Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Truth about Tilapia



Dear Tricia, Talk to me about tilapia.

Talk to you about tilapia? Hmmm, should I tell you about that time it got in trouble in the 9th grade for selling history essays to jocks for $50 a pop? Or I could tell you about that one time it formed an all-girl group called the Hot Sundaes but got hooked on caffeine pills and ruined their chance at mainstream stardom. But you probably don't want to know that kind of stuff about tilapia. I'm guessing you want to know how to cook it. No problem.
Tilapia is a mild-tasting, white fish that lives in warm, shallow, fresh water. (Read: it doesn't come from the ocean.) Its super healthy for you because its high in protein, and low in carbs, fat and calories, unless its farm-raised. Farm raised tilapia is more commonly seen in grocery stores and its actually really high in fat. Try to avoid any farm raised fish if you can, especially tilapia. Its more expensive, but I believe that its completely worth it. Just my opinion.
Because tilapia filets are usually pretty small (you can only eat about 30% of the entire fish, which isn't much, compared to say tuna, where about 50% of the fish is edible), it cooks really quickly. And because its so mild-tasting, you can season it with whatever you want.
If you're on a health kick, the easiest way to cook tilapia is by preheating your oven to 400, putting it on a piece of foil to keep it from dripping, and seasoning it with anything you like: I like to go old school and just use Old Bay Seasoning. But look in your spice cabinet and use what sounds good... anything lemony or garlicky is awesome too. Put it in the oven and it only has to cook for about 8 minutes. (This may vary. If you preheated your oven like I told you to, it will be around 8 minutes. If you turned on your oven and then put the fish in right after then its obviously going to take longer. Le duh.) "But how will I know if its done, Tricia?" Its simple. The fish was kind of translucent when you put it in there, right? When the fish is solid white, then its done. If you're not sure, take a knife and open it up a little bit... the center should be white. And if its just about there, but not quite, you can go ahead and take it out of the oven because it will continue to cook another 5 degrees or so. (This is called "carry over cooking." It happens to every kind of meat when you take it out of the oven or off the stove.) Finish it off with a squeeze of lemon or lime and you're all set to go. Simple, and easy.
If you want to get a little fancier and aren't concerned about calories, try this:
1. Get about two tablespoons of butter ready, and chop up a clove of garlic. (The already chopped up stuff in the jar works fine too.)
2. Get a small bowl of milk ready and take your piece of tilapia and dip it in the milk. Make sure both sides get coated. Then sprinkle both sides with grated Parmesan cheese. Press down on the cheese lightly to make it stick on the fish. (If you don't like Parmesan cheese, you can use breadcrumbs. You can buy them already made at the grocery store, or click here to learn how to make your own.)
3. Put a saute pan on medium-high heat on your stove and let it get hot. (You can also do this while you're coating the fish.)
4. Melt the butter in the pan and put the garlic in there while its melting. Stir it around a little so that the garlic gets coated with butter.
5. When the butter is melted, put the Parmesan tilapia in the pan and let it cook for about a minute or two.
6. After a minute or two, use a spatula to turn the filet over to finish cooking. As soon as you turn it over, turn the heat down to medium. It should take another 2 minutes or so to finish cooking. Again, you'll know when it done when the fish is no longer translucent.

If its taking longer than this to cook, then you're not letting your pan get hot enough before you add the butter. The butter should make noise when you put it in the pan. Noise is good when you're cooking: it means something's happening in the pan. When you get good at that, you can start slamming pots around and slamming oven doors and dropping f-bombs and pretending like you're a professional chef. That's how it is in the real world.

On a side note, I would like to apologize for the month-long gap in my blogging. I got married in May and have been a little preoccupied. But I'm back from my honeymoon now and will get back to my regular writing. Thanks for reading! And don't forget to share your favorite blogs on Facebook and Twitter using the links on the right.