Cuban Style WholeTilapia

She was so lovely, the photo doesn't really do her justice.  Pearly white with touches of pink and salmon color.  Ms. Tilapia was destined to be dinner, but almost a shame to mess with such a work of art.  This was my first time (after how many years of cooking? yikes!) doing a whole fish.  Mostly, it must be said, because of Bob and his fish/bones fetish...er fear.  But, since a recent medical scare, we will be eating a lot more fish, beans, pasta, tofu and, yes ....SALAD.  Sorry Bob.

Our CSA providers, the lovely family at Ke Ola Farms, raise Tilapia in tanks, which then fertilize the veggies, so when you'd like a fish, they catch it, then put in another tank to purge for 24 or more hours.  Just so it doesn't taste like the bottom of the barrel.  And, this one didn't, of course.  It was excellent.  And, the bones were pretty easy to see, not lots of tiny ones. 

I laid her on a colorful bed of chopped, lightly sauteed vegetables, and inserted some herbs into the slits and insides.  Then blanketed with the remaining veggies, covered with foil and baked for 30 minutes. This was a  Cuban style recipe, adapted from Joelen's, who adapted hers from Emeril Lagasse.  So, down the line, here's mine.  I think it's good to use the fresh vegetables you have on hand, in season, etc.  I had some beautiful Won Bok from the CSA, fresh tomatoes (so didn't use a puree) and I used my preserved salt lemon, instead of a whole fresh one, which you might want to use.
Fabulous, and doesn't she look cosy?  All tucked in for a nice little braise.  Here is my version of Joelen's version of Emeril's recipe.

Cuban Style Whole Tilapia
1 whole fish, (about 2 lb.s) such as striped bass, tilapia, flounder, or sole, cleaned and scaled
1 lime, juiced
1/2 cup olive oil
1 onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1 medium bell pepper, cored, seeded, and chopped 
2-3 small heads Won Bok, cleaned and chopped into abut 2 inch sections
1/2 preserved lemon, rinsed and sliced
2 tomatoes, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon fresh Mexican oregano, minced
1 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1/2 cup dry white wine
chives, cilantro, parsley or green onions for garnish

Rinse the fish well and pat dry on both sides as well as inside the cavity. Make several slits about 1/3-inch deep on both sides of the fish. Place the fish in a non-reactive shallow dish or platter and pour the lime juice over the fish. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Coat the bottom of a shallow glass or ceramic dish large enough to hold the fish with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Saute the onion slices and the pepper slices in 2 tablespoons olive oil a few minutes, add the Won Bok and stir 1 minute, then the tomatoes, just to mingle together briefly.  Place half your veg mixture on the bottom of the baking dish. Sprinkle some lemon slices over the vegetables, but reserve some to stuff inside the fish. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons more of the remaining olive oil and season with salt, black pepper, and crushed red pepper to taste. Place your fish on top of the vegetables.  To the remaining veggies, stir in the vinegar and wine.

Using a mortar and pestle, combine the garlic, kosher salt and oregano and mash to form a paste. Spread the garlic paste inside the cavity of the fish and into the slits on top and bottom. Place the remaining lemon slice inside the cavity of the fish.  Cover fish with the rest of onion pepper mixture, and drizzle the remaining olive oil over the top. Season again with salt and black pepper, cover the dish loosely with aluminum foil, and bake until the fish flakes easily when pierced with a fork, about 30 to 35 minutes (depending on the size of your fish) . Garnish with the greens of your choice and serve hot or warm, with the delicious vegetables and pan juices.  I recommend a nice fresh baguette of French Sourdough to accompany this.  An excellent way to showcase a beautiful fish.


Ben said...

Beautiful! I remember that in one of the National Parks of Mexico City they had tilapias in huge tanks and you could choose the one you wanted for dinner. Then they cooked it right in front of you. Delicious! I loved this post :)

Claudia said...

Thanks Ben - The CSA guy even showed us how to scale and gut the fish. Think I want to skip that part of the process in future though.

Sunny said...

Excellent! Was a good sized fishy too!

Marc @ NoRecipes said...

I don't think I've ever seen a whole tilapia before. It is a striking looking fish, and your prep sounds delicious!

The Food Hunter said...

Looks yummy!