Tuck that grilled fish into a taco

Lee Svitak Dean

Fish tacos hit my radar in the late ’80s, popping up in beachside spots in San Diego. Popular on the West Coast, I couldn’t imagine them finding a home elswhere.

How times have changed. Fish tacos are, if not everywhere, then almost everywhere.

Much as I love them today, I’m not a big fan of the battered, deep-fried version of fish that serves as the mainstay for most of these tacos.

Why would you drop what amounts to delicate fish into a vat of hot oil? Wouldn’t pan-fried fish, sans batter, be better?

Turns out there’s yet another alternative: grilled. In this recipe, it’s tilapia, but it could be walleye or any mild-flavored fish — or even shrimp, which I have to say makes a fine substitute.

Whichever is used, a light dusting of spices makes a difference before the protein is finished over a hot fire, then topped with ranch dressing (which predates the ’80s by more than a decade) and a radicchio slaw.

You can grill this slaw (radicchio, beet and pineapple), though I wondered, as I ran outside and in several times while cooking, why I took this step when the ungrilled version tastes just fine. My advice: Grilled slaw is best done in advance, and if you lack time, prep it without the heat.

These are my kind of recipes, with adaptability built in.

Grilled Tilapia Tacos

Serves 4.

Note: Substitute any white-fleshed skinless fish fillet or grilled shrimp for the tilapia, if you prefer. Not a fan of ranch dressing? Use a vinaigrette or seasoned mayonnaise of your choice.

1/4 cup canola oil or other mild vegetable oil

1 tablespoon chile powder or Mexican seasoning blend

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 jalapeno chile, finely chopped

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 pound tilapia fillet

8 corn or flour tortillas

Cooking spray for tortillas

1 cup ranch dressing (commercial or homemade, see recipe)

2 cups Radicchio Slaw (see recipe) or other coleslaw

1 avocado, pitted, peeled and diced

Heat grill for medium-high direct heat (425 to 450 degrees).

In wide, flat bowl, combine oil, chile powder, cumin, jalapeno and salt, and mix well.

Cut each fillet down its centerline, dividing it into thicker and thinner sections. Toss fish pieces in chile oil mixture, coating them evenly, and set aside in mixture for 15 minutes.

Set a grill screen on grill and coat with oil. Place the thicker fish pieces on screen and cook, turning once, until opaque all around the edges, about 3 minutes per side. Cook thinner pieces the same way, but for only about 2 minutes per side. Transfer fish to platter and keep warm. Remove grill screen.

Lightly spray tortillas on both sides with cooking spray and brown directly over the fire, turning once, until grill-marked and flexible, about 20 seconds per side. Wrap tortillas in clean kitchen towel to keep warm.

To serve, invite diners to assemble their own tacos, piling a fish fillet, splash of dressing, a pile of slaw and some avocado on each tortilla.

Nutrition information per serving: 640 calories, 43 g fat, 1,150 mg sodium, 38 g carbohydrates, 5 g saturated fat, 11 g total sugars, 28 g protein, 55 mg cholesterol, 7 g dietary fiber

Exchanges per serving: 11/2 starch, 1 carb, 31/2 lean protein, 7 fat.

Ranch Dressing

Makes 1 cup.

1/2 garlic clove, minced

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/4 cup mayonnaise

Juice of 1/2 lemon

3 tablespoons buttermilk

1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce or soy sauce

1 teaspoon hot sauce

1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

In a bowl, using back of fork, mash together the garlic and salt into a paste. Add the mayo, lemon juice, buttermilk, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, parsley, cilantro and black pepper, and mix well. Use immediately or transfer to an airtight container and store in refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Radicchio Slaw

Serves 4 to 6.

Note: Either prepare this in advance on the grill, or consider making the slaw without grilling it first or it’s a lot of last-minute effort at the grill that doesn’t significantly make a difference.

2 heads of radicchio, cut into wedges about 1/2-inch thick

1 beet, peeled and cut into slices 1/2-inch thick, optional (if not grilling)

A few slices of a fresh pineapple, peeled and 1/2-inch thick

1/4 cup plus 11/2 tablespoons canola oil or other mild

vegetable oil

3 tablespoons vinegar (white wine or red, as you prefer)

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Heat grill for medium-high direct heat (425-450 degrees).

Brush grill grate and coat with oil. Coat radicchio, beet and pineapple slices with the 11/2 tablespoons oil. Put all slices on grate and cook, turning once, until grill-marked and slightly softened, about 1 minute per side for radicchio and 4 minutes per side for beet and pineapple. Transfer all to cutting board and let cool for 10 minutes.

In serving bowl, whisk together remaining 1/4 cup oil, the vinegar, salt and pepper to make dressing.

Cut the grilled vegetables and pineapple into julienne strips, making them as thin as possible. Add to bowl with dressing and toss to coat evenly. Set aside for 10 minutes before serving. The coleslaw can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Nutrition information per 1/6 serving: 130 calories, 13 g fat, 405 mg sodium, 4 g carbohydrates, 1 g saturated fat, 2 g total sugars, 1 g protein, 0 mg cholesterol, 1 g dietary fiber

Exchanges per serving: 1 vegetable, 21/2 fat.

— Adapted from “Williams-Sonoma Grill School,” by Andrew Schloss and David Joachim.