Is tilapia the new turkey?
It may not be featured on many tables this Thanksgiving, but Tilapia has become the go-to fish of the 21st Century. That’s because it can be farm-raised quickly and cheaply.
While the price of many other types of fish — especially fresh tuna, salmon and even halibut — are sky high, tilapia remains a true bargain, usually available for less than $2/lb.
Farm-raised tilapia is good for you, although perhaps not as good as other fish. In the US, most tilapia farms use corn as their primary fish food. This causes the tilapia to have lower amounts of Omega-3 fats, which are the healthy oils that prompt dieticians to recommend eating more fish in the first place.
On the bright side, farm-raised tilapia contain almost no mercury, which is not the case with wild caught fish.
Tilapia is a neutral flavored fish, which allows it to be paired with all kinds of other ingredients and it can prepared in a wide variety of ways. This, combined with its astonishing low price, is probably why it has become so popular in recent years. Since 2005, the US production of tilapia has almost doubled, from 1.5 million tons to 2.5 million tons.
Like turkey, tilapia is extremely low in fat and amazingly versatile, making it a good substitute for more fat-rich proteins such as beef, pork or even chicken.
In this recipe, which I adapted from this one on the wonderful How Sweet It Is blog, I used tilapia in exactly they same way I would ground turkey. Although the flavor was not completely neutral — you definitely could tell you were eating fish — it was not overpowering and served as a great conduit to highlight the other flavors in the mixture.
The texture was identical to ground turkey, however, and the cost was even lower. Once I got used to the idea of putting fish filets in the food processor, I found this to be an excellent light, summertime dinner that tastes terrific and offers a healthier alternative to burgers and dogs at your next cookout.
Tilapia Burgers with Watermelon and Avocado Salsa
1-1/2 lb Tilapia (fresh or frozen and thawed)
2/3 cup Panko breadcrumbs
1 egg + 1 egg white, lightly beaten
2 TBS Dijon Mustard
2 Garlic Cloves, crushed
1 tsp Sea Salt
1/2 tsp Fresh Cracked Black Pepper
1/2 tsp Dried Basil
1 tsp Paprika
1 tsp Onion Powder
1 TBS Sunflower Oil
1 Avocado, peeled, pit removed, diced
1 cup Watermelon, seedless or seeds removed, diced
1/4 Red Onion, small dice
1 Jalapeno, ribs and seeds removed, small dice
1/2 cup Cilantro, choppped
Juice of 1 lime
6 Whole Wheat Burger Buns
1. Add tilapia to food processor and pulse until chopped. Transfer to a mixing bowl and add egg, breadcrumbs, garlic, mustard, salt, pepper, parika, onion powder and basil. Mix with a spatula until combined, then form into 6 patties. Place on a plate covered with wax paper and cover with a second sheet of wax paper. Place plate in refrigerator or freezer so that patties can adhere together better.
2. Preheat oven to 375F. Place a cast iron skillet over a medium heat. When hot, add oil. When smoking, add patties and cook until golden brown on both sides, about 3-4 minutes per side, then put entire skillet in the oven to finish, about 10 minutes.
3. While burgers are finishing, make the salsa by combining watermelon, onion, jalapeno, cilantro, lime juice and avocado in a mixing bowl. Season with a pinch of coarse salt (for crunch) and more fresh cracked black pepper.
4. To serve burgers, toast bun then top with tiliapia patty. Use a tablespoon to add the salsa so that it is tumbling down from the top of the patty.
Panko is a type of Japanese breadcrumbs that are larger than ordinary breadcrumbs and are used to add additional texture. There really is no flavor difference, so feel free to substitute regular breadcrumbs if you prefer.
I’ve been reluctant to use Extra Virgin Olive Oil as a cooking oil ever since I read this blog by the fabulous Christina, from Whatever the Route, who says one of her professors told her EVOO transforms from a non-saturated fat to a saturated fat when it gets above a certain temperature. Not sure about the science on that, but until I can research it, I’ve been substituting sunflower oil.