The best Fish Taco Sauce recipe for your fish tacos, hands down! Perfectly spiced, and so easy to whip up – one bowl, less than 5 minutes. You’ll love how this white sauce complements the flavors in your fish tacos. Also delicious as a vegetable dip! (with video)
Years and years ago, I came across a recipe for San Diego fish tacos and fish taco sauce. So delicious. I’ve since lost the memory of how to prepare the fish, but the sauce included in the recipe, however, burned a little hole in my brain.
That fish taco sauce … omg, so good. Forget salsa. Forget sour cream. Set aside the tartar sauce. Once you try it for yourself, you’ll always reach for this creamy fish taco sauce.
No doubt my fading memory and stubborn inability to leave well enough alone has inserted itself on the original recipe. But that’s the beauty of a spice-heavy concoction: You can tweak the sauce seasonings to your own tastes.
So, don’t worry if you’re missing an ingredient from the list, and you’re in the middle of a taco craving emergency. It will all be a-okay!
It’s the unique combination of herbs and spices that make it so special, including cumin, coriander, smoky chipotle chili powder, dill, and oregano.
Plus, it features the perfect hit of heat: not enough to say, whoooaa, tongue on fire! But just enough to be all like, hello, I’m alive, and it’s great to be eating tacos!
Ingredients and substution notes for Fish Taco Sauce
We all like “easy,” right? But sometimes just a few extra ingredients make a difference far beyond their numbers. Let’s go through the list!
- Sour cream and mayonnaise: Start with a nice, creamy foundation of sweet and sour notes that the combo of sour cream and mayo provide. You can choose to go full fat or low fat. And if you don’t like mayo, feel free to substitute plain yogurt. In fact, truth be told, nowadays, I usually skip both the sour cream and mayo and go right for 2% Greek yogurt, which has plenty of creamy richness.
- Lime: Thinning the creamy base with lime juice instead of water adds a lovely acid tang. You can definitely substitute lemon juice, although lime juice is slightly sweeter and more traditional in Mexican-inspired sauces.
- Cumin and Coriander: These classic Mexican spices are a must-have in this sauce, with their deep, earthy notes. Note that in America, coriander is the dried seed of the cilantro plant. In other countries, “coriander” often refers to both the green leaves and the seeds. Spice tip: keep a stock of cumin seed and coriander seed in your pantry, and grind them fresh. So much tastier!
- Dill: What are you doing in here, Dill? Lol. You don’t often expect dill in a fish taco, but it goes so well with seafood that it actually tastes right at home in the final sauce. I love the bright, verdant green flavor!
- Oregano: A beautiful herb, oregano adds a peppery, astringent, pungent note that we love so well in American cuisine.
- Chipotle chili powder: Most fish taco sauces barely separate themselves from regular tartar sauce and land in ho-hum territory. Chipotle chili powder livens the works right up with its smoky goodness. You can use chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, yes, but, personally, it annoys me to use just a small portion out of the can. I’m afraid to know how many bags of leftover peppers in sauce have worked their way to the back of fridge! It’s much easier to keep chili powder on hand. Also, if you want a more mild kick, use New Mexico chili powder instead.
- Capers: The secret ingredient in my homemade fish taco sauce! Capers have a unique tang that’s a cross between bitter and briny. But when you combine them with other assertive flavors, like the spice blend above, it somehow turbo-charges everything else, while hanging out quietly in the background. They also go great with seafood. Use non-pareil capers if you can find them (they’re smaller with a more delicate flavor), and mince them well with a knife, or smash them with a fork.
- Hot chile pepper: In addition to the chile powder, I like to include a bit of fresh chile, such as a jalapeno or serrano, for a fresh burst of spicy heat.
- Cilantro leaves: Finally, a nice, hearty hit of minced cilantro leaves cap off the herby flavors of this sauce.
A nice rest in the fridge will let all of the flavors meld and develop into a fully flavored creamy white sauce!
Some extra love for one of my favorite flavor combinations: Lime and cilantro (above) are so natural together, it would not have surprised me one bit to find them growing on the same plant, had I not grown cilantro myself without producing a single lime (I knew better, of course, but was still unreasonably disappointed). There’s plenty of both of these summery flavors in my fish taco sauce!
Coriander, by the way, is the seed produced by the cilantro plant. Redundant, both leaf and seed sharing a spot in the same recipe? No, sirreee. Ground coriander tastes nothing like its leafy parent.
Gently aromatic and somehow citrusy, it adds a bright flavor to Mexican cuisine and is an especially harmonious companion to cumin.
So, for you unlucky ducks where cilantro leaves taste like soap, do not fear the ground coriander!
How to make fish taco sauce
This white sauce is easily whipped up with just a knife and whisk – no special equipment required:
Step 1: Whisk up the creamy base
In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the sour cream and mayo until well combined and smooth.
