Given how quickly it cooks, fish is the perfect candidate for a weeknight meal.

The only problem? Fish can be bland, the light white variety in particular. Happily, white fish fillets are like chicken breasts: They play nicely with all sorts of ingredients. And that means there are plenty of ways to amp up the flavor.

The simplest fix is to reach for acid. At the very least, a fish fillet will always benefit from a spritz of lemon or lime.

If you briefly marinate – about 30 minutes – that fillet in lemon or lime juice before cooking it, it becomes much more flavorful without tasting acidic. And if you add a little salt to the marinade, the fish will be quickly and deeply seasoned, as well.

I added crunch to this soft fish dish by topping it off with crushed tortilla chips flavored with chili powder, then baking it so the chips stay crispy.

The final crunch and acid kick come from pickled red onions.


Finally, as a way to temper the spicy heat provided by the pickled jalapenos in the onions, I finished the dish with crema, a kind of thinned-down sour cream popular in Mexico and Central America.


A kind of Mexican sour cream, crema is increasingly available at U.S. supermarkets. If you can’t find it, use sour cream or creme fraiche diluted with a bit of milk, cream or water.

Makes 4 servings


Two ½-pound tilapia fillets


1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 tablespoons lime or lemon juice

2 tablespoons vegetable oil, preferably grapeseed

2 cups tortilla chips

2 teaspoons chili powder



1 medium red onion, sliced ¼-inch thick

¾ cup distilled white vinegar

¼ cup orange juice

1½ tablespoons sugar

¾ teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon cumin seeds


½ teaspoon dried oregano

2 tablespoons chopped pickled jalapenos


1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted

Crema or sour cream, to serve

To prepare the fish, cut each fillet down the center seam to separate the thin half of the fillet from the thick half. Cut each of the pieces in half crosswise (for a total of 8 pieces). Sprinkle the fish pieces with the salt, then transfer to a zip-close plastic bag. Add the lime or lemon juice and oil. Refrigerate for 30 minutes, turning the bag several times.


In a large, wide bowl finely crush the tortilla chips and toss with the chili powder. Set aside.

To make the pickled onions, in a small saucepan over medium-high, combine the red onion, vinegar, orange juice, sugar, salt, cumin and oregano. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Set aside and let cool. Drain the mixture, chop the onions and combine them with the jalapenos.

Heat the oven to 375 F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with kitchen parchment. Remove the fish pieces from the marinade and arrange in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet. Keep the thin pieces on one side and the thick pieces on the other.

Pack the tortilla crumbs on top of the fillets, then drizzle the crumbs with melted butter. Bake the fish on the oven’s middle rack until it is just cooked through, about 5 minutes for the thinner pieces and 8 minutes for the thicker pieces.

Transfer a thick and a thin fillet piece to each of 4 serving plates.

Serve each portion topped with some of the pickled onions and the crema.

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