When I traveled to Miami in January 2018, I just knew I was going to have an amazing dining experience. I’d spent weeks researching all the places I wanted to visit and compiled a who’s who list of the most recommended stops for the best mojitos, cubano sandwiches, coffee, plantains, and ceviche. Day after day, I wandered into various restaurants and bars in famous neighborhoods like Little Havana, Wynwood, and Coconut Grove – only to leave disappointed.
The service was always thoughtful and attentive, but the food and/or drinks fell short. I’d just resigned myself to spending the next few days of my trip hanging out on the beach and topping off my mojitos with a bottle of Bacardi I bought in town when I overheard, like a group of friends, about Little Haiti spoke. I canceled my lunch reservation, shook the sand off my toes, and hopped on an Uber direct to Little Haiti.
The driver dropped me off in front of Chef Creole’s, where I ordered a lobster tail platter and a mango smoothie. What arrived at my table was a masterpiece. A massive juicy lobster tail bathed in butter and Creole spices, steamed black beans simmered in a fragrant epis — think the Haitian version of the New Orleans “Holy Trinity” — and tender nubs of rice. To the side of my plate was a pile of Pikliz, a spicy and sour coleslaw that helped break through the fullness of the meal. One bite of Haitian food and I was hooked. It was by far the best meal I’ve had during my time in Miami.
When I got home, I couldn’t get these flavors out of my head and set about recreating my experience at my own dinner table. I looked up countless Epis recipes until I found a version I liked. I also learned how to make Pikliz – now there’s always a jar in my fridge.
This Haitian fish taco recipe takes everything I loved about my meal at Chef Creole’s and makes it both accessible and easy to make for a quick dinner. In truth, I’ll never miss an opportunity to turn any dish into a taco (you can take the girl from California…). Here the epis is used both as a salsa and as a marinade for the fish. Traditional Pikliz calls for tart oranges and Scotch Bonnet peppers, but if you can’t find either of those ingredients, a combination of lime juice and vinegar will work, and habanero peppers are a decent substitute.
This recipe makes more epis and pikliz than you probably need, which is a good thing since both work well in other dinner staples. Use it to spice up plain beans, tomato sauce, roast pork or grilled steak. Pikliz is delicious eaten straight from the jar—like I did every hour when I was pregnant with my daughter—but it’s also great on avocado toast, barbecue, and even salads.
Haitian Fish Tacos with Pikliz Slaw
Serves 6-8 (makes 12-16 tacos)
For the piclice:
2 cups of pre-made coleslaw mix
½ red or yellow bell pepper, thinly sliced
¼ yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 spring onions, sliced (including white and green parts)
2 large garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon kosher salt
¼ cup lime juice
⅓ cup white vinegar
1 tablespoon of fish sauce
½ scotch bonnet pepper, halved (if you can’t find a scotch bonnet, a habanero will do)
For the Epis fish:
½ cup parsley, chopped
½ cup coriander, chopped
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
½ small onion, chopped
3 sprigs of thyme, stems removed and discarded
2 spring onions, sliced
⅓ cup olive oil
3 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar or lime juice
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon chicken broth
2 pounds of flaky white fish, such as tilapia, red snapper, halibut, or arctic char
12-16 hard taco shells
First do the picliz:
Step 1: In a medium bowl, place the coleslaw, strips of pepper, onion, spring onion, and garlic cloves.
Step 2: In a separate bowl, mix together the salt, lime juice, vinegar, and fish sauce. When well mixed, pour over the cabbage mixture and toss well.
Step 3: Add the Scotch Bonnet or Habanero pepper and taste the mixture for seasoning. If you prefer more spice, add a whole bell pepper. Or if you’re really into condiments, add two. If you’d like your Pikliz a little saltier, add another teaspoon of fish sauce or salt until you reach your desired seasoning.
Step 4: Set aside pikliz in a jar or sealed container and refrigerate until ready to use. It can be made in advance and keeps well for about 2 weeks.
Next, make the Epis fish:
Step 1: Place all ingredients except the fish in a blender or food processor and blend until a smooth, wet, sandy texture develops.
Step 2: Brush the fish fillets with a few tablespoons of the Epis seasoning, reserving about ¼ cup to salsa the tacos.
Step 3: Marinate the fish in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes and up to 12 hours. After marinating, preheat the grill to 500 degrees or whatever your home oven temperature is.
Step 4: Brush the excess Epis marinade off the fish and place the fillets on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Grill the fish on the top rack for 12-15 minutes (depending on how thin your fillets are) or until the meat is firm and golden. The fish should be cooked through but still tender and moist. Remove the fish and turn off the oven.
Step 5: Using the residual heat from the oven to crisp up the taco shells, bake the taco shells for 3-5 minutes. Fill each with a spoonful of boiled fish and garnish with pikliz. Use the extra epis as a salsa for extra flavor.
Ryan Shepard is an Atlanta-based food and spirits writer. She loves Mexican food, bourbon and New Orleans.
Louie Victa is a chef, recipe developer, food photographer and stylist based in Las Vegas.
Recipe tested by Louiie Victa