Tilapia scared me. It conjured images of bright yellow boxes in the frozen food aisle proudly displaying pictures of mysterious golden tubular things. Garnished, of course, with a glistening yellow lemon wedge. It was the “white fish” in menu items from Tampa rolls to fried fish platters. Sometimes restaurants owned up to the fish, but coupled it with fancy descriptors like “Imperial” and “Tropical”. (Note: here in Florida-in most good seafood restaurants-the only descriptors are how the fish is prepared: “fried”; “bronzed”; “broiled”, etc.)
Known as “sea chicken” for its mild flavor and moderate texture, tilapia can be found almost everywhere. On top of that, because it’s so widely and readily available, it’s usually the freshest fish in the case. And I will take fresh over specie any day of the week. Which is exactly the choice I faced when staring at a fish case hoping to score some lovely sea scallops for dinner. The scallops, unfortunately, had seen better days. So had the haddock, cod and mahi. So, I was left with shrimp or a gorgeous King salmon filet. I hate salmon. I also hate peeling and deveining shrimp. That left the tilapia. A perfectly rouged, plump filet.
And it had just come from the truck.
Not the boat. See, tilapia are native to Africa and so must be farm-raised here in the states so they don’t throw the ecosystem out of whack. Fortunately, the U.S. has some pretty good standards for fish farming. Clean recirculating tanks kept under a green house-type roof. UNfortunately, they’re fed a diet of corn and soy, rather than their natural diet of tiny fish, shrimp and other non-vegetables. This brings their beneficial fish oil count down significantly.
But hey. It was fresh. *note: make sure you know where your fish comes from. Ecuador, Nicaragua and China don’t have the same fishery standards as the U.S., and could actually be harmful to your health. And it’s not so cool for the fish that have to live in filthy conditions. See here to check out the eco-friendliness of tilapia and a host of other edible sea critters.
So I bought it. And a crab cake. And made tilapia imperial. But I didn’t call it that, because that would be prescribing to money-hungry franchises that attach fancy names to things in order to charge more. So in actuality, I made tilapia with a crab cake on top. Garnished, of course, with a glistening yellow lemon wedge.
2 Tilapia filets
½ lemon’s worth of juice
2 prepared crab cakes (you can, of course, make your own)
- “Marinate” the tilapia in the lemon juice and salt while you heat your non-stick, oven-safe skillet to medium high heat and preheat your oven to 450 broil
- Pat the filets dry and dredge in the flour
- Sear-flat-side down- in the skillet until edges are opaque
- Remove from heat and schmoosh the crab cakes on top of each filet
- Transfer the skillet to the oven and broil until the crab is browned and the fish is cooked through (about 12-15 minutes). The fish is cooked when at the thickest point, the flesh flakes easily
- Serve with a lemon cream sauce or hollandaise