Live Oregon

A Rockfish by Any Other Name

written by Thor Erickson
photography by Tambi Lane

Order rockfish at a restaurant in New York, and you’ll likely get a striped bass. Place the same order in California, and you could end up with a vermilion rockfish. Here in Oregon, rockfish can be anything from quillback, pygmy, shortbelly, longspine, yellow-eye, to widow, canary, chilipepper, thornyhead and the old standby—red snapper.

Oregon sport and commercial fishermen regularly catch more than twenty-five species of rockfish. Many of these rockfish have similar characteristics and are difficult to tell apart. According to the Food and Drug Administration, a single fish species can go by multiple names from the time it’s caught until the time it ends up on your plate, and many kinds of fish can legally be sold under a single name.

The good news is that all these species of Oregon rockfish taste relatively the same. The flesh is versatile and can be prepared in many ways, from sautéing, grilling and baking, to steaming or frying. The mild flavor of the fish is a great backdrop for bold flavors.

On chilly Oregon days of fall and early winter, I love to create a quick getaway to warm climates via my palate, with fish tacos and a cold beer.

All these species of Oregon rockfish taste relatively the same. The flesh is versatile and can be prepared in many ways, from sautéing, grilling and baking, to steaming or frying.

Oregon Rockfish Tacos


  • 1¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons paprika
  • 2 teaspoons black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 pinch of kosher salt
  • 1 cup Oregon lager
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 3 tablespoons canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
  • 1 teaspoon fresh garlic, minced
  • 2 quarts canola oil
  • 1 pound Oregon rockfish cut into eight, 2-ounce pieces
  • 16 corn tortillas
  • ¼ head of red cabbage, finely shredded
  • Pickled red onions (ingredients and recipe below)
  • ½ cup fresh, whole cilantro leaves
  • 2 limes, cut into wedges


  • 1 red onion
  • 3 tablespoons avocado oil (or other light oil such as canola oil)
  • ¼ cup rice wine vinegar
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ⅛ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper


Thinly julienne red onions, cutting with the “grain” of the onion.

Heat oil in a medium sauté pan over medium heat for 30 seconds and immediately add onions to pan. Wilt the onions, do not let them turn brown.

Add vinegar, salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer and turn off the stove. Cover pan with a lid and let it sit for 10 minutes to cool to room temperature while you prepare the tacos.


Combine flour, paprika, black pepper, garlic and kosher salt using a whisk. Mix beer and egg together and add to the flour mixture and whisk until a smooth batter is formed. Set aside.

Combine mayonnaise, chipotle and minced garlic in a medium bowl and whisk until homogenous. Set aside.

Heat oil in a deep fryer, Dutch oven, or large saucepan to 350 degrees. Transfer fish pieces to bowl with batter and turn to coat thoroughly. Working one piece at a time, dip the fish in the batter, letting the excess batter drip away. With tongs or dry fingers, carefully lower a couple of pieces of the fish into the hot oil. Turn occasionally, until golden brown on all sides, about 3 minutes total. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate and season with salt. Repeat with remaining fish, frying a couple of pieces at a time.

Heat the tortillas in a large skillet. Divide the tortillas into 8 stacks of two tortillas layered one on top of the other.

Top each with a bit of shredded cabbage, 1 piece of fish, pickled red onions, chipotle mayo and cilantro. Serve with lime wedges.

Published by
1859 Oregon's Magazine

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