Cooking Fish Tacos With Chef Nikki

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Cooking fish tacos with Chef Nikki

Learning to cook fish tacos with Chef Nikki Newman
of Mandalay Beach Resort’s Coastal Grill in Oxnard, California

Fish tacos are a favourite of mine and I enjoy trying different versions. I was therefore excited to have the opportunity of taking a fish taco cooking class offered by Chef Nikki Newman as part of the North American Travel Journalist Association’s (NATJA) 2016 conference. Chef Nikki worked at the Coastal Grill, the restaurant of Embassy Suites Mandalay Beach Resort in Oxnard, California. That hotel is now the Zachari Dunes on Mandalay Beach.

fish taco cooking class preparation space

There were five of us in the class. Chef Nikki had prepared work areas for us and laid out the ingredients we would need. With patience and good humour, she led us through the process. The amounts in the recipes we followed were adjusted so we each made single servings. We would taste our own creations.

Cooking fish tacos with Chef Nikki

Slaw ingredients

Roasted jalepenos as part of learning to cook fish tacos

We started by slicing jalepeños for roasting. We donned gloves to protect our hands from the heat. (Also protects other parts of the body – I’ve wound up with stinging eyes more than once after rubbing them, thinking I’d completely cleaned my hands of jalepeño residue.) Chef Nikki sprinkled oil (a blend of olive and canola oils), sea salt and pepper on the jalapeños before popping them in the oven.

cooking fish tacos with Chef Nikki

While the jalapeño roasted, we prepared the dressing for the slaw. mixing mayonnaise, Greek yogurt, lime juice and zest, apple cider vinegar, and spices. Each of us adjusted the spices to our individual preferences and tolerances for heat. A couple of us (yes, one of those would be me) read the recipe wrong and added too much cider vinegar. We drained as much off as we could. Chef Nikki told us to add extra mayonnaise and sugar to compensate.

cooking fish tacos - the slaw

We set the dressing aside and sliced cabbage, red onion and green onions for the slaw. My classmates all cut thinner, finer slices than I did. The bowl in the photo is my husband’s handiwork.

Coring and slicing cabbage for fish tacos slaw
Chef Nikki showing us how to core and slice cabbage

Corn tortilla balls for fish tacos

We set the slaw aside and prepared the corn tacos using Masa flour. Masa flour is made from corn soaked in limewater. The recipe called for lard or butter. We used butter. After we’d mixed the dough (by hand) to “play-doh” consistency, we divided it into four sections and rolled those sections into balls.

Avocado and fish tacos

Chef Nikki showed us the trick for slicing avocados. You cut in half and take the seed out. Then make slices in each half down to the skin but not all the way through the avocado. Use a spoon to scoop underneath and pop out the slices. Thanks to my sister-in-law, I already knew this trick.

Preparing fish for fish tacos

We let the taco dough sit while Chef Nikki prepared the fish. She used ling cod from off the coast of Oregon and seasoned it with nothing other than salt and pepper.

Corn tacos for fish tacosThe trickiest part of the entire process was flattening our taco balls into rounds. We used a taco press. In some cases the dough tore apart when we tried to remove it from the press, even through the press had been sprayed with oil before using. This was a sign to add more Masa to the dough. If you don’t have a taco press to shape the rounds, you can press or roll between two pieces of wax paper or a plastic food bag. We cooked the tacos on the grill two minutes each side.

Corn tacos for fish tacos

Fish taco assembly
Assembling the tacos (clockwise from top left)
Mango habanero margarita
We were given mango habanero margaritas,
Coastal Grill’s signature drink, to accompany our tacos.
Delicious and dangerous.

COASTAL’s Fish Tacos

Fish and Garnish

1                                       Pacific cod
1                                       Avocado (seeded and sliced)
2                                       Limes (cut into 8 wedges)
2                                       Jalapeños (sliced and roasted slightly)

Cut cod into 8 pieces, lightly season with salt and pepper. Sauté on high heat.

Slaw Dressing

1/2 cup                            Mayonnaise
1/2 cup                            Greek Yogurt
2                                      Limes (juiced and zested)
1/2 Tbsp                          Apple cider vinegar
1/2 Tbsp                          Sugar
1/2 tsp                            Cumin
1/2 tsp                            Chipotle powder
to taste                            Salt and pepper

Mix all ingredients together in a mixing bowl and reserve.


1 head                             Cabbage (shredded)
1                                     Small red onion (julienned)
1 bundle                          Green onions
1                                     Jalapeño (stemmed, seeded and julienned

Mix all ingredients together in a mixing bowl and reserve.

Corn Tortillas

2 cups                              Masa
2 tsp                                Salt
1 1/2 cup                         Warm water
1 Tbsp                              Soft butter or lard

Mix salt and Masa. Mix in water and butter until soft “play-doh” consistency is reached. Divide into 16 balls. Press or roll out to 1/8 inch thickness. Sauté on medium heat, 2 minutes each side.

Assemble Tacos

Toss slaw dressing into slaw mixture, based on your personal preference. Double up the corn tortillas; add a 2 oz piece of fish to each taco. Top with slaw mixture. Garnish with a slice of avocado, a cilantro sprig, and a couple of roasted jalapeño slices.

