Heat the broiler with the oven rack in the highest position. Season the fish with salt and pepper. Broil until the fillets are browned on top and the flesh is opaque throughout, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and flake the fish with a fork. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed, then set aside.

3. Heat the tortillas. Lower the oven temperature to 400ºF. Place the tortillas in two stacks of 4, and wrap the bundles in aluminum foil. Heat in the oven for 7 to 10 minutes, until the tortillas are warmed through. Place the tortillas, still wrapped in foil, in a tea towel to keep warm.

Assemble and serve

To assemble the tacos, place a heaping spoonful of your favorite savory cabbage slaw on the center of a tortilla. Add the flaked fish and salsa, and top with the marinated onions. Serve accompanied by cilantro sprigs, sour cream, and lime wedges.

Pro tip: You will most likely have leftover pickled onions. Keep them submerged in the vinegar in a refrigerated airtight container. You can then use the vinegar for other cooking, such as in salad dressings, and the pickled onions on anything from scrambled eggs to grilled chicken. Both will keep for several weeks.

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About Melina: Melina Hammer is a photographer, food stylist, recipe developer, writer, cook, and champion of good food. Years-long experience in the deep south connecting with small farmers, and harvesting her own produce, inspired her to pass this enthusiasm on to children through a well-thought-out cookbook which teaches basic cooking skills and simple, seasonal recipes. The end result was Kid Chef. Melina is a a regular contributor to the New York Times Food section, and she also produces stories with Food52, Sweet Paul, Anthology Journal, Garden & Gun, and Where Women Cook, amongst others. For her latest adventures, follow her on Instagram @melinahammer, and visit her blog, Licking the Plate.

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