8 & $20: Tortilla-Crusted Fish with Creamy Avocado Sauce and Vinho Verde

With flavors and textures reminiscent of a fish taco, this weeknight dish matches with a fresh Portuguese wine for an easy, summery meal

8 & $20: Tortilla-Crusted Fish with Creamy Avocado Sauce and Vinho Verde
While the creamy avocado sauce adds color to any presentation, serving this entrée on dark dishes makes the colors really pop. (Julie Harans)
Jun 8, 2021

Eight ingredients, plus pantry staples. That's all it takes to make an entire meal from scratch. Add in a good bottle of wine for less than $20, and you've got a feast for family or friends.

For dishes that are easy and also satisfying, it’s important to include components that pack some punch. Whether that’s a kick of salt from capers in a sauce or the crunch of fried onions as a garnish, simple additions can help create a bold result from a short ingredient list.

This fish recipe features several ingredients that yield maximum flavor from minimal effort, starting with tortilla chips. They act as a foundation of flavor for the exterior coating, which is slightly amped up with cayenne and cut with panko breadcrumbs, bringing a lightness to the crust and keeping the tortilla chips from overwhelming the fish. You can crush the chips by hand, but grinding them in a food processor ensures a consistent crust that binds better to the fish and feels more refined. Though this coating sticks very well to the fish, especially after it’s dipped in flour and egg wash, you’re bound to lose some bits here and there. So refrain from moving the fillet around too much while it’s cooking to minimize stray bits in the pan that can burn.

The golden crust maintains its crunch even atop a creamy avocado sauce, which comes together in the food processor in seconds. Lime juice adds acid, water smooths out the thickness and cream keeps it rich, resulting in a luscious and almost mousse-like accompaniment for the pan-fried fish. Each portion gets topped with quick-pickled shallots, one of my go-to garnishes for bringing extra oomph to a dish, especially seafood. You could use onions too, but I prefer shallots for quick pickling since they’re naturally a bit sweeter and less assertive. The halibut could be swapped out with cod, tilapia or even shrimp; just be sure to adjust the cook time accordingly.

The finished dish reminds me of all my favorite parts of a fish taco: A crisp exterior giving way to tender, flaky flesh; the creamy, fatty goodness of avocado brightened with lime; and the sweet-sour bite of a vinegar-spiked accent like a slaw or pickle.

Many light-bodied white wines would pair well with this, but I suggest a Vinho Verde, a great candidate thanks to the fresh, citrusy and green flavors for which the wines from this northern Portuguese region are known. A younger vintage of this Anselmo Mendes Alvarinho Vinho Verde Monção e Melgaço Contacto, with its herbal and mineral elements, will add some acidity while still letting the pickled shallots shine in that role and brings some salinity as well, a welcome component for a fleshy white fish like halibut. It’s an ideal wine for sipping in the sunshine on a summer day.

Tortilla-Crusted Fish with Creamy Avocado Sauce

Pair with a light-bodied wine with fresh green flavors and a tinge of salinity such as Anselmo Mendes Alvarinho Vinho Verde Monção e Melgaço Contacto (2017 vintage: 86 points, $20).

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 30 minutes
Total time: 40 minutes
Approximate food costs: $40


  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar or white wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons, plus 2 teaspoons, lime juice (from 1 to 2 limes), divided
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • Salt
  • 1 medium shallot, thinly sliced
  • 2 avocados
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 3/4 cup finely crushed tortilla chips
  • 3/4 cup panko (pulsed in a food processor a few times if necessary to match the consistency of the crushed chips)
  • 3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 4 halibut fillets, about 4 to 6 ounces each

1. For the pickled shallots: In a medium bowl, combine vinegar, 2 tablespoons of lime juice, honey and a pinch of salt. Toss with the shallot slices, separating them into rings as you go. Let sit at room temperature until you’re ready to serve.

2. For the avocado cream sauce: Add avocados, cream, 2 teaspoons of lime juice and 2 tablespoons of water to a food processor and blend until totally smooth, pausing once or twice to scrape in what sticks to the sides and the top. Season to taste with salt and set aside.

3. In a large bowl, combine crushed tortilla chips, panko, cayenne and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Then set up your dredging station: Using either rimmed plates or shallow bowls, add flour to one dish, the egg whisked with a splash of water to a second dish and the tortilla-chip mixture to the third.

4. Heat vegetable oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Season fish all over with salt. Working in two batches if needed, dip each piece of fish in the flour, then the egg, then the chips, and then add the fish to the pan. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes on each side until the crust is golden brown and the fish reaches an internal temperature of 118° F. Transfer to a plate lined with a paper towel to drain any excess oil.

5. Spread some avocado cream on each plate, top with fish and garnish with the pickled shallots. Serves 4.

Food Cooking White Wines

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