Teach a Man to Make Sweet and Sour Tilapia

October, which is the National Seafood Month, has been re-christened to National Sustainable Seafood Month by organizations concerned with the well being of our oceans and food supply. Our oceans are facing great dangers from over fishing and unfettered pollution. Last month Jacqueline Church, who blogs at The Leather District Gourmet from Boston, called for food bloggers to participate in a virtual blog event to highlight awareness of these dangers. She created the “2008 Teach a Man to Fish Sustainable Seafood Blog Event.” She asked bloggers to create and share recipes from sustainable seafood. I decided to participate in this event by contributing my favorite way of preparing a sustainable fish: Sweet and Sour Tilapia.

Tilapia is a fresh water fish that is in the carp family. Its cultivation was first recorded more than four thousand years ago in ancient Egypt and it is currently farmed throughout the world in South America, Africa, and Asia, as well as the U.S. Along the Atlantic seaboard there are tilapia farms in Massachusetts, New York, Virginia and Florida. Tilapia adapts easily to modern farming technology that uses closed circulatory filtration system and reduces discharges of pollution. This makes tilapia the perfect candidate for this National Sustainable Seafood Month project.

Tilapia has a wonderfully mild yet earthy flavor because it is not an oily fish. It readily absorbs the flavors from a marinate or a sauce and lends itself to a wide varieties of preparation. Recently though a controversial report suggested that because tilapia contains more Omega-6 than Omega-3 fatty acids, it may not be a good choice for a heart-healthy diet. But a group of researchers from diet research centers all over the world argues that the total amount of these fatty acids in one serving of tilapia is still much less than from a serving of bacon or hamburger. For me I think it is still a healthy choice, and a delicious one at that.

My favorite way to prepare tilapia is in a sweet and sour sauce. Yes, I do like sweet and sour sauce. But not the kind one often finds in Chinese restaurants in America. No chunks of red and green peppers, and pineapples stuck in a heavily thickened gooey sauce. My sweet and sour sauce is a light and subtly flavored one that enhances the flavor of the fish instead of overwhelming it. Try this recipe and you’ll know the difference between a good and a bad sweet and sour sauce.

  • Sweet and Sour Tilapia (甜酸羅非魚)

    • Preparation time: 20 minutes
    • Rapid cooking time: 20 minutes
    • 1 whole tilapia (1 1/2 to 2 lb. )
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • 1/4 cup cornstarch for breading
    • 8 cups vegetable oil
    • 1/4 cup thinly shredded carrots
    • 1/4 cup thinly shredded bamboo shoots
    • 1 tablespoon thinly shredded green chili peppers (optional)
    • 1 teaspoon garlic
    • 1 teaspoon finely chopped ginger
    • 1/4 cup water or chicken stock
    • Sweet and Sour Sauce
    • 1/4 cup tomato ketchup
    • 1 tablespoon white rice vinegar
    • 1 tablespoon sugar
    • 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
    • 2 tablespoons Shaoxing cooking wine (紹興料酒)
    • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
    • Thinly sliced scallion and cilantro sprigs for garnish
    • Scale and clean the tilapia, and cut slanted slits on both sides. Salt the fish and dredge thoroughly in cornstarch including the head and tail. Set aside. Prepare the shredded carrots, bamboo shoots and chili peppers and set them aside. Mix all the Sweet and Sour Sauce ingredients together in a mixing bowl and set aside.
    • Heat the vegetable oil in a wok until it almost reaches the smoking point. Deep-fry the tilapia in the hot oil for about 5 minutes on one side, then turn it over and continue to fry for 3 minutes on the other side. Drain thoroughly and place the fish on paper towel to absorb excess oil.
    • Drain all but one tablespoon of the oil from the wok and place it in a metal container. On medium heat fry the chopped garlic and ginger for about one minute then add the shredded carrots, bamboo shoots and water. Continue to cook for another 3 minutes until the carrots are al dente. Add the Sweet and Sour Sauce mixture along with the shredded chili peppers. Cook until the sauce is thickened.
    • Place the fried tilapia on an oval plate and pour the sauce all over the fish. Garnish with the scallion and cilantro and serve immediately.
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12 Comments

  1. Posted October 27, 2008 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    Kian – this looks wonderful. Are you sending me the recipe and photo so I can include it in the roundup?

