During my two and a half years working with the U.S. Peace Corps in Kenya, I was sad to see many of my friends getting sick with malaria. Oddly, when a lot of people were struggling with mosquito bites, Kenyan mosquitoes left me alone. I broke the Peace Corps rules by skipping the malaria prevention drugs (i.e. mefloquine). I also never applied a mosquito repellent cream on my skin, but somehow I was almost always free from mosquito attacks. At first, I thought Kenyan mosquitoes must have hated my blood. It must be too bitter for them. But then, I saw tons of Tilapia fish steps away from my house in the Indian Ocean. These mercury-free, lean, white fish residing in the warm Tropical water are known for eating mosquito larvae. Not only did the abundant Tilapia family right outside my house protect me from malaria, but the freshly caught fish also provided me with delicious, healthy meals everyday. Ever since that experience, Tilapia has become one of my favorite fish.
Tilapia is a very lean, mild fish. It tastes so “neutral” that the sauce chosen to mix with this fish can make or break a meal. Today I’m making pan fried Tilapia marinated in ancho olive oil wine sauce, a great alternative to Ceviche. While Ceviche marinates raw fish in a citrus mix with no oil, my dish uses pan-fried fish and uses both oil and vinegar in the marinade. If you usually don’t like raw fish or a strong “fishy” flavor, this is a great dish to try.
To start, I sprinkle some sea salt and freshly ground black pepper on 1 lb Tilapia fillet. Then, I heat some 7th taste Ancho Chili Olive Oil on a fry pan, sauté the fish and set them aside. Next, I add some more 7th taste Ancho Chili Olive Oil and stir fry 5 cloves garlic (crushed by one side of big knife), 1 carrot (sliced in half moons) &1 onion (sliced into rings) with some sea salt & freshly ground black pepper. Separately, in a pot, I mix ½ cup 7th taste Ancho Chili Olive Oil, ½ cup Katz Red Wine Vinegar (Merlot, Zin & Cabernet Sauvignon trio blend), ½ cup Sauvignon Blanc and a dozen whole peppercorns. To infuse the flavors, I bring the sauce to boil and then simmer it for a couple of minutes. Next, in a glass container, I place the fish with garlic, carrots and onions and pour the sauce over. Lastly, I marinate it overnight in the refrigerator and bring it to room temperature before serving.
This Tilapia dish is fantastic. Once I served it to a coworker who didn’t like fish at all. He loved it and asked me “What is it?”. I said, “Tilapia fish”. He said “Really? It doesn’t taste like fish at all”. He is right. This fish soaks in the delicious flavors of the fruity, earthy ancho chili, the buttery Extra Virgin Olive Oil, the refreshing red wine vinegar, the lemony Sauvignon Blanc and the caramelized sweet onion. It has layers of flavor complexities with a palate cleansing, sweet, long finish. And, how tender and moist the fish tastes in this delicious sauce! It melts in my mouth like a big pink cotton candy under a sunny blue sky!
I hope you enjoy this recipe that is perfect for welcoming the balmy Spring! Happy cooking!