I encounter many challenges in my daily life, from working, fitting in time to exercise, going to school & getting awesome grades, to simply posting more often. I’ve got to balance it all and sometimes there just aren’t enough hours during the day to fit all of those things into the routine. Today however, I had a small challenge presented to me by my hubby. Here’s the story: About two weeks ago we went out to eat at a local restaurant here in Orlando, Fl. I love to cook most of the time but there are days when I don’t even want to grab my knives. This was one of those days, and so we had high expectations. I will not mention the name of the restaurant out of respect, but I will say that the food was horrible and I will certainly not go back because it was the second time in a row that the food simply “sucked”. One of the items we ordered was a coconut crusted tilapia fillet with pineapple-curry sauce. It sounds incredibly creative and exotic right? Well when the food arrived, the fillet was soggy and drenched in what appeared to taste like pineapple preserves or jam. They managed to make wild rice taste like cardboard, and their steamed broccoli was mushy. We did not leave happy, as is the case most of the time one goes out to eat.
In the days that followed, I kept telling my husband how I would have cooked the tilapia. I told him if something is “crusted”, then it must not be soggy or drowned in sauce because it defeats the purpose of encrusting it. The point is that I would not shut up about their technique the right way to cook that dish. I must have crossed the line because one day he simply said, ” I challenge you to cook it the right way. The way it should have been served to us”.
And so I took on the challenge and decided to replicate only the coconut-crusted tilapia and sauce part of the dish plus a little extra that I decided to add as garnish.
I am going to admit that I am extremely fearful of the fish section in the grocery store. This is something I have to get over because I want to learn how to cook everything and ofcourse, how to pick and choose ingredients. I rarely use animal protein in my kitchen, so this challenge really helped me get out of my comfort zone and go out there looking for the freshest and most sustainable ingredients.
Unlike the entree we ordered in the local restaurant weeks ago, I wanted mine to have a crunchy texture for the crust. likewise, I made sure that the sauce did not go over the fish because then it would turn it into a big soggy fillet, so I placed it in the bottom. In regards to the sauce, to me a sauce that has curry in it should certainly have the punch of the curry. I added enough curry to give it that punch and I watched the sugar, careful to keep it a sauce, and not a glaze, which in my opinion has more sugar.
3 3oz tilapia fillet
1 fennel bulb cut julienne
1/4 c flour
1 egg ( mix the egg with a tsp of water and beat with a fork)
1 c shredded coconut (unsweetened)
4 tbs olive oil
1/3 c peas
1 c vinegar
1/8 c sugar
1 c water
1 c diced pineapple
2 tsp corn starch
1 tbs curry powder (spicy)
1. The first thing to do is to heat the oil and add the julliene cut fennel and stir occationally. make sure the fire is on low so that it can slowly caramelize
2. While that is caramelizing, season fillets with salt and pepper, then dredge them in flour. Pat away any excess flour, then dip in egg wash. Remove from the egg wash and dip in coconut mix. Make sure it is completely coated with coconut, then set aside. This is called the standard breading procedure.
3. Heat up another pan and add 2 tbs of oil. Make sure the oil is hot by dipping a toothpick into the oil, if tiny bubbles form around the toothpick that means it is hot enough to cook the fish. Place the coconut covered fish and cook on each side for 2 minutes. The coconut crust will become a golden color. Transfer to a plate lined with a paper towel so it can absorb the grease.
4. Quickly clean out the frying pan and add the vinegar plus the sugar and wisk until sugar dissolves . let that simmer until it is reduced by half. In a blender puree the pineapple cubes and run the puree through a sieve. Collect the juice and set aside. In a separate bowl mix the cornstarch with the curry powder and the cup of water. Finally, once the vinegar and sugar mix has reduced, add the water+curry+starch mixture and the pineapple juice into it and wisk. Bring it to a quick boil then simmer. You will notice that the sauce thickened and you may add more water if you wish to have a thinner sauce. If you want something more thick, like a glaze, then reduce the water added to only half a cup.
5. FInally add the peas to the caramelized fennel and season with salt and pepper. Add them to the top of the tilapia as garnish.