Tilapia is the Rodney Dangerfield of fish. It gets no respect.
In the last third of the 20th century, Rodney Dangerfield turned every average working class guy’s just-trying-to-make-ends-meet struggle for respectability into comedy gold. In the 1980s he took his act to a new generation by turning it into movies like “Caddyshack,” “Easy Money” and “Back to School” where he played that same everyman hitting it rich and lampooning stuffed shirt, old money rich people from within their own cloistered institutions.
His classic line – “I don’t get no respect” – lives on now on Youtube for yet new generations.
And Rodney’s basic notion of getting no respect despite trying hard and doing what appears to be the right thing at the time brings me back to tilapia. Tilapia produces more food than it eats – and it’s a vegetarian. That means that it can be ecologically produced in farms as it is in the United States and elsewhere. It is one of the few farmed fish that gets a positive rating from the Monterey BayAquarium’s Seafood Watch guide (albeit noting that farms in Asia are not as ecologically efficient as those in the western hemisphere). It’s one of the least expensive fish you’ll find in the seafood case and you can find it everywhere.
Yet, tilapia gets no respect. It has nice texture, but it does not bring a lot of its own flavor. It’s salmon’s boring, plain-faced cousin. It doesn’t show up at the party wearing the killer skirt and strappy, high-heeled sandals. It wears sensible shoes and a wool coat because it’s cold outside.
From a home cook’s perspective, tilapia simply needs a makeover.
Tilapia can be dressed up in any number of ways. If you’re looking to get dinner on the table without too much fuss, this is what we do.
1 piece of tilapia per person
whole grain mustard
lots of garlic, chopped
olive oil as needed
Pat the fish dry. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Combine the garlic and mustard. Whisk or stir in the oil a little at a time. You’re not making vinaigrette, so there is no magic to how fast the oil goes in. But, you only want enough oil so that the mixture will coat the fish. Leave it quite pasty.
Coat both sides of the fish with the mustard mixture. Bake it 15 minutes and check to see if it flakes. Give it a little more time if needed but check it again by 17 minutes.
Serve it alongside rice or simple pasta and some veggies.
And show some respect.