Monday, June 23, 2014

West African Fried Tilapia with Coconut Spinach

The simple appearance of this dish hides the multilayers of delicious flavors that start with the marination of the meat.  The tilapia is first given a citrus sweet marinade of lemon-lime juices with garlic powder, paprika, thyme and cinnamon.  It is then pan fried and baked to perfection.  On its own the fish already tastes delicious, but it is then given a wonderful coconut-spinach sauce spiced with Serrano peppers, onions and garlic.

Tip: This dish can also be done fillets of fish rather than using a whole fish.  For that variation, marinate the fillets of fish as given in the directions below then simply fully cook the fish in the frying pan and serve with the sauce.

Servings: 2-3
Prep Time: 70 minutes (includes 1 hour marination)
Cooking Time: 40 minutes
Special Tools: Food Processor


2 lb. Whole Tilapia scales removed and cleaned
1 Tablespoons Lime Juice
1 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1/2 Teaspoon Garlic Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Paprika
1/2 Teaspoon Dried Thyme
1 Teaspoon Cinnamon powder
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil divided
13.5 oz. Coconut Milk
6 oz Baby Spinach
1 Yellow Onion chopped
1 Serrano Pepper chopped
3 Garlic Cloves
Lemon Wedges to serve

With a sharp knife make shallow cuts to the belly of the tilapia about inch apart (about 3-4 cuts on each side of the fish).  These cuts will allow the marinade to flavor the inner meat of the fish.  Season the fish with salt.

In a large zip lock bag combine the lime juice, lemon juice, garlic powder, paprika, thyme and cinnamon powder.  Seal the bag and give it a few shakes to combine the ingredients.  Place the fish in the bag with the marinade.  Seal the bag and give it a few shakes to coat the fish with the marinade. Place in the refrigerator to marinate for 1-4 hours.

When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to the pan.  Remove the fish from the bag and reserve 1/2 cup of the marinade.  Place a baking pan on the stove top over medium high heat.   When hot add the Tilapia to the pan to brown and crisp the skin.  Push slightly down on the tail and head to make sure the entire side is browned (about 1-2 minutes on each side).  Add 1/2 cup of the marinade to baking pan and transfer the fish into the oven to bake for 20-25 minutes or until the fish is fully cooked.

While the fish bakes, place the coconut milk in a large sauce pan and bring to a simmer.  Add the spinach and let cook until wilted (about 4-5 minutes).  Transfer the coconut-spinach mixture to a bowl to cool.

While the sauce cools, heat the remaining olive oil in the same sauce pan.  Add the onions to the pan and sauté over high heat until soft (about 4-5 minutes).  Add the Serrano peppers and garlic to the pan and sauté for another 2 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside.

Once cool transfer the coconut-spinach mixture to a food processor.  Blend the ingredients until well combined (about 30 seconds).   Add the spinach mixture to the saucepan with the onions, garlic and peppers.  Bring the saucepan to a boil then reduce the heat to a low simmer for about 5 minutes. Remove it from the heat and set aside.

When the fish is done, transfer it to a large plate and pour some of the coconut spinach sauce over the fish.   Serve the fish with lemon wedges and extra sauce on the side.  Enjoy.

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