Shrimp, tortillas, fennel and avocado… I grew up eating precisely none of these things.
It’s amazing how one dish can be a visual marker of change; of evolving tastes and aversions overcome. My overriding memory of prawns was the 80s culinary blast from the past that would not be destroyed… the prawn cocktail. Swimming in pink sludge, those miniaturized crustaceans, with their cat-food size and indiscernibly-seasoned sauce were the thing that kept me from eating seafood for many a year, either which side of my vegetarian ventures.
To this day, I’m always somewhat dubiously suspicious of an overly sauced shrimp and I don’t find myself cooking them all that often, despite how simple and easy there are to make. These spicy orange tacos, though, are a newly discovered exception.
The shrimp do take center stage here, lightly glazed in a syrupy-not-sweet reduction of beautifully hued cara cara orange juice. Their subtle spice comes from a good amount of ginger, balanced out with the fragrant-yet-underrated oregano.
But with that said, I think my favorite element of this dish isn’t actually so much the shrimp, but their co-star, the fennel slaw.
Fennel is weird. There, I said it. It’s that somewhat pretentious yet unapologetically elegant visitor to the party. The one that I didn’t know what to do with for a long time, even with my long time love of all things anise and aniseed flavored. (Including the adult beverages I did imbibe while decidedly un-adult abroad.)
While not technically the same thing, fennel and anise are both in the same botanical family and have a similar sweet yet aromatic flavor. I’ve always loved it, although full disclosure, I’m also the odd person who adores licorice candies.
Now, if you’re not a fennel lover, I’ll go ahead and say that my husband is a self-avowed Hater Of All Things Anise And That Includes Fennel. And he loved these orange shrimp tacos, including the fennel slaw.
That might be because I a) didn’t tell him there was fennel in there, b) the simple lime juice & olive oil dressing really mellows the fennel out to its chill-est self or c) that the slaw is the perfect complement to the spiced seasoned shrimp.
Whichever option you choose, there’s no arguing about the fact that these orange shrimp tacos are meant to be. The slaw is crisp and lightly scented, the shrimp is a little tingly with a nice bite and the avocado cream gives you just enough of a fat-hit that your brain translates these orange shrimp tacos as strangely decadent.
To really go all out, I made these up using my Foolproof Grain Free Tortillas, but you could save yourself some time and effort by spooning the filling of these orange shrimp tacos straight into lettuce cups, over veggie rice or turn them into a salad over the fennel slaw with some added greens. Whichever works best for you!
- Eight 6 inch Foolproof Grainless Tortillas or fresh lettuce cups
- ½ lb / 225 g red cabbage
- 3 oz / 85 g fennel (about ½ medium bulb, 1 cup or so when sliced)
- ½ cup / 70 g thinly sliced red onion (about ¼ medium)
- 2 tbsp / 30 ml avocado oil or mild olive oil
- 2 tbsp / 30 ml fresh lime juice
- 1 tbsp / 15 ml apple cider vinegar, optional
- ¼ cup + 2 tbsp / 90 ml fresh orange juice (I used cara cara)
- 1 tsp / 2 g ground ginger
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- ½ tsp garlic powder
- ½ tsp fine sea salt
- 1 lb / 454 g peeled, deveined shrimp (I used 31 - 40 / lb)
- TOSS: Use a mandoline to finely slice the red cabbage, fennel and red onion. Add the sliced vegetables to a mixing bowl, along with the oil, lime juice and apple cider vinegar (if using). Toss to coat the vegetables evenly in the dressing. Taste and add salt, if you like.
- REDUCE: Add the orange juice, ground ginger, oregano, garlic powder and salt to a skillet over medium heat. Bring the juice to a gently bubbling simmer, stirring the seasonings to combine evenly. Simmer until the seasoning mixture reduces down until it's thick enough to pull a clear path through it in the skillet with a spoon. It will look too thick at this point, but that's ok, because the shrimp will release some additional liquid as they cook.
- COOK: Add the shrimp to the skillet, tossing them to coat in the seasoning mixture. Cook, stirring often, until the shrimp are opaque, fully cooked through and glossy. Remove from the heat.
- BLEND: Add all of the avocado cilantro cream ingredients to the blending container of your immersion blender, or a high sided narrow jar. Use an immersion blender to puree until you have a smooth, cilantro-flecked cream.
- ASSEMBLE: Pile each tortilla with some of the slaw mixture, then top with the spicy orange shrimp. Spoon or drizzle each taco with some of the avocado cream and serve immediately.
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