Tag Archives: Tilapia

Mission “Learn to like Tilapia” – Tzatziki Crusted Tilapia

Photo by KathyHuntPhoto.com

For some time now I have been wrinkling my nose at tilapia. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the sustainability factor of conscientiously farmed raised fish; I do! It’s the taste and the texture of most tilapia that turns me off. In my experience tilapia often has an unpleasant earthy (or muddy) taste and the texture can be mushy even when it’s perfectly fresh and flawlessly prepared. I don’t mean to be a food snob, really I don’t! But compared to all the fresh Atlantic seafood I have the opportunity to catch (well sometimes), or purchase here in South Florida, tilapia just seemed second rate.

Last night however, I decided to give tilapia another chance. Why? Because tilapia has taken over the market in leaps and bounds becoming one the most popular seafood products in the U.S. today. Everywhere I look, from restaurant menus, to grocery stores tilapia has become a recognized value and a very popular request. Hey, what was the old adage…If you can’t beat them, join them? So I picked up a package of fresh tilapia fillets and set out to prove myself wrong.

According to Cooks Illustrated the muddy taste in tilapia is caused by a naturally occurring compound called geosmin which is Greek for “earth smell”. (Go figure!) They said this compound is abundant in the blue-green algae found in the bottom of the man-made ponds that catfish and tilapia are raised in and that the flavor can be diffused by acids. They went on to recommend soaking in buttermilk for an hour before cooking which of course, I didn’t take the time to do.

My thinking in using this recipe was that the yogurt, garlic, and vinegar in the tzatziki would provide enough acid to overcome any unpleasant taste in the fish and indeed it did…somewhat. While the recipe is a keeper that I will definitely use again, I might opt for pre-soaking the tilapia in buttermilk next time (if I don’t use snapper, grouper, or mahi-mahi instead).

Hang on now…don’t fret! I haven’t given up on tilapia yet. After all, I still have 3 big fillets left from that package last night. I think I might try it with an acidic marinade, a Cuban mojo perhaps or some other citrus blend. I’ll keep you posted as mission “Learn to like Tilapia” continues!

Tzatziki Crusted Tilapia

2 to 4 – Tilapia fillets (preferably pre-soaked in buttermilk for one hour)
¾ Cup – Japanese Panko breadcrumbs
1 Tbsp – Olive Oil
Zest of one whole lemon
½ Tbsp – Large grind, fresh ground black pepper
Kosher Salt
Tzatziki Sauce (Recipe below)

Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees. Pat the fillets dry and place them on a lightly oiled, foil covered cookie sheet. Sprinkle the fillets with kosher salt and set them aside while you mix the crumb topping.

In a medium bowl combine the breadcrumbs, lemon zest, and pepper then drizzle in the olive oil while stirring. Continue stirring and fluffing the crumbs loosely until the oil, lemon, and pepper has been very well distributed, about 5 minutes.

Spread an approximately 1/8 inch thick layer of tzatziki evenly on top of each fish fillet then sprinkle the crumb mixture over the tzatziki to form an evenly thick coat. Bake for 10 minutes then broil for 1 minute to crisp and brown the topping. Carefully remove from the oven and plate the cooked fillets.

Serve with additional tzatziki and a lemon wedge on the side.

Tzatziki Sauce

2 Cups – Greek Yogurt, plain non-fat
1 small (or 1/2 large) – Cucumber, seeded and grated  (about 1/2 cup)
1 Clove – Garlic, grated fine
1 Tbsp – Red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp – Olive oil
1 good pinch – kosher salt

Grate the cucumber and place it on a paper towel or dish towel, sprinkle it with the kosher salt and let it sit while you prep the other ingredients. In a medium bowl stir together the garlic, vinegar, and olive oil then stir in the yogurt. Finally, gently squeeze any excess moisture out of the grated cucumber and stir into the yogurt mixture until well blended. Taste for seasoning and chill until ready to use.



Menu – Fresh Fish Francese with Cool Beans Salad, Zucchini and Yellow Squash

I actually made the dish in the photo one evening while my wife was out of town. After a couple of nights of take-out food I was ready for a real meal so I stopped by Costco on my way home from work. I was happy to find they had one of my favorite fish in the fresh fish section, Corvina! With this beautiful fish and the fresh lemons I already had on hand it wasn’t hard to decide on a theme for my dinner for one.