Step 2: Thin with lime juice
Squeeze the juice from half of the lime into the bowl and whisk. The consistency should be pourable, like a creamy salad dressing.
If the sauce is too thick, add more lime juice from the other half. If you accidentally made it too runny, whisk in a little more sour cream.
Step 3: Add the spices
Whisk in the spices until well combined.
Step 4: Add the remaining ingredients.
Stir in the capers, peppers, and cilantro.
Step 5: Refrigerate
Cover the bowl and let it rest in the fridge for at least an hour to let the flavors meld. The fish taco sauce can be made days in advance.
Spoon the sauce over your fish tacos — my favorites are made with grilled flaky white fish, like cod or halibut, but shrimp is scrumptious, too.
For an authentic San Diego baja fish taco experience, try them battered and fried. Delish!
Frequently Asked Questions about Fish Taco Sauce
Can I make the fish taco sauce ahead of time?
Yes, absolutely! In fact, it’s better if the sauce has a chance to sit in the refrigerator for a few hours, to both chill down and to let the ingredients meld together into its full-flavored creamy goodness.
Is the sauce spicy?
Fish taco sauce is not “hot” spicy, but rather well-seasoned. There’s ground chipotle powder in the recipe, but its kick is tamed by the dairy ingredients. People who don’t like spicy foods will have no problem with this sauce (and pepperheads can add more spice or hot sauce to punch up the heat!).
How long can I store the fish taco sauce in the refrigerator?
The sauce can be stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to a week, depending on the freshness of the dairy ingredients you used. Make sure to give it a good stir before using after refrigeration. If you notice that a little liquid has accumulated on the top of the sauce, that’s just the whey from the sour cream. Stir that back into the sauce to keep it creamy!
Can I use fresh dill instead of dried dill weed?
Yes, absolutely. Dried dill has a stronger concentration of flavor than fresh, so you’ll want to double the amount of fresh dill.
I don’t have ground chipotle chili powder. Can I substitute it with something else?
If you don’t have ground chipotle chili powder, you can use regular chili powder, plus a big pinch of smoked paprika to imitate the zesty smoky flavor of chipotle. Or, if you’re just after some heat, use cayenne pepper or a few shakes of your favorite hot sauce. Adjust the amount according to your taste preference.
Can I use lemon juice instead of lime?
Yes, lemon juice can be used as a substitute for lime. However, lime juice provides a distinct flavor that pairs well with the other ingredients in this sauce. If using lemon, the sauce might have a slightly different, tangier citrus note.
What if I don’t have capers? Can I omit them?
Yes, you can leave out the capers if you don’t have them. They add a distinct briny flavor to the sauce that complements fish so well, but it will still taste delicious without them. Alternatively, you could use a very small amount of dill pickle juice for a similar effect.
Can I freeze the fish taco sauce for later use?
I wouldn’t freeze this sauce because the dairy ingredients (sour cream or yogurt) can separate and change in texture when thawed. It’s best to make it fresh, store in the fridge, and consume within a few days.
What else can I use Fish Taco Sauce with?
Making a big batch and need some ideas to use up the leftovers? Because it’s not specifically fishy, the sauce goes great with chicken and beef, too: tacos, burritos, and wraps! It’s also a fantastic chip dip (Fritos are my favorite!)
Or, try it with these recipes:
Watch the video and learn how easy it is to make, then make some for yourself!
Wickedly good fish taco sauce
- 1/2 cup reduced fat sour cream (Greek yogurt is delicious as a substitute if you’re not a fan of sour cream)
- 1/2 cup reduced fat mayonnaise (you can use full fat, but, the spices are so delicious, you won’t miss that particular flavor contribution)
- 1 lime , cut in half
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1/2 teaspoon dried dill weed
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/4 teaspoon ground chipotle chili powder
- 1/2 teaspoon capers , minced
- 1 hot pepper of your choice , seeded and minced (jalapeno is delicious, as are the cherry bomb poppers I used in this batch).
- 1 tablespoon fresh cilantro , chopped
- In a small bowl, whisk the sour cream and mayonnaise until well blended.
- Squeeze the juice from one lime half into the fish taco sauce mixture, then whisk thoroughly. You’ll want the consistency of a pourable, creamy salad dressing. If still too thick, add more lime juice from the other half. If too runny, add sour cream.
- Add all of the spices, whisking to mix thoroughly. Add the capers, minced pepper and cilantro, and whisk thoroughly.
- Cover the bowl with wrap and refrigerate the fish taco for at least one hour — the longer the better.
- Serve chilled. Spoon white sauce over fish tacos, or add into taco salads or rice bowls.
Originally published on June 6, 2009