Saturday, August 9, 2008

CSA - Chermoula baked tilapia

This was another CSA Summer ad hoc week. I went out to Theine early so I could get my pick of the bananas; a variety of varietals were offered and I wanted to get some of each. I was early enough to meet Margie before she finished the drop-off. We got sidetracked into talking about this blog and another person making a pick-up asked, but I wanted to thank her for all her effort in making the CSA work (and since she said she reads the blog I've got this second chance). It's easy to limit the support in CSA to the money we pay, but we should remember that the C stands for community not consumer. The least I can do is thank her.

Beyond the bananas, some really big tilapia were on offer this week. I've talked about scaling and gutting before I think so I'll skip that this time around. I do think I'm approaching competence at it.

Tilapia is a pretty mild fish--particularly when it's farmed--so I knew I had to really boost the flavor. I decided to go with a North African spice blend that is often used with white fish: chermoula. The formula for chermoula is one of those that's different in every village. I looked a few different ones to get a sense of the range and, as usual, went the over-complicated route. Here's my recipe:

1 small handful parsley, finely chopped
1 small handful cilantro, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 cup onion, finely chopped
1 small hot pepper, finely chopped (I believe I used a birdseye)
1 teaspoon hot paprika
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 Tablespoon white vinegar
3 Tablespoons fruity olive oil
juice of 1 lemon

I mixed all that up, put the fish in a baking dish, cut three slits in each side and then poured the chermoula over top and stuffed some into the body cavity too. Then I let the fish marinate for a couple hours, turning every half hour or so.

Then I preheated the over to 350 degrees, scraped up all the solid bits of the chermoula and fully stuffed the fish, put the squeezed lemon into the pan (plenty of flavor left in it I figure), covered it with foil and baked for 40 minutes flipping the fish at 20.

And the result is this:

No pictures of a serving; sorry. The fish is falling-apart tender and spectacularly moist, but also full of tiny bones so it collapsed as I picked through it and the result is a heap of soggy fish bits on a bowl of couscous. Quite unsightly. Textural issues aside, the tilapia is infused with the aromatic flavors of the lemon, herbs and spices but not entirely overwhelmed by them. I'd say the flavor of the fish was an equal partner with the flavor of the chermoula. That aspect, at least, was a great success. I wonder if the texture of tilapia would respond better to broiling than a braise. Or maybe cutting five minutes off the cooking time would do the trick.

There was surprisingly little meat for a fish this size, but I did save a little bit for a salad tomorrow and all those bones should make a decent stock so I should get a few meals out of it anyway.

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