Often when preparing a meal I look for one common theme that will highlight each part of the menu. Whether it’s garlic, an herb such as thyme or rosemary, or in this case fresh lemon, I use my theme ingredient in each of the dishes I serve. To my thinking this creates a common thread throughout the meal that not only links and compliments the flavors of the food…I think it makes the meal that much more interesting!

The recipes for this menu are written for two but the ingredients can easily be doubled. The Cool Beans Salad is best made ahead of time and refrigerated at least two hours.

Menu – Fresh Fish Francese with Cool Beans Salad, Zucchini and Yellow Squash

For the Cool Beans Salad…

1 – 14.5 oz Can of Cannelloni (white kidney) Beans, rinsed and drained
¼ Cup – Fresh Cucumber, peeled, seeded and cubed
¼ Cup – Fresh Tomato, mostly seeded, and cubed
1 Branch – Celery, diced
1 – Med Shallot, minced (Optional)
1 Tbsp – Fresh Parsley, chopped
1 Packet – Good Seasons Italian All Natural Salad Dressing Mix
½ Cup – Extra Virgin Olive Oil
¼ Cup – Fresh Lemon Juice
3 Tbsp – Fresh Water

In a medium sized mixing bowl combine the first 5 ingredients. Follow the directions on the package for mixing the dressing, using lemon juice in place of the vinegar. Gently toss the salad with only enough dressing to coat. (There should be very little pooling of dressing in the bottom of the bowl.) Chill before serving.

For the Squash…

Two – Med. Zucchini, Halved lengthwise then cut into roughly ¼” slices
Two- Med. Yellow Squash, Halved lengthwise then cut into roughly ¼” slices
1 – Small Onion, Quartered, then sliced
1 – Sprig Fresh Thyme
1 Tbsp – Fresh Lemon Juice
Olive Oil
Kosher Salt & Fresh Ground Black Pepper

Warm 1 tbsp of olive oil in a 10” skillet over medium heat. When the oil begins to shimmer add the onions and cook stirring often until some browning begins to occur. Add the squash (zucchini and yellow) and thyme, and continue cooking.  Stir occasionally until squash is mostly cooked but still a little firm in the center (tender crisp) then season with salt & pepper. Toss with the lemon juice, turn off the heat, and leave the skillet on the burner to stay warm until serving.

For the Fish…

2 Fillets, 4 to 6 ounces each – Fresh Corvina (Grouper, Snapper, or Tilapia may be used)
4 Tbsp – Unbleached or Whole Wheat Flour
2 – Eggs, lightly beaten
Kosher Salt & Fresh Ground Black Pepper
4 Tbsp – Olive Oil

¼ Cup – Dry White Wine
Juice of one half lemon
Slices of one half lemon
2 Tbsp – Unsalted Butter, chilled and cubed into 8 pieces
2 Tbsp – Fresh Herbs such as Parsley or thinly sliced Basil (Pictured)

Heat 4 tbsp olive oil in a large pan over medium high heat until shimmering. Season fish pieces with salt & pepper, dust each with flour (shaking off excess), then dredge in egg to completely coat. Gently and carefully lay the fish into the pan, you should immediately hear sizzling.

Watch fish closely until you can see good browning around the edges, lifting gently after 2 minutes to check the bottom surface. After 2 to 4 minutes, or when the bottom looks nicely browned but not too brown, gently turn the fish over and repeat. Remove the fish to the serving plates. (Note: If your fish is more than ½ inch thick you may want to place it on a sheet pan in a 325 degree oven to finish cooking while you make your sauce.)

Drain any excess oil from the fish pan and discard. Back on the heat, add wine to the pan and whisk to dissolve any brown bits. Boil until about half the wine has evaporated (reduced), then add the lemon juice and 2 lemon slices. Continue boiling, whisking occasionally, until most of the total liquid has reduced and some thickening has begun. (If the liquid seems to boil too rapidly just move the pan off the heat until it is back under control.)

When the liquid has reduced to almost a syrup, remove the lemon slices and turn off the heat. Add the butter 2 or 3 pieces at a time whisking into the sauce as the butter melts. When each addition of butter has completely melted, add the next 2 or 3 pieces until all has been incorporated into the sauce. By the time the last of the butter has been melted the sauce should be just the right consistency. If it is too thick, stir in a splash of wine to loosen…if it is too liquid just let it cook with the residual heat another minute or so. Just before serving stir in the fresh herbs.

Serve the fish with a lemon slice and the sauce and enjoy!


