Like many other people all over the world, Filipinos extensively eat tilapia because it is a good source of protein; especially one with a low saturated fat, low calorie, low carbohydrate and low sodium. Additionally, tilapia meat is a sure provider of essential vitamins and minerals such as phosphorus, niacin, selenium, vitamin B12 and potassium. You are right, that’s half truth. Not many people knew about that health benefits stuff. We eat tilapia because it is delicious, widely available and relatively inexpensive, sort of within the Third World’s average family budget. Okay, okay, it’s cheap. That’s it! :-) But tasty, huh!
Tilapia, St. Peter’s fish and pla-pla when large, are just some of the names referring to the third most important fish in fish farming or aquaculture worldwide, next to carps and salmons. The top three fish, along with European seabass, catfish and cod, comprised the top six farmed fish in the world feeding hundreds of millions of humans, for quite a long time now.
However, due to large size, rapid growth, easy production, tolerance to high stocking density, high profitability and palatability, tilapia have been the focus of major farming research and developments and it will just be a matter of time before they become the leader among the most important cultured fish all over the world.
Another good thing about tilapia is that it can be cooked in so many ways. I have previously featured one way to enjoy this farm’s bounty by cooking it into zesty “paksiw na isda”. Similarly, like pony fish, “pompano” and “talakitok” it can also be cooked as “pangat" or "pinangat” or “pesa” and “ginataan” like “dalag” or mudfish. Even simpler, the fish can also be grilled, fried, steamed, stewed and baked, all requiring very few basic ingredients.
While I am always happy and satisfied with just grilled or fried tilapia and some “calamansi” + soy sauce dipping sauce along with steamed rice, sometimes I and some friends want to explore the culinary potential of the versatile fish and have experimented out with new exciting ways of cooking the fish.
One preparation developed by a colleague is to top the fried tilapia with a sauce made from sautéed vegetables, herb, spices and oyster sauce. It is a cooking style very similar to the “escabeche” but without the sweet and sourly taste of the acidic sauce of the dish.
To prepare this, we need some really fat and fresh pan-sized tilapia, about 4-5 pieces. The fish must be thoroughly cleaned, scaled, gutted, washed and drained, then liberally seasoned with salt.
The vegetables and other ingredients are the following: a handful of green or spring onions, cut up to 1 inch length, 2 pcs red bell pepper, seeded and julienne, 2 medium onions, peeled and thinly sliced and 1 small ginger peeled and cut into strips. Additionally, about 3 tbsp of oyster sauce, 1 cup + 3 tbsp of vegetable oil (for frying and sautéing respectively), 1 tbsp corn starch dispersed in 2 tbsp water, iodized salt to taste, a pinch of ground black pepper and about 2 cups water or broth are required.
In a medium frying pan or wok, heat the 1 cup oil on medium flame. Fry the tilapia in batches. Do it according to your preference……..either slightly fried or until the skin is crispy. I like something in between. :-)
To cook the sauce with veggies, arrange all ingredients side by side. This is a quick-fry technique so it is important that everything is within easy reach.
In a medium pan, heat the remaining oil and fry the onions until fragrant and translucent. Add in ginger followed by spring onions and bell peppers. Keep sautéing until the ingredients are cooked through.
Add in oyster sauce and water or broth. Simmer until boiling then season with salt and pepper. Add in corn starch solution and continue simmering with occasional stirring. Continue cooking until it becomes rich and slightly thick. Remove from heat.
Arrange the fried fish in single platters. Pour some of the sauce with veggies on top and serve immediately. This is perfect with steamed rice. Saucy and yummy! :-)
There it is..........another interesting way to enjoy your rather common tilapia. Not really difficult but the resulting dish is luscious and distinctly delicious. Enjoy! c“,)