Sunday, February 7, 2010

Panko-Crusted Tilapia with Sweet Soy & Ginger Sauce

Without a doubt in my mind, the fresh water-dwelling tilapia is a highly underrated fish. People like to gush about the fabulous texture and taste of the Chilean sea bass, the Alaskan halibut or even the Pacific wild salmon but the heart-healthy tilapia can offer the same nutritious and delicious meal without breaking the bank. The old adage of you get what you pay for doesn't necessarily apply here. Its freshwater habitat, together with extensive aquaculture production practices may have unfairly rendered the tilapia to the rank of over-abundance, hence the reason why this fish is held in such low regard among seafood connoisseurs and general foodies alike. However, the almost neutral taste of its subtle yet flaky white meat certainly cannot be overlooked. The term neutral, when applied to food taste may not seem to incite much, if any excitement at all but when prepared properly and with the right companion ingredients, can enhance the flavor of the fish without losing its original character.

Through my rather unscientific experimentation of seeking the best way to cook the tilapia, I finally zeroed in on this deep-fried panko-crusted preparation. It seems to elicit the best reaction among the few people that have had the chance (or misfortune) to sit through my several Dr. Evil-like tilapia concoctions.

First, let me start off by describing how to prepare the tilapia, which employs the standard breading procedure of flour, egg wash and breadcrumbs (in this case, we are using the Japanese panko breadcrumbs instead). You'll need:

3 tilapia fillets
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 large eggs (add 1 tablespoon of milk or cream and beat)
1 1/2 cups of Panko breadcrumbs (seasoned with salt and pepper or a little cayenne pepper)

I find that it is very important to season the fish first with salt and pepper before you start breading. As the tilapia is very neutral tasting, over seasoning helps to bring the flavor out even more. Get a wok or a fryer going with a decent amount of vegetable oil (enough to cover the entire fish when deep frying). Heat up the oil to about 400F. Start by rolling the fish in flour, then the egg wash and finally coat it with the seasoned panko. Drop it gently into the oil and let it cook for about 5 minutes or until the exterior crumbs turn light brown. This is when you should pull it out onto a paper towel-lined plate to drain the excess oil. As the fish continues to cook (carryover cooking) while it sits on the plate, you will notice that the browning of the crumbs will get a little darker. So you should prejudge how dark you want the fish to be when you pull it out of the oil. Repeat this procedure with all the tilapia fillets. Set them aside when you are done as you prepare the sauce.

For the sauce, you'll need:

3 tablespoons of sweet soy sauce
1 tablespoon of fish sauce
1 tablespoon of rice cooking wine
1 tablespoon of soy sauce (add more as needed)
1 medium-sized shallot (minced)
Ginger (1 inch in size) (minced)
2-3 cloves Garlic (minced)
1/2 - 1 cup water
1 teaspoon of cornstarch (to thicken the sauce if needed)

Start off by heating 1 tablespoon of oil in a skillet. Cook the shallot and ginger until fragrant, then add the garlic. Cook for another minute and then deglaze the skillet with the cooking wine, scraping the skillet as you go. Add in the sweet soy, soy and fish sauces and the water. Bring the sauce to a boil and then put it into a simmer as you reduce the liquid slightly. Taste and adjust the seasoning as you go. You are looking at a balance of sweetness and salt. When you've achieved that balance and if the sauce if still too liquid, you can certainly thicken it with a little cornstarch. Remember to dissolve the cornstarch first in cold water before adding it into the sauce. Bring the sauce to a final boil while you continue stirring. At this point, the sauce is ready. All you'll have to do now is to reheat the tilapia and prepare some scallions as garnish for your plate. I'm using lettuce leaves as a bottom liner to place the fish on. Spoon the sauce over the fish and and top with the chopped scallions. You are now ready to serve your panko-crusted tilapia with sweet soy and ginger sauce.

No comments: