Salmon tacos with avocado-tomatillo salsa

April 26, 2011 § 21 Comments

I never think of Easter as being one of my favorite holidays.  It doesn’t have the twinkle or well-worn, nostalgic set of rituals that some of the other holidays do.  I seem to celebrate it a slightly different way and with different sets of people from year to year.  And yet, every year Easter somehow exceeds expectations.  It bursts out of the gate accompanied by trumpets sounding and banners waving.

Perhaps it’s because we’re giddy with the smell of loamy soil and dewy grass and the promise of new life that suddenly feels eminently believable.  Or maybe that’s the effect of the malted milk ball robin’s eggs I ate along with the eggbake at breakfast (eggbake – totally epic!).  Either way, what I never anticipate as a super exciting event turns into an epic day of full contact Easter egg hunts, awe-inspiring whiffle ball tournaments, old-timey singfake the words-a-long marathons (without a song book it turns out that the only songs that I know the lyrics to are songs I don’t want anyone to know I know the lyrics to – Katy Perry and Phantom of the Opera mash-up anyone?), and creepy lamb shaped cakes. It was a sorry, sorry thing to have to come back to the real world today.  Whatever happened to celebrating Easter Monday?!  I’m going back to Europe.

The return of the work week definitely means no more malted milk robin’s eggs at breakfast, no matter how much they remind you of the Ovaltine you drank every morning with breakfast during an odd phase in high school.  Sigh.  But, I’m just not ready to let go of that epic feeling.  Enter dishes like these salmon tacos.  Definitely epic, though not in the sense that they take some Herculean effort to prepare,more in the sense of the size of the oohs you’ll hear when you start eating your dinners.

I think every cook should have a couple of fish taco recipes in their repertoire.  I mean, maybe it’s just me, but whenever I make fish tacos it makes me feel like I’m this really, really amazing cook.  When I made those Mediterranean fish tacos I was embarrassingly impressed with myself for days, and now these salmon tacos with their effusive flavors and vibrant jewel tones have me feeling like I’m James Beard material or something.  But, I’m pretty convinced it’s just the nature of fish tacos.  They’re fairly easy, yet they taste show stopping.  They’re like the culinary the culinary equivalent of those magical traveling pants that make everyone look good.

This could be because of my tendency to swoon over anything filled with avocado, lime, and cilantro.  Here these flavors dance a lively merengue through thinly sliced cabbage and a silky avocado salsa.  The avocado salsa also has a flourish of tangy tomatillo sweeping through it like a dramatic hand gesture.  It’s so creamy and tasty, I wanted to eat the whole bowl of it up with just a spoon.

These tacos diverge a bit from your standard fish tacos by using salmon in place of a lighter, milder white fish.  This is largely because we had some extra salmon around due to a splurge at the fish counter, and I’m so happy I gave it a try.  To complement the heartier meatier nature of the salmon and to pull all the flavors together I decided to rub it with a blend of spices we normally use on grilled steak around here (it’s Joel’s delicious invention – he’s the grill-maestro).  Dark bitter coffee grounds, mixed with earthy cumin, coriander and chile, and tempered with sweet brown sugar gave the salmon a groundedness that was a nice contrast to the sprightly toppings.  And, I used my new favorite technique for spice rubs, which is to stir a couple of Tablespoons of olive oil into the spices and then use a brush to brush them all over the fish or meat or whatever I’m preparing.  It’s quite slick.

So, maybe it’s just that the Easter chocolates have seriously gone to my head, but I’m telling you, fish tacos – totally epic.

Spice rubbed salmon tacos (serves 4-6)

  • 2 pounds of salmon fillets, skin on, center cut, about an inch thick
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon finely ground coffee
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 8-12 small tortillas, corn or flour – your preference
  • red cabbage mix – see below
  • avocado-tomatillo salsa – see below
    1. Pat your salmon fillets dry with a paper towel. In a small bowl mix together all of the the seasonings (coffee through black pepper). Then, stir in the olive oil. Use a brush to brush this spice mixture all over the tops of the salmon fillets.
    2. Grill the salmon fillets skin side down on a well oiled hot grill and cook just until it flakes easily with a fork (the timing will depend a lot on your particular cuts of fish, mine took about 8 minutes). Alternatively, you can broil the salmon just until it flakes easily with a fork. Remove from the heat.Use a spatula to lift the salmon pieces off of their skins and onto a serving platter. Break them into chunks.
    3. Quickly warm your tortillas. Then, serve the salmon in the tortillas topped with the avocado salsa and cabbage. If desired you can also add some sour cream and your favorite hot sauce.(It’s easiest to just let everyone assemble their own.) Then, just add some cervezas or margaritas and dinner is complete!


  • 2 tomatillos, husks removed
  • 1/4 cup diced red onion
  • 1 jalapeno, seeds removed (unless you want some extra heat) and diced
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 Tbs. chopped cilantro, divided
  • 1 lime, juiced, divided
  • 1 ripe haas avocado
  • 5 cups thinly sliced red cabbage
  • sea salt
    1. Bring a small pot of water to a boil. Turn down to a simmer and add the tomatillos. Simmer about 3 minutes – they’ll turn sort of olive green. Remove from the water and allow to cool for a little bit. Then, chop them up.
    2. In a food processor, process together the tomatillo, onion, jalapeno, 1 Tbs. cilantro, and half of the lime juice, until fairly smooth. Then, pulse in the avocado – you can process it in until you have a smooth sauce or leave it a little chunky, depending on your preference. Season with salt to taste. Set aside.
    3. Toss together the sliced red cabbage with the remaining lime juice and cilantro. Sprinkle with a little salt (1/4 tsp. or so) and mix well.  Add a drizzle of olive oil, if you wish.
    4. Serve the avocado-tomatillo salsa and the cabbage to accompany the fish in the tacos.

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