Famously deep fried and deliciously crunchy, fish tacos can be made over into a healthier dish with a few simple swap outs. (Photo/Betty Cortina)

A healthy idea: oven fried fish tacos

As tacos continue to take the culinary world by storm, none is quite as obsessed over as the classic fish taco. With beer-battered and deep-fried fish fillets at the center, they’re an exercise in the art of perfectly combining textures: the crispness of the fried fish, the creaminess of the mayo and crema-based sauce that tops it, the firm crunch of the shredded cabbage with which it’s traditionally garnished. Simply put: it’s decadence wrapped in tortillas.

But if you’re trying to eat lighter and healthier, like so many families are (or at least should be), you may think these delicious little concoctions need to be banished. Today’s recipe proves that’s not the case.

The techniques I used here are inspired by a cookbook I just purchased, the recently published Comfort Food Makeovers by the editors and cooks at America’s Test Kitchen. In the book, the cooks  “make over” more than 175 classic comfort dishes that are typically loaded with fat and calories, most of them traditional American favorites like mac and cheese and fried chicken. One key tactic they used over and over: ditching the deep fryer for oven.

When I read that, I immediately wondered: How could we do the same for fish tacos, without hurting the texture and flavor fiesta they’re so loved for? As it turns out, the book also recommends Japanese panko breadcrumbs, which when toasted in a skillet until golden brown, provide great crunch and resemble the texture of something good and fried. Below, I did just that, but also added some classic Mexican flavors to make sure the tacos stayed true to their essence.

For the cream sauce that’s usually made of fat-laden, luscious Mexican crema, I instead used a blend of low fat sour cream and fat free plain greek yogurt, then amped up the spice by combining it with chipotle, cilantro and a dash of lime—a fresh, bright counterpoint to the crispy fish.

Oven fried fish tacos

Healthier Fish Taco_VFor the fish

1 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs

1 tsp dried oregano

1/2 tsp kosher salt

1/2 cup all purpose flour

1 T garlic powder

1/2 tsp guajillo chile powder (or any other chile powder you prefer such as cayenne, arbol, etc.)

2 large egg whites

1 lb fresh fish fillets (such as mahi mahi, tilapia or cod), skin and bones removed, sliced into long 2-inch pieces

Canola oil cooking spray

8 whole wheat tortillas

For the sauce

1/4 cup low-fat or fat-free sour cream

1/4 cup low-fat or fat-free plain greek yogurt

1 chipotle chile, seeds removed

1 tsp adobo sauce (from chipotle can)

1 tsp fresh lime juice

2 T roughly chopped cilantro leaves

Salt, to taste

For garnish

Shredded cabbage

Pico de gallo sauce (see our recipe here)

Cilantro, roughly chopped

Fresh lime

1. Heat oven to 475 degrees. Meanwhile, in a 12-inch skillet over medium high heat, toast panko bread crumbs until they are golden brown, about 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat and place in a shallow dish. Add oregano and salt and mix to combine well.  Set aside.

2. In another shallow dish, combine the flour, garlic powder and chile powder. In a third shallow dish, whisk the eggs whites. Line up the shallow dishes in this order: the flour, the eggs and panko bread crumb mixture.

3. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil paper, top with a wire rack and spray the wrack with cooking oil.

4. Pat the fish fillets with paper towel to dry fully. Working with one piece of fish at a time, dredge the fish in the flour, dip in the eggs whites, and coat well in the panko mixture, pressing gently so the breadcrumbs adhere. Place the breaded fillet on the wire rack, and finish remaining fillets. Spray the fillets with canola cooking spray and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until they are cooked through.

5. While the fish is cooking, prepare the sauce. Place sour cream, yogurt, chipotle, adobo, lime, cilantro and salt in small food processor and blend until fully combined. Set aside.

6. To assemble tacos, heat the tortillas in a skillet or comal. Stack two tortillas together, and top with fish and a dollop of sauce. Garnish with shredded cabbage, pico de gallo, cilantro and a squeeze of fresh lime. Makes 4 tacos.

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