Tilapia is one of those fish you never heard of 20 years ago, but today is everywhere.
This is because commercial tilapia farming is a booming industry which is driving the price of tilapia down, while the supply of fresh fish from the world’s oceans is dwindling, causing prices of other fish to skyrocket. Walk into any grocery store or fish market these days and you will find tilapia available at half the price of most other fish.
Tilapia is a neutral flavored fish. It lacks the distinctive taste of, say, tuna or salmon. But this can be an advantage because it easily takes on the flavors of whatever you prepare with it. Consider it to be the potato of the fish world because in itself it is pretty flavorless, but it serves as an excellent catalyst to other flavors.
For example, you can make blackened tilapia for a fraction of the cost of blackened red snapper and the flavor will be comparable because most of the taste comes from the blackening agent anyway. Just don’t try to sell tilapia as red snapper or you could get in trouble.
I made my tilapia with one of the simplest of sauces, meuniere sauce, which is composed of browned butter, lemon juice and chopped parsley. “Meuniere” is French for “miller’s wife,” or a peasant woman. It’s called this because it is the type of simple sauce the lower classes would make at home, rather than fancier sauce enjoyed by the aristocracy.
Fun fact: Restaurants did not become commonplace until post-Revolution France, when the chefs who formerly cooked for the aristocracy suddenly had to find new ways to support themselves. They began to open public houses where people could pay to enjoy the gourmet dishes that formerly could only be consumed by kings and other royalty.
Meuniere also refers to the method of preparing fish by lightly dredging it in flour then pan frying it in clarified butter. But to simplify things, I just sprayed my tilapia with pan spray and seasoned it with salt, pepper and paprika. Lay it out on a sprayed sheet pan, put it under the broiler for about five to seven minutes and you are ready to go.
To make the meuniere sauce, simply heat up a saute pan and add 2 -3 TBS of whole butter and swirl it around in the pan until the butter starts to turn brown, about 2 minutes. Squeeze in the juice of half a lemon and a handful of chopped parsely. That’s it! Easy, right?
I also served this tilapia with rice that I cooked in my rice steamer. I love my rice cooker because it is the simplest thing in the world to use. You just pour in the rice, salt and pepper and water or stock and turn it on. The rest is automatic.
To dress the plate up a little, I pressed the cooked rice into a ramekin and turned it upside down to form a timbale. I’ve done this before in this blog with couscous salad.
But the really fun part of this dish is the assorted steamed vegetables. This is an easy way to make a big batch of colorful, tasty vegetables in a hurry, especially if you are cooking for a lot of people, such as in a banquet kitchen.
3-4 carrots, peeled and cut on the bias
1 broccoli crown, cut into peices
1 zucchini, cut into half moons
1 yellow squash, cut into half moons
2 TBS butter
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp fresh cracked black pepper
1. Bring a big pot of water to a boil. Add the carrots and boil for 4 minutes. Then throw in the broccoli and cook for 3 more minutes. Then throw in the zucchini and yellow squash and cook for 2 more minutes.
2. Strain in colander and return to pot. Add butter, salt and pepper, replace lid and shake pot to distribute.
In restaurant kitchens, I would make this using a 50 lb sack of carrots, and two cases each of broccoli, zucchini and squash. It would all cook in a steam-jacketed 55 gallon tank and could be used to serve banquets of up to 400 people. Super easy peasy.
What kind of paisan cooking do you enjoy most? Share your thoughts in the comments section below. And thanks for looking at my blog!