One benefit about going home during breaks (aside from the 70˚F weather as compared to the balmy, snowing, Albany) is that I get to eat food that I normally can’t afford. Hooray for cheap delicacies!
Now when I have to pay for things, I typically eat one of three proteins: chicken, beef, or pork. And once every blue moon we can eat shrimp because it’s on sale (fancy living here we come). So, it’s nice to go home and eat some fish every once in a while, even if it is one of the cheapest white fishes you can buy at a store.
Commercial tilapia normally comes from our derpy friend here known as Oreochromis niloticus or Nile tilapia. It is not surprisingly a freshwater fish native to Africa but also has populations in Israel and Brazil . Tilapia itself is a rather boring white fish with no real distinctive flavor. Those genes were given to more expensive fish species.
So, what can one really do with a fish that has no real natural flavor? Anything, absolutely anything. Well… just about anything.
Fish and lemon is probably the most common flavor pairing next to such classics as:
Peanut Butter & Jelly
Cookies & Milk
Steak & Potatoes
Coke & Bacardi
But I digress. Since lemon is almost always a must for me and fish flavors (because there’s nothing I love more than citrus), I like to find different ways to use that classic pairing.
For this fish dish, I decided to start with olive oil, salt, pepper, basil, chives, paprika, and lemon zest. I mixed all of these together to form a sort of herb oil that would serve as the marinade for the fish. It’s not a traditional marinade because marinating fish in citrus is tricky business. If left too long, the fish starts cooking in the highly acidic environment and then you have quite the conundrum on your hands.
I tossed the fish in this herby olive oil, covered it in some plastic wrap and let it sit in the fridge until I needed to actually cook the fish.
Cooking tilapia is easy. I just heated a pan up on medium heat and threw a fish onto the pan. It only takes about 2 minutes per side. Once done, I put the pan seared tilapia onto a baking sheet and put it in a 300˚F oven to finish cooking. It only needs about 8 minutes or so after that to be cooked all the way through. Putting the fish in the oven also helps keep it warm.
If you want a really crispy tilapia filet, you can coat the fish in flour, shake off the excess, and fry it up that way. But I was going for a gluten-free approach and the crispiness of the fish would probably be moot with the addition of a sauce anyway.
While the tilapia is finishing up in the oven, I make a sauce in the same pan I seared our little undersea friends. I added a chopped green onion and some garlic to the pan and let that cook with a little bit of butter (or margarine). Then, I added a mixture of lemon juice and chicken broth (you can use vegetable broth too, but I only had chicken broth on hand).
Pour it in, bring it to a boil, and let it boil for about 20 minutes for it to reduce down. Then just pour a little bit of it onto the fish and spread it over time to add a nice finish to the tilapia.
Pan-Seared Tilapia in a Lemon Reduction
- 1 tbs lemon zest
- 6 tbs olive oil
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp pepper
- 1 tbs chives
- 1 tbs basil
- 2 tsp paprika
- 6 tilapia filets
- 2 tbs butter or margarine
- ¼ cup lemon juice
- ½ cup chicken broth
- 2 green onions
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp pepper
Preheat oven to 300˚F.
Mix together olive oil, basil, chive, paprika, lemon zest, salt, and pepper. Add tilapia and toss to coat the fish in the oil mixture. Cover and set aside until needed.
Heat a pan over medium heat and add fish. Cook 2 minutes per side and place onto a baking sheet. Once all the tilapia has been seared, put baking sheet into oven and bake for an additional 8 minutes.
Reduce heat to medium low. Add butter and melt. Add green onions and garlic and let saute for a minute. Pour in chicken broth and lemon and bring to a boil. Season with salt and pepper. Let boil for 15-20 minutes or until reduced. Serve over tilapia.
 Azevedo-Santos, V.M.; O. Rigolin-Sá; and F.M. Pelicice (2011). “Growing, losing or introducing? Cage aquaculture as a vector for the introduction of non-native fish in Furnas Reservoir, Minas Gerais, Brazil”. Neotropical Ichthyology 9: 915–919.