Butter-fried tilapia

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Posted on October 31, 2011 at 4:20 PM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 2 at 10:41 AM

8-10 Tilapia filets, 4 to 6 ounces each, trimmed
2-4 teaspoons Frank Davis Seafood Seasoning
1 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided in fours
1 stick salted butter, divided into quarter-sticks, softened
1 cup good quality vegetable oil, divided in fours
1 pint prepared liquid egg product (Egg Beaters)
1 cup Italian-style bread crumbs
1 cup Panko bread crumbs (or coarsely grated salad croutons)
1 cup imported grated Parmesan cheese Fresh-ground black pepper to taste
2 medium size purple onions, thinly sliced
Lemons, quartered
10 small sweet potatoes (Louisiana Yams), washed and patted dry
1/2 cup quality vegetable oil for coating the yams
10 sheets aluminum foil sandwich wrappers

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First take a heavy 12-inch (seasoned or porcelain-coated) cast iron skillet and place it atop a burner on your stove.

Then set a flame under it on “low,” just high enough to begin evenly heating the metal.

While that’s happening, start prepping your fish: At this point lay out the tilapia fillets on your cutting board (if you bought the “choice” ones they should already be trimmed of bone and bloodline.)

Make every attempt to buy fresh and unfrozen tilapia fillets; but if you must choose frozen fish, be sure the fillets are thoroughly thawed before beginning this recipe).

When the fish are ready, evenly and thoroughly sprinkle them with the seafood seasoning. . .then set them aside for a while.

Here’s the proper methodology:

1—Lay out on the countertop three disposable, aluminum half-hotel pans. In the one farthest to the left, put in the patted dry fillets. Next to that one, put in the liquid egg mixture (enough to completely coat the fillets). In the pan next to the egg wash place the pan containing the crumb-and-cheese coating mixture (Italian crumbs, Panko crumbs, coarse crouton crumbs, and Parmesan cheese).

2—Next to the last pan (far on the right), place a shallow sheet or cookie pan. This is where the coated fish will be held while they’re waiting to be pan-fried.

3—Once all the fillets are coated and set in the sheet pan, bring the heat under the cast iron skillet up to medium or medium-high.

4—Now put into the skillet the olive oil, the vegetable oil, and the butter and heat them together until completely combined (I like to whisk the mixture briefly to ensure a perfect blend). By the way, proper temperature for the frying medium is approximately 350 degrees. Lower than that and the fish soak up oil—higher than that and the coating will burn before the fish is cooked.

5—At this time begin working on completing the recipe: Take a fillet, slosh it around in the egg mix, transfer it immediately to the crumb mix (cover it completely with the breading and use your hands to push the coating into the fillet), then when fully coated move the fillet over to the sheet pan to “rest.” Ideally, to insure perfect adhesion of the crumbs to the fillets, the fillets should “rest” for about 3 minutes before easing them down into the oil. Note: Notice I said “ease” them into the oil—plopping them down in the oil will dislodge the coating thereby creating a blooming mess!!

6—Finally, when you’re ready to cook, ever so gently lift up the fillets and “ease” them into the skillet. Do not attempt to move them once they’re on the metal of the pan for at least a minute or two until the metal releases the fish—this is how you keep the coating on the fish instead of it falling off in the skillet. Oh, yeah…and in a 12-inch skillet I recommend no more than 4 small fillets; more than that and the fish won’t panne properly—their coating will burn.

7—Fry the fillets a few at a time and flip them over only once. The easiest way to do this is with two (2) egg turners, one lifting the fillet off the bottom of the pan and the other positioned on top of the fillet holding it in place while the fillet is flipped! With a little bit of practice, you’ll do this like a kitchen pro every time.

8—When the fillets are done (a nice medium or deep brown color), set them on a serving platter (preferably one that’s oven proof so you can slide it into the oven to keep the fish warm). The oven, of course, should be set no higher than 150-175 degrees. It is imperative that you understand that the oven is used ONLY to keep the fish warm for about 5 minutes or so, because if left in there longer the fillets will dry out. Yuck! One more thing—when you slide the platter into the oven, generously top the fillets with some thinly sliced red onions.

When you’re ready to eat, serve the fish, plus some of the onions, plus a wedge of lemon with either toasted new potatoes, French fries, macaroni-and-cheese, buttered rice, or—my favorite especially this time of year—roasted Louisiana yams with a cinnamon and brown sugar topping and a big dollop of butter.

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Chef’s Notes:

To make the cinnamon topping simply put about a cup of dark brown sugar and 2 heaping tablespoons of cinnamon into a food processor and give it a couple of whirls. Stash it in a small Mason jar and use it on all your yam dishes all during the winter months. Just sprinkle it on!

The best way to do the yams is to wash and dry them, rub them down liberally with either the olive oil or the vegetable oil, and wrap them tightly in the aluminum sandwich sheets. All you have to do then is bake them in a sheet pan (to keep the sugar from leaking out and burning on the floor of the oven) at 400 degrees for about 45 minutes to an hour (depending upon the size of the potato) or until an icepick easily penetrates the potato through-and-through.

So how else can you prepare tilapia? Well. . .tilapia is one of those fish species that lends itself to just about any preparation method. In other words, you can do this recipe for sure, but you can also bake, broil, grill, stew, fry, smoke, barbecue, sauté, blacken, and bronze tilapia. You’d be hard pressed to choose one method of preparation over any of the others.

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