Fish tacos

This was the first time Chef Nikki had done a class like this. She is planning to do more. Given the fun I had in this class I am sure they will be well worth attending. And by the way, the fish tacos were delicious.

PIN ITLearning to cook fish tacos with Chef Nikki Newman of Mandalay Beach Resort’s Coastal Grill in Oxnard, California

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  1. Having an allergy to fish would not make this my favorite dish:) However, They do look really good and what a fun thing to do! However, I think I could really get not those mango habanero margaritas!!! Wow, do they look fantastic! laugh!

    1. Jacquie, I’m glad I don’t have a fish allergy – I love fish. The slaw on its own was pretty good too. The margaritas were delicious, but I think likely dangerous too.

    1. Linda, it was a lot of fun. Yesterday we tried the recipe on our own at my sister’s place. Tacos weren’t quite as nice as with Chef Nikki’s help, but everything was still pretty tasty.

    1. Debbra, each of us adjusted the spice in the slaw dressing as well to make as mild or spicy as we liked.

  2. Thanks for sharing this recipe, Donna. I’ve never tried fish tacos, believe it or not. They sound quite delicious and I’m thinking of trying the recipe myself. I’m sure the habanero margaritas complemented the tacos great. I would have certainly enjoyed this meal.

  3. Donna — I’ve never eaten a fish taco and to my knowledge haven’t ever seen them on a menu. But maybe I wasn’t looking because I’m very partial to chick and beef tacos. Worth trying, though.

    1. Jeannette, the cabbage slaw makes fish tacos a little different than beef or chicken. I think they are definitely worth a try sometime, especially if you like fish.

  4. I have never tried fish tacos and would not say no to them. I have also never attended an adult cooking class. Sounds like the kind of activity I would enjoy. I recall the scene in the film Hitch with Will Smith and Eva Mendes. It looked intimate and cosy.

    Looking at the ingredients, I am sure I would enjoy this meal. Cod is one of my favourite types of fish.

    1. Phoenicia, cooking classes can be a lot of fun. Classes for tourists showing how to cook local dishes are becoming quite popular.

  5. Being a part time cookery tutor, I found it very interesting to see how the class was laid out and the way you followed the recipes step by step. My son loves tacos so thanks for sharing the recipe. I must look for the masa flour.

    1. Mina, the class was well laid out. Some thought had obviously been given to the order in which we tackled things.

  6. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve cooked with jalapeno’s without protecting my hands and then discovered a little while later that I had to take my contact lenses out. At that point there is no good solution. Oh, and the fish tacos look great.

    1. Ken, I’ve sometimes been able to get a lot of the jalapeno residue off with lemon juice, but the best approach is gloves, even though they can be awkward to work with.

  7. I love fish tacos and am going to pin this recipe so I can give it a go sometime this summer. I’ve watched a few in-person cooking demonstrations, but have never taken a cooking class but I would really like too. There’s one offered in downtown Boise in the Basque district on making Paella. I tried signing up last year, but it books fast. Thanks to your post I am going to check on that again.

    1. Jeri, I love paella. I have made it, but it would be fun to take a class and find some tips. I hope you get into a class.

  8. Oh I love fish tacos and copied the recipe! I used to make homemade tortillas all the time, but it’s been years so it would be fun to give it a try. Thanks for sharing Donna, what a fun experience that must have been.

  9. I’m so excited that you made your own corn tortillas. That is something I’ve never done but it seems really neat. I had to laugh when you talked about slicing that jalapenos without burning your hands. I’ve made mistakes when I’ve cooked with jalapenos in the past and I really paid the price. Ouch!

    Your tacos looked beautiful. Chef Nikki must be a great chef and the two of you are good students. I live about an hour away from Oxnard. I’ll check out the Coastal Grill if I’m ever in the area.

    1. Erica, it was fun to make the corn tortillas. I’ve made them once since the class. They weren’t quite as good as in the class, but good enough that we didn’t resort to the ones I’d bought as back-up. I think I let the dough sit too long before cooking. I will try making them again. I hope you enjoy the Coastal Grill when you get a chance to try it.

  10. These fish tacos look delicious! I’ve personally never tried fish tacos before, I’ve only ever tried the ones with beef but was not really a fan of it. Maybe fish tacos might be more to my taste cos I just love everything seafood.

    1. Rosary, fish tacos taste quite different than beef tacos. If you like fish, they are worth a try.

  11. Donna, I’ve never had fish tacos but since I love fish and tacos I am definitely going to give them a try. My granddaughter, age 8, has very mature taste and I know she would also love these so I’m going to send the link to them.
    What a fun thing to do on your travels – take a cooking class.

    1. Rose Mary, yes lots of fun. The margarita was yummy. I believe they soak mango and habanero in tequila for a couple of weeks to infuse it.

  12. I will admit, I am not a fan of fish tacos, I cannot stand them. But, you did have me at the mango habanero margaritas. Thanks for sharing this recipe with us.

  13. Those tacos look very good. Way better than the ones that I’ve tried to cook before in the past.