Thursday, December 20, 2007

Foiled Again

Although I didn't know it at the time, when I was a kid, my mom did a really great job of making sure my dad and I ate really balanced meals. Not only was each meal itself balanced with a protein, veggie and carb, but each week was balanced with a rotating variety of proteins, so each dinner felt like a new and welcomed surprise. This is quite a feat for anyone, let alone a working mother with an hour and a half commute in D.C. traffic. Each meal was impressive and delicious, and probably healthier than what most people were eating at home in the 80's and 90's. In 17 years of living at home I can count on one hand the times that we ordered dinner in, and even then it was probably because my mom was out of town.

So, on those nights when I'm feeling lazy for no reason, I try to remind myself of the effort my mother put into every meal, even though for her, every day was an exhausting one. And so, once I'd shamed myself into cooking a full meal, I decided I'd finally make that oven steamed fish recipe that had slowly been coming together in my head over the last few days. It recently occurred to me that my balanced meal ethics have flown the coup in the weeks since Thanksgiving, so I figured I'd try and make up for it by adding some fish and seafood to my very meat heavy diet.

I wasn't quite sure when I started the meal what I would end up eating other than the fish. I knew I'd be cooking tilapia in an aluminum foil package in the oven, most likely over some kind of vegetable, but what kind? I decided that since I'd be having a side salad with plenty of veggies, I'd serve (and cook) the tilapia over browned potatoes with chorizo, a few small pieces of bacon and green peas (mostly for color and a little added sweetness). This mixture was so tasty that I almost forgot all about the tilapia, even though I'd intended for it to be the star of the dish. I created a fragrant wet rub of garlic, paprika, cilantro, and a few other herbs and spices and thought that it would elevate the fish above the potatoes, but I forgot the ever important "nothing beats bacon and chorizo" principle.

In the end, the dish did come together quite nicely. Steaming the fish in an airtight aluminum pouch kept it soft and moist without being the least bit greasy. The potatoes also cooked through perfectly in the pouch after an initial browning in a pan. Pouch steaming is great for a last minute quick dinner, and doesn't take long at all, especially for a fish that doesn't need to be cooked all the way through, like salmon (I've made miso or soy salmon in a pouch with veggies in 10 minutes!) and it won't smell up the house like pan cooking fish does. So whether it's this recipe or another, give pouch steaming a try. It's quick, easy, and odor free--and a great way to work that varied protein into your diet. Here's how:

Tilapia with Potato-Chorizo Hash


1 tilapia fillet (boneless, skinless)
1 clove garlic
1/2 tsp chopped cilantro
1/4 tsp dried parsley
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
2 Tbsp lemon juice
2 lemon slices
2 lemon slices for garnish (optional)

1 large Yukon gold potato, diced
1 chorizo sausage, diced
2 strips bacon, sliced into 1/2 inch wide pieces (fatty bacon is best, so everything is cooked in the rendered fat)
1/4 cup frozen green peas
2 lemon wedges

Dipping Sauce
3 heaping tsp sour cream
1 Tbsp milk
1/4 tsp Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp dried parsley
1/4 tsp ground pepper (white pepper would be best)
1/2 tsp sugar

1. Preheat oven to 450 F degrees.

2. Add bacon to a hot sauté pan and cook until almost completely crispy. Add chorizo and cook until just starting to brown (about a minute). Remove bacon and chorizo from pan and set aside.

3. Add diced potato (salted and peppered to taste) to pan and cook until potatoes are browned but still mostly raw. Set them aside with the bacon and chorizo.

4. Except for the lemon juice, mash all of the tilapia wet rub ingredients together in a mortar and pestle (you could also use a small food processor). Add the lemon juice and mix so it becomes a moist rub.

Salt and pepper the tilapia and coat well in the rub. Set aside.

6. Spoon the bacon, chorizo, potato hash onto the center of a large piece of aluminum foil. Sprinkle in frozen peas. Place the tilapia over the hash and top with two lemon slices.

7. Tightly seal the aluminum foil, making sure you leave enough room for steam to circulate. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until fish is cooked through.

8. While the fish cooks, mix together all of the ingredients for the dipping sauce. Enjoy!

**TIP: If you don't like tilapia or would like a more substantial type of fish, try making this recipe with cod, instead.

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