Grilled Fish Taco Zarandeado

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Amor y Tacos

Amor y Tacos

By Deborah Schneider

Published 2010

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Whole grilled fish zarandeado is a specialty of the beautiful state of Sinaloa, which faces the Gulf of California and Pacific Ocean. A whole fish—usually some kind of local bass, weighing from 3 to 5 pounds—is butterflied and boned, rubbed with an adobo spice paste and adorned with slivered jalapeños and onions. It is then grilled in a flat wire basket over a wood fire and turned several times during the cooking (zarandear means “to spin about, shake up, or turn upside down”). When cooked, the whole fish is served skin side down on a piece of rough plank, along with an assortment of salsas, avocado, and tortillas. If you want to tackle it, a whole fish is great fun to grill and looks terrific (maybe for the next PTA potluck?) but using filleted fish is much easier. A grill basket is recommended for cooking the fish; it may also be cooked in a grill pan or sautéed. Make sure to get nice, dark grill marks on the fish, which brings out the flavors of the spice paste.


  • ½ small white onion
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 1 serrano chile, stemmed and chopped
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon achiote paste
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 2 or more teaspoons white vinegar
  • 2 or more teaspoons fresh-squeezed lime juice
  • pounds farm-raised catfish, striped bass, or other sustainable fish (see sidebar)
  • 1 whole jalapeño, stemmed and thinly sliced
  • 12 warm corn tortillas
  • Lime wedges
  • Pineapple cucumber salsa or mango habanero salsa
  • Salsa quemada
  • Avocado cilantro sauce
  • Finely shredded green cabbage


  1. Make the adobo paste: Chop enough of the onion to make 2 tablespoons and place it in in a molcajete or food processor with the garlic and serrano. Sprinkle with salt and grind to a very smooth paste. Mix in the olive oil, achiote paste, and cumin. Add 2 teaspoons each of vinegar and lime juice, then add more as need to make a fairly thick paste.
  2. Cut the fish into several large pieces and coat them thickly on all sides with the adobo. Wrap and chill for at least 1 hour.
  3. While the fish is marinating, make the salsas and prepare the cilantro sauce, avocado, cilantro sprigs, and lim wedges, and cabbage. Cut ¼ onion from the remaining piece of white onion and slice it thinly (reserve any onion left over for another use).
  4. Heat a grill or grill pan to medium-hot. Place the fish in a grill basket and press half the jalapeños and sliced onions onto it. Turn the fish over and repeat on the other side. Grill the fish without moving it until it is well cooked on one side, then turn it carefully, trying to keep as much of the spice paste on the fish as possible. If the fish is very thick, you may need to finish cooking it in a 350-degree oven. Transfer the cooked fish to a warmed serving platter.
  5. To make a taco, spoon a little avocado cilantro sauce onto a tortilla. Break up the fish and put some on the sauce. Top with a squeeze of lime, a small amount of each salsa, and some shredded cabbage.


Purists will enjoy this fish simply topped off with a squeeze of lime, a sprinkle of diced onions and avocado, and a sprig of cilantro.