    Can’t wait to try it here at home!!

    Thanks so much for this beautiful contribution. You did my work for me with the post, too!

    She she ni.

    -Jacqueline

  2. Bentoist
    Posted October 27, 2008 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    Yum and yup! Tilapia is a great candidate for farming. I ran my school’s aquaponics project a few years ago. Despite poor weather, and a leaky fish tank, the fish grew big enough to be sold. My students and I even sold the butterhead lettuce grown at a local supermarket.

    I cannot bring myself to deep fry a whole fish, mostly because I don’t want to deal with the clean-up after. But this is another great post. And yes, I gave you an E for Excellent award at my blog too.

  3. Posted October 27, 2008 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    As always, gorgeous, delicious, informative. Thanks for the great post, Kian!

  4. Posted October 27, 2008 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    Kian-Thank you for this wonderful recipe. Can’t wait to try it out this weekend. We just got a new kitchen cook top, and all we eat is seafood…so this will be perfect….If only I’m able to cook half as well as you do. :)

  5. Posted October 27, 2008 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    Oh wow, what a great, informative post! I love tilapia, but have never made a whole fish before. I’m going to see if I can track one down.

    +Jessie
    a.k.a. The Hungry Mouse

    p.s. I have an award waiting for you at my blog. :D

  6. Posted October 27, 2008 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

    I do agree with the light s & s sauce which brings out the flavour of the fish rather than being too thick to ‘cover’ it.

    I think it’s the correct recipe to fry the tilapia since it’s abit more chunkier than say something like garoupa , which is best steamed.

    great post!

  7. Posted October 27, 2008 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

    Jacqueline, I sent you the picture and recipe this afternoon. Thanks for inspiring us all to be conscious of our environment!

    Jessie and Bentoist, I did see the awards you sent my way. I don’t know how to thank you both. To be honored by such great bloggers. I am humbled indeed.

  8. Betsy
    Posted October 31, 2008 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

    Hi Kian! Sounds yummy. But I always think deep-frying is sooo much trouble. And oil isn’t totally cheap. How and when do you reuse it? I would do more delicious things (like DUCK) if I felt more confident of the whole frying process. Teach us some more!

  9. Posted November 3, 2008 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    Hi Betsy,

    Re-using oil for frying is definitely an issue. I would not recommend re-using oil from frying fish for anything other than fish. I would re-use oil from frying chicken, pork or other mild flavored meat again in other usage without any effect in flavor. Use wok to fry whole fish and you can save on oil. The concave shape of the wok minimizes the use of oil.

  10. Posted November 16, 2008 at 12:11 am | Permalink

    Ooo, I’m always looking for new ways to enjoy fish. This looks wonderful

  11. Posted December 19, 2008 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

    Just wanted to let you know I made your recipe for “Sweet and Sour Fish” it was great the only different thing I made was I used “Black Pomfret” in place of the Tilapia.

    I loved that the sweet and sour sauce did not over power the fish, it wasn’t gloppy or gross and no big rude chunks of peppers and pineapple. I was able to have the sweet and sour flavor and still be able to appreciate the taste of the fish.

    Thanks for the great recipe, I am a fan of Chinese food and enjoy cooking it often (although I don’t blog about it because the recipes I make are learne from blogs like yours and so on, but I do blog alot about Cuban and other hispanic/ latino cooking that is really tasty to)

    My first introduction to cooking Chinese food (mostly Cantonese) was from pictorials on this forum:

    http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?showtopic=75962&st=0

    Also videos from this sweet lady on “youtube”:

    http://www.youtube.com/user/yeqiang?ob=1

    P.S. I have also made your “Celery Chicken” it was really good to!

    • Posted January 12, 2009 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

      Nathan, Thanks for visiting Red Cook and I’m glad you are enjoying the recipes. YeQiang writes a really nice Chinese Language blog. Her recipes are excellent. I highly recommend her English language video just as you mentioned in your comment.

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