After a month of enjoying winter stews and hearty dishes, the endless stream of cold, short days make me long for the perky flavors of warmer climates. Out of all the herbs available at the market, cilantro is at the top of my list for a fresh, sprightly boost that helps me forget the 18 inches of snow outside my window.
This week’s recipe features tilapia marinated with chili, cilantro and garlic, with a crispy coating of chili and oregano seasoned panko. Served with rice, fresh pico de gallo and guacamole, this dish will take you on a little South of the Border foray and chase away some of those winter doldrums.
I recommend exploring different kinds of chili powder. The one I used came from Santa Fe, courtesy of my friend Tom who brings me ingredients from his travels, and we dine on the results. Santa Fe chili powder serves up a deep, complex flavor followed by a gradual hot kick. If you decide to use standard chili powder, you might want to add a dash of cayenne to boost the taste and add a touch of heat.
The tilapia fillets I used were rather thick and large. I cut two whole fillets in half to yield four smaller servings.
What You Need:
Large, non-stick sauté pan
Olive oil for the pan
Butter for the pan (about 1 T)
Deep Pyrex or other glass/non-reactive casserole, preferably in a loaf shape, for marinating the fish
Pie plate for the seasoned panko
A fish spatula and a regular one for turning the tilapia
Plate for setting aside the coated tilapia
Foil covered baking sheet sprayed with non-stick spray
Small, heavy pot with fitted lid for the rice
Medium, non-reactive bowl for preparing the guacamole
The Marinated Fish:
2 large whole tilapia fillets, cut in half
1½ tsp. chili powder
¾ tsp. salt
¼ C chopped fresh cilantro plus 2 T for garnish
1 C milk
½ tsp. fresh ground pepper
Dash of cayenne if desired
1 T chopped garlic
¾ C unseasoned panko
½ tsp. chili powder
¾ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. garlic powder
¼ teaspoon oregano
Dash cayenne if desired
2 ripe avocados
½ tsp. or more salt
1 tsp. olive oil
1 T fresh lemon juice
1 C uncooked white rice
2 T (or one small) shallot, chopped
Olive oil to sauté the shallots
½ tsp. salt, adding more to taste
2 C water
1 tsp. butter
Lemon wedges for serving
Your favorite, fresh (refrigerated) pico do gallo or fresh salsa
What to do:
In the Pyrex casserole, blend the chili powder, salt, cilantro, pepper, garlic and cayenne with the milk. Submerge the fish fillets in the marinade and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 2-4 hours.
Before cooking the fish, prepare the rice. In a small, heavy pot with a fitted lip, sauté the shallots in olive oil until soft. Add the butter and, as it melts, add the salt and pepper, then the rice, stirring to coat it. Add the water, bring to slight boil and then immediately reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for about 20 minutes. Check after 15 minutes. Set aside, covered.
While the rice is cooking, prepare the guacamole. In a deep, non-reactive bowl, use a fork to mash the avocado with the lemon juice, olive oil and salt. Taste and adjust lemon juice, salt and cayenne. Tear off a piece of plastic wrap to cover the bowl. Rub one side of the wrap with a piece of lemon. Cover the guacamole, flattening the lemon juice treated side of the wrap directly onto the entire surface of the guacamole to prevent discoloration.
When you are ready to cook the fish, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In the pie plate, blend the panko, chili powder, salt, oregano, garlic powder and cayenne. Remove the fish from the marinade one piece at a time and thoroughly coat each side with the panko mixture, pressing the fish down onto the seasoned crumbs. Set the coated pieces aside on the plate. When all the fish is coated, heat the sauté pan and add olive oil to coat the bottom in a 1/8 – ¼ inch layer. When the oil is hot, place the fillets in the pan and cook until crispy and deep golden-brown. Turn the fillets to cook on the other side, carefully using the fish spatula on the bottom and the regular spatula to help gently flip over each piece. If the pan seems to need more olive oil, add some to the side of the pan so it heats before touching the fish. Tilt the pan to evenly distribute the additional oil. When the fish is almost done browning, add the butter. It will melt and sizzle immediately. Tilt the pan quickly to make sure the melted butter reaches the bottom of every piece of fish. When the fish is a deep golden brown on each side, place the fillets on the foil-covered baking sheet and put into the oven. Bake for approximately 10 minutes, longer if the fillets are particularly thick. The fillets should be served with a deep-hued crispy coating. Do not undercook.
Plate with the rice, guacamole and fresh pico de gallo, garnished with some chopped cilantro and lemon wedges.
By Lisa Rietman Dobi