Well, yesterday was a complete and utter failure.
Here I thought I would be broadening my horizons, and opening myself up to the wonderful world of ocean fish.
I was sorely, sorely mistaken.
All that self-education, all that time spent poring over the interwebs and all the non-stop hassling of friends and co-workers about “which one is the least fishy ocean fish?”
All for nothing.
You see, as it turns out….
Tilapia is a freshwater fish!
My very dear cousin, one of my very favorite cousins on the planet (not that I have cousins off this planet…I just wanted to say it) came over for dinner last night and informed me that tilapia is a very common freshwater fish in Costa Rica!
It completely shattered my world. Here I was going on about how my fillets didn’t smell fishy but briny, and here they didn’t smell briny at all! They’re freshwater–y.
I feel so foolish.
But I went ahead and cooked it up anyways. So last night was not Fish Day Volume One: Ocean Fish, it was Fish Day Volume One: Freshwater Fish!
The Project is still sort of on schedule!
Last night I made Tilapia Meuniere. Like Sole Meuniere, but with tilapia. Get it?
I chose this preparation for a number of reasons:
For starters, it is easy. There are not many simpler preparations of anything than a quick pan-fry followed by a healthy dousing of brown-butter-lemon-and-parsley sauce! Tilapia seemed pretty fool-proof because the fillets are so thin. Just a couple of minutes per side to get a nice, crunchy, golden crust and we’re done!
Also, it’s hard to stay terribly frightened of a food if you really drench it in butter and lemon.
For anything prepared this quickly, you really want to have all your ducks in a row.
For the fish and the sauce, you’ll want some clarified butter, lemon juice (freshly squeezed please, or you’ll hate me forever!), fresh sweet butter, and minced parsley.
Clarified butter, if you’ve never made it, is very simple. Just melt a stick of butter over medium heat, wait till the foam subsides and skim any remaining foam from the top with a spoon. Then pour it all through a very fine mesh strainer to separate the solids out, and what you have left is golden deliciousness that has a much higher burning point than regular butter!
This little line up is what a real chef would call mise en place. Everything is prepared and in order for the whirlwind of preparation to follow!
I am not a real chef, but I still call it mise en place. Because I like to pretend I’m a real chef. And because it’s fun to say. And because “little containers of prepared bits of food lined up in roughly the order you will need them” takes a lot longer to say!
When you are ready to eat, heat a large skillet to medium high heat.
Rinse your fillets under very cold water and pat dry on paper towels. Season some flour with salt and dredge the fillets on each side then shake the excess flour off. It’s not there to create a breading, it’s just there to form a delicious, crispy, light crust on the seared fish.
When a drop of water on the skillet dances and evaporates right away, pour in several tablespoons of the clarified butter.
Immediately (and carefully!) set the fish into the skillet. Try to evenly space them and not let the fillets touch.
Let the fish sear for a couple of minutes. Don’t touch them at all or the crispy, golden wonderfulness will not develop!
After two or three minutes (depending on the thickness of your tilapia) flip the fish and let it brown on the other side for another two or three minutes.
The fish is done when it is slightly firm, slightly flaky, crusty on the outside, and moist but not mushy on the inside.
Thank goodness I had My Cousin The Tilapia Expert here to help me with this part! I relied heavily on his fish expertise to determine when the fish was perfectly cooked. (And it was perfectly cooked! Beginner’s luck or Fish Expertise…you decide…)
Remove the fish to a platter and keep warm (cover with foil or just leave it close to you on the stove…the sauce only takes a few seconds to make so there’s really no need to heat up your oven unless you are cooking for several people…)
Place the pan over the heat again, and add several pats of sweet butter.
It will foam up immediately and turn brown in just a few seconds, so don’t walk away! Let the butter develop a little color and nuttiness, then pour in a few tablespoons of lemon juice.
(Now, I actually added about 1/3 cup of lemon juice to my sauce. I happen to really love the taste of lemon, but the sauce came out maybe a bit too pucker-tastic for anyone’s taste, so I’ve cut back on the lemon in the actual recipe. Don’t be like me.)
Turn off the heat and use a wooden spoon to stir everything up and scrape those little brown bits up off the bottom of the pan.
The last thing to add is a few tablespoons of finely minced parsley. Pour over the fish and serve with extra lemon!
Does it look divine?
It was very tasty, and not at all fishy, and absolutely nothing to be afraid of! The edges of the fillets were buttery, crispy and just about the most appealing thing (besides bacon) I’ve encountered for awhile. The inside: flaky, moist and mild. I thought it tasted a bit like chicken, but flakier and sweeter. I told myself that it was delicious (and it was) and good for me (though I may have counteracted any health benefits by drenching it in so much butter!) and that I will be eating fish much more often from now on.
To all you fish fearers out there (if there are any besides me…): try this recipe! It’s easy, unintimidating, and really, truly delicious!
My fear of all fish has not been completely overcome…and because these fillets came boneless and skinless my whole issue with the scales is far from resolved. But I’ve made a good step in the right direction!
Now to cook some fish without using so much butter…
Here’s the recipe!
3 tilapia fillets (about 4-5 oz each)
3-4 tablespoons clarified butter
3-4 tablespoons lemon juice
3-4 tablespoons sweet butter
2 tablespoons minced, fresh parsley
1/2 c. flour
salt and pepper to taste
Begin heating a large skillet to medium high heat.
Prepare all the ingredients: Juice the lemon, mince the parsley, cut the butter into large pats. Place each ingredient in a separate container and put all the ingredients in a convenient spot by the stove.
Rinse the fillets in cold water, then pat completely dry with paper towels.
Season the flour generously and place in a wide dish. Dredge the fillets in the flour, the shake any excess coating off. Set aside briefly.
When a drop of water dances and evaporates immediately in the pan, add the clarified butter. Immediately add the tilapia, being careful not to splatter. Try to spread the fillets out so they are not touching eachother.
Let the fillets sear for 2-3 minutes without disturbing. When the first side is golden brown and crusty, flip (adding more clarified butter if the pan seems dry) and brown on the other side for another 2 minutes.
When the fish is firm, flaky and still moist on the inside, remove to a warm platter and make the sauce.
Add 2 or 3 pats of sweet butter to the pan and swirl over the heat until the foam subsides and the butter is toasted and nutty. Pour in the lemon juice and remove the pan from the heat. Using a wooden spoon, scrape all the brown bits up off the pan into the sauce. Stir in the parsley and pour the sauce over the fillets.
Serve with plenty of fresh lemon wedges. Eat and be happy!