Sunday, February 3, 2013

Experiments in Tilapia

Today my blog post is about another series of accidents that turned into a delicious meal! Aaron and I have been sick and have been consuming huge quantities of soup, so last Thursday we decided we were sick of it, and I made fish that night instead of making it on Friday as I had planned. I had purchased tilapia fillets from Trader Joe’s, and had a recipe for the seasoning. When I began making the dinner, however, I realized that many of my plans for how to follow the recipe were not going to work as planned.

The recipe called for breading the fish with a mixture of spices. Delicious! Except that I had maybe one of the three spices the recipe called for, and no bread crumbs. So I decided to make some bread crumbs. I thought I would just toast some bread and crumble it up. That seemed easy in theory, but in practice it did not work at all. The middle of the bread was too mushy, and by the time I toasted the bread a second time, the edges burned. The smoke detector went off and we had to open some windows and fan the studio with the front door. Besides that, my crumbs were too big, and I thought for a minute that I had ruined the recipe for sure.

Enter the lime green garlic grinder that my mom gave me shortly after we got married. It is a round contraption with a top and bottom, and teeth in the middle that interlock and mince garlic beautifully. This garlic grinder has made my life so much simpler! I think everyone should buy one, unless of course you really enjoy chopping tiny things and getting garlic smell on your hands for hours. Maybe some people go for that. Not me! I have also used it to mince chilies in adobo sauce, but those are the only uses I have employed it for. I wondered if it would grind up my hopeless bread chunks. So I crumbled the bread into smaller pieces, and then put these pieces into the garlic grinder. It worked! As long as I didn’t put too many in, the grinder turned the bread chunks into fine bread crumbs.

I was feeling pretty proud of myself at this point for such clever innovation, when I realized that I still didn’t know which spices I was going to use. The recipe called for garlic powder, thyme, and chili powder. I had thyme, but none of the others. I did have some roasted garlic salt that my aunt made me for Christmas, and figured I could improvise with crushed red pepper flakes and cayenne pepper. Next came the fun part. I mixed the bread crumbs with these spices, and then added lime zest, as the recipe called for. The lime made the mixture smell quite tantalizing.

Next I actually followed the recipe, and dipped the tilapia into first flour, then egg, and lastly the breaded mixture. I had already added a fourth of a cup of canola oil to my largest pan, and I put the tilapia fillets into it to fry them.

For our side dish, the recipe suggested pepperonata. Aaron doesn’t really like stir fry vegetables, so I decided to modify the recipe a bit first to make a smaller amount, and then to omit the onions. While I could eat onions like apples, Aaron strongly dislikes onions, so I decided to compromise and make the stir fried veggies but leave out the onions. Aaron agreed to try this. So I cut up a bell pepper and a half, as well as a jalapeño, tossed them in a medium sized pan, and drizzled a generous amount of extra virgin olive oil over them. I also added salt and pepper. I was extremely tempted to toss in crushed red pepper, because I love to add it when I make myself stir fry, but I figured that the jalapeños would give the veggies enough of a kick and so I reluctantly held myself back. Little did I know that the mixture was already crazily spicy! I made no effort to keep the seeds out of the pan, and I am not an expert on pepper anatomy, but I have always been under the impression that the seeds imparted a large amount of the spiciness to the pepper. Someone be sure to correct me if I am wrong! Then I really won’t worry about the seeds. Anyway, the original recipe called for one jalapeño, along with bell peppers, an entire onion, tomato paste, and a bottle of beer. When I cut down the recipe, I didn’t even think about cutting down on the jalapeño as well. I went ahead and added an entire one. After the veggies had cooked for a while, I added half of a bottle of beer.

Finally the dinner was cooked and ready, and the studio was filled with spicy fumes. Aaron and I sat down to dinner and our sinuses were cleared. The fish was yummy. My combination of spices ended up being quite tasty. I think the lime really tied it all together. Maybe crushed red pepper is the same thing as chili powder. Whatever it is, the combination of spices that I used was magic and I will definitely be making the fish again!

The veggies were ridiculously spicy, however. I felt like I had an endorphin high for probably the next hour. We probably only handled it because for the past few days we hadn’t been able to taste much at all, so it felt great to finally taste something. I had made myself piquant chai rooibos tea, and had consciously tried to taste it, without success. I didn’t even want to eat chocolate because I knew I would not be able to taste it. That was a very sad feeling. So we could at last taste something, but that something was so ludicrously spicy that I probably won’t make it again! I actually had to serve milk with dinner so our tongues would not die from the heat.

All in all it was a really fun dinner to make. It was fun to experiment within the framework of a recipe, and find new ways to accomplish what I wanted. I can’t wait for the next fish dinner!

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