Menu – Broiled Fish with Pesto over Mixed Greens, Roasted Asparagus, Quinoa & Brown Rice

Several friends have asked me to share some of my “Clean Eating” recipes as Kat and I have been trying to eat better foods on a regular basis. Some are new to cooking so I thought it would be helpful to include the recipes for the entire menu including each step in the preparation. So here is a super quick, healthy, yet tasty menu that’s easy enough to throw together on a weeknight. I would love to hear some feedback on how you like the recipe written in this fashion. If you like them I will include more “menu” posts as my blog continues.

Broiled Fish w/Pesto over Mixed Greens, Roasted Asparagus, Quinoa and Whole Grain Brown Rice

Don’t let all my notes and stuff scare you…I just want to spell it our for my friends that are new to cooking. Start to finish this meal was uncomplicated and came together in about 1/2 hours time. (I almost typed 30 minutes…but we won’t go there!)

For the Fish you will need…

( Note: Figure on about 3 servings per pound of cleaned fillets. I haven’t been fishing in forever but I’ve been finding some really nice packaged fresh fish at Costco lately. Just check the “Packaged On” date and choose accordingly. The fresher the better!)

Fresh fillets of halibut (pictured), corvina, grouper, or tilapia if you must, sliced into 4 to 6 oz portions.
1 Tablespoon per serving, extra virgin olive oil
1 light sprinkle per serving – mixed dried Italian herbs in a grinder (I used McCormick’s).
1 Tablespoon per serving – jarred basil pesto (I used Kirkland brand from Costco).

For the Asparagus you will need…

(Note: These asparagus stems were about 1/2″ thick at the base. I clean the spears by grabbing the base with one hand and just below center with the other, then bend the asparagus until it naturally breaks. What you are left with at the base is generally the tough stringy part, and at the tip…the good stuff. I don’t always do it but you can blanch and freeze the bases to use in stocks or purees at a later time.)

6 to 8 spears per person – fresh large asparagus, cleaned and rinsed
1 Tablespoon – balsamic vinegar
2 Tablespoons – extra virgin olive oil
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Freshly grated black pepper

For the Mixed Greens you will need…

About 1 cup per serving of bagged baby greens
Just enough dressing to barely coat the greens. ( I used http://www.briannas.net/flavors/real-french.html )

For the Quinoa and Whole Grain Brown Rice

(Note: I used http://www.seedsofchangefoods.com/our_foods/product.aspx?c=rice_grains&p=279 also from Costco. We love this mix and eat it once or twice a week. It’s ready in 90 seconds and it’s great plain or mix in anything you like from fresh chopped herbs and a little sautéed garlic or browned onions, to last nights leftover stir fry.)

About 1 Cup per serving Quinoa and Whole Grain Brown Rice.

To Prepare…

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. clean, rinse, and pat the asparagus dry. In a small bowl, whisk the vinegar and oil until slightly thickened. On a foil covered cookie sheet gently roll the spears in a single layer while drizzling with just enough of the oil to coat. Place in the heated oven for 15 minutes.

2. While the asparagus is in the oven place the fish on another foil covered cookie sheet and roll each piece while drizzling with about 1 Tablespoon of olive oil. With the fish skin side down, lightly sprinkle each piece with the spice grinder. Set aside until the asparagus comes out of the oven.

3. In a large bowl toss the greens with barely enough dressing to coat. (Note: Don’t overdo it! The idea is to just season the salad without drenching.)

4. After 15 minutes, carefully remove the asparagus from the oven and turn the broiler on high. Grate a little Parmesan and black pepper lightly and evenly over the spears.

(Note for step 5: If you have a conventional oven, leave the door cracked open an inch or so to the first stop. This will prevent the broiler from overheating and cycling off. The fish should be about 4 inches from the coils or flame.)

5. Allow the broiler to heat up for at least a minute or so then place the fish in the broiler and close. Broil the fish for 4 minutes per inch of thickness…3 minutes if it’s 1/2 inch or less.

(Note: You want the fish to cook fast and until the flesh is just becoming opaque (no longer transparent) in the center. The fish will continue cooking even after it is removed from the oven.)

6. While the fish is cooking nuke the quinoa and prep your plates with about 1 cup each of the dressed greens and a carefully placed serving of the Asparagus. Add fresh tomatoes if you like!

7. Remove the fish from the oven and carefully place each serving on top of the greens. “paint” each piece with about 1 Tablespoon of the prepared pesto.

8. Finish the plate with an approx. 1 cup serving of the quinoa and….

Viola! It’s time to eat.