The tilapia you find in markets these days are farmed rather than caught in the wild. Tilapia is a terrific fish to farm in that it generates more protein than it takes to raise it. Salmon and tuna are a net loss by this same measure. If you pay attention to things like seafood watch lists (I do) you’ll find that tilapia raised in the US is listed as a “Best Choice,” with tilapia from Central and South America listed as a “Good Alternative.” Packages of fish these days state where they were raised or caught. Depending on the day, I find fresh tilapia raised in the US at both Trader Joe’s and at Costco, with the downside of Costco that they put a full metric ton of the stuff in each package. I’m never quite sure what to do with all 27 tilapia in a Costco package. Invite over the neighborhood? Use it to stuff cushions? Smash it up and make wallpaper paste? The Monterey Bay Aquarium and others advise against eating tilapia raised in China or Taiwan because of the polluted waters in which the fish are kept. I fear this is already more than you ever wanted to know about tilapia. Bear with me another moment or two. I’m almost finished. If you are a fan of Mark Bittman, he has recently written an article in the NYT that paints a far less positive picture of tilapia. Bittman notes that tilapia has less Omega 3 fatty acids than most other fish, far less – and most doctors recommend choosing fish over chicken or beef specifically for these fatty acids. Even the best aquaculture has its problems – even the best chicken farms do as well. I’m not sure where to come down on all of this. Click here to read the full text of Bittman’s most recent piece on tilapia. All of this said, I still find tilapia a go-to fish for weeknight dinners. Unlike salmon, tuna, halibut or swordfish, the price of tilapia is still what I view as reasonable, meaning I don’t have to take out a second mortgage in order to purchase it. Tilapia is easy to prepare, and inherently flexible – meaning it doesn’t mind if I serve it with Indian food one night and in a fish taco the next. This tilapia recipe is as fool proof and simple as it gets and it’s actually pretty elegant looking for a five-ingredient dish. Serve this with a rice pilaf and salad, or with salsa and guacamole and some fresh corn tortillas.
Tilapia with Salsa Verde (serves 4)
- 1 cup fresh cilantro, packed
- One 12-oz jar salsa verde (I’m partial to Trader Joe’s salsa verde but other brands work quite nicely)
- 1 ½ to 2 pounds of Tilapia (fresh, NOT previously frozen)
- 1 lemon
- 2 tablespoons good quality butter (you can use rotten butter – but don’t come crying to me)
Wash the cilantro (I didn’t really have to say that – did I?). There is no need to pull the cilantro leaves off of the stems. Cut off the very, very end (the last ½ inch) and throw away any icky bits – but leave the stems. I learned from Chef Anne that the cilantro stems actually have more flavor than the leaves. We often toss the stems because they don’t do much aesthetically for most dishes. In this case you’re going to plop them in a blender, so no one will know you used the stems anyway. And speaking of blenders, go get yours. Pour the jar of salsa verde into the blender. Add the WASHED cilantro. Puree until smooth. Set aside.
Heat butter in a large non-stick frying pan on medium high heat. To cook all of the tilapia at once you may need two such pans. Add the tilapia. Sprinkle the fish liberally with salt and pepper. Squeeze a bit of lemon on top. Brown the fish lightly on each side. You don’t want to overcook tilapia or it will be dry. Cook it just until the meat turns white and is no longer translucent. Plate the fish. Drizzle the salsa verde generously over the top. Serve immediately with extra salsa verde in a dish on the table in case anyone wants MORE. My boys, all three of them, LOVE this. I have to cook 2 lbs of fish to meet the demands of my three.