Crispy Baja Shrimp Tacos with Chipotle Mayo
Food truck-style Baja shrimp tacos made with crunchy shrimp, sautéed carrots and cabbage, pickled onions, drizzled with homemade chipotle mayo, and topped with queso fresco! A flavor punch in every bite!
Quite possibly, the best thing about summer is being able to enjoy tacos on the patio of your favorite restaurant with something ice cold to drink. These Baja Shrimp tacos are inspired by a local restaurant, Torchy’s Tacos! And it doesn’t help that they’re about 5 minutes from home. Hubby and I are obsessed!
I think I can speak for a majority of us when I say homemade crispy shrimp tacos are worth drooling over! Colossal shrimp that are soaked in buttermilk and coated in crunchy panko. I find soaking them for a bit helps get them tender and flavorful. There were a few casualties while I was putting these Baja Shrimp tacos together. But that’s to be expected when you’re frying up hot and crispy panko-crusted shrimp.
What is ‘baja-style’?
Baja-style refers to the type of tacos that originated in Baja California, Mexico. It usually involves shrimp or white fish, deep-fried with a batter or coating, inside a warm tortilla topped with shredded cabbage and a creamy sauce.
What do you need to make restaurant-style Baja shrimp tacos at home?
- Large shrimp: I like to use large shrimp in this recipe so that you can put 2-3 in a taco and call it a day! I’ve tried the recipe with small shrimp as well, and though the recipe works just fine, I find that it takes close to double the time to prep because there are so many time shrimp that you need to dip in the flour, buttermilk, and panko individually.
- Buttermilk: plays a two-part role. First, we soak the shrimp in buttermilk to help tenderize and flavor them. Then, we’ll drain, coat them in flour, and then dip them in more buttermilk. The second dipping is so that the panko adheres to the shrimp and stays in place.
- Seasonings: I use garlic powder, smoked paprika, and kosher salt to season the flour that we dip the shrimp in.
- All-purpose flour: once the shrimp are soaked in buttermilk, You’ll drain and toss them in flour before tossing them again in buttermilk. This two-step process makes the shrimp extra crunchy and keeps the coating from pulling away from the shrimp.
- Panko: the shrimp are coated in panko as the last step for extra crunch before going into the fryer.
- Chipotle peppers + adobo sauce: You’ll need anywhere from 2-4 chipotle peppers with a couple of tablespoons of adobo sauce. You can find chipotle peppers in the sauce or international aisle of your grocery store. You can store any leftover peppers in a freezer-safe bag/box for later!
- Mayonnaise: is the base of our chipotle mayo. I like to use this mayo; it’s my absolute favorite brand!
- Butter: Just a knob to saute the veggies in before adding them to the tacos.
- Veggies: I like to use angel hair cabbage, and matchstick carrots to pair with the crispy shrimp. The veggies add tons of color and texture to the tacos!
How to make Baja shrimp tacos at home:
- Set up a workstation. The step that takes the longest is the shrimp. So toss the shrimp in a splash of buttermilk with some salt. Then, place the flour with the seasonings in one dish, the rest of the buttermilk in another dish, and the panko in the third dish. You’re going to drain the shrimp from the buttermilk, toss it in flour, then buttermilk, and finally the panko. Place them on a clean sheet pan at the end so you can fry them all at the same time towards the end.
- Make the sauce and saute the veggies. To make the chipotle mayo, all you have to do is blend the buttermilk chipotle peppers and adobo sauce until smooth. Then, add the mayo and continue to pulse the food processor until the ingredients combine. Don’t overmix though; otherwise, the sauce will become too thin. To saute the veggies, melt the butter in a skillet, add the carrots and cabbage and saute until al-dente. You can let them go longer if you usually prefer them on the softer side.
- Fry the shrimp. Heat the frying oil in a cast-iron skillet. When the oil comes up to 350ºF, add the shrimp in batches and fry them for roughly 2-3 minutes total, flipping them halfway. I like to drain them in a sheet pan lined with a paper towel to soak up excess oil!
- Make tacos! When you’re ready to eat, heat the tortillas. Bonus points if you make your own flour tortillas! I like to heat them over an open flame, so they char around the edges a little. Top with the sautéed cabbage, pickled onions, jalapeños, crumbled queso fresco, cilantro, and drizzle in that homemade chipotle crema!
FAQs about Baja shrimp tacos:
- Do I have to use panko? I use panko for this recipe because panko gets nice and crisp when fried and it doesn’t absorb as much oil as breadcrumbs. For best results, I do suggest using panko.
- How do you suggest making these on a weeknight? You can easily swap the homemade crispy shrimp with a box/bag of crispy coated frozen shrimp. Just follow the directions on the box and use those instead of the homemade version!
- Is there a faster way to crunchy coat the shrimp? You can drain them, place the flour and seasonings in a zip-top bag and in the bag to coat them quickly. I find that doing so causes that shrimp to not look as ‘pretty’ but they taste the same and it saves quite a bit of time! I don’t advise doing that with the second round of buttermilk though! Individually dipping them and then toss them in panko works better in my opinion!
- Can you make the shrimp in the air fryer instead? You can! Preheat the air fryer to 375ºF. Place the shrimp in the air fryer but don’t overcrowd them. Do this in batches so that they stay crunchy. Spray with cooking spray. Cook the shrimp for 6-8 minutes or until they cook all the through, flipping them halfway and spraying them with cooking oil on the other side.
If you like this recipe, you might also like:
- Blackened Shrimp Tacos with Smashed Avocados
- Homemade Crunchwrap Supreme
- Mexican Street Corn Chicken Tacos
- Ancho Chicken Street Tacos
- Blackened Salmon Tacos with Jalapeno Lime Crema
This Baja shrimp taco recipe was originally shared in June 2014. It has been updated with new pictures, easier directions, and minor recipe tweaks in May 2021.
Baja Shrimp Tacos
- 1 ½ pound large shrimp
- 1 ¼ cup buttermilk, divided
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
- 2-4 chipotle peppers + 2 tablespoons adobo sauce
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- 1 ¼ cup panko breadcrumbs
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 cup matchstick carrots
- 2 cups finely shredded cabbage
- Oil, for frying
- PREP: Place the shrimp in a medium bowl. Toss them with ½ cup of buttermilk and ½ teaspoon of salt; set aside for at least 10 minutes. In a food processor, blend together the chipotle peppers and adobo sauce along with ¼ cup of buttermilk and run the food processor until the peppers break down. Add mayonnaise and pulse the food processor just until the ingredients combine. Do not overmix.
- DREDGE AND FRY: Place the flour and the remaining ½ teaspoon of salt, garlic powder, and smoked paprika in a shallow baking dish; whisk. Pour the remaining ½ cup of buttermilk in a shallow bowl. Place the panko in another shallow baking dish. Take each shrimp from the buttermilk, dredge in flour, then buttermilk, and finally the panko. Place on a clean, flat surface and repeat with the remaining shrimp. In a large cast-iron skillet (or deep fryer) heat 1 inch of oil to 350ºF over medium heat. Fry shrimp in batches until golden, about 2-3 minutes per batch, flipping halfway through. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate.
- SAUTE: In a skillet over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Add the matchstick carrots and saute them for 30 seconds before adding in the cabbage. Season with a pinch of salt and cook to al-dente.
- TACOS: Heat the tortillas in a skillet or over an open flame, if desired. Spoon some of the cabbage mixture in the tortilla, top with fried shrimp, add pickled jalapeños and red onions, fresh cilantro, and crumbled queso fresco as desired. Drizzle with chipotle mayo and serve with lime wedges!