I raised my kids on a lake in the country in small town Texas. I had three sons who all loved to fish, and by the time my youngest, Gabe, was six, he could dig for his own worms, bait his own hook, walk out the back door to the dock and pull in a small crappie (pronounced “croppie” ) or two.
His older brothers would paddle the boat out further and catch bigger bass, and Gabe longed to catch a bass with all his little heart. One day, I was being interviewed “live” on the radio, via telephone. I think I was discussing my first book, Worms in My Tea (co-authored with my mom, Ruthie), when the door to my office swung open, and a large mouth bass nearly smacked me in the face. When I calmed down from the shock of a fish flying in my office, I realized the fish was on the hook end of a fishing pole, being held by one excited little boy on the other end.
“Mom!” he yelled. “I caught a bass!” He sure did, and the news of it was broadcast live, somewhere on the radio in middle America. I managed to wipe fishy lake water from my brow, congratulate Gabe and carry on with the interview. These are things professional mothers do.
But I digress. I started this blog post thinking about crappie, and how, though they aren’t very big, they are, as we say in Texas, “some good eatin’.” And we ate a lot of them. So when the small fish, tilapia, seemed to swim out of nowhere into our supermarkets and on to the foodie scene as the new Rock Star of mild, affordable fish, I couldn’t help thinking how much they looked and tasted like crappie. In fact, who knows? They might just be crappie, with a fancy new name.
I loved tilapia at first bite. And it’s the best last-minute dinner! Even if it is frozen, it thaws in no time. Below is one of my favorite fish dishes. It’s fast, it is easy, it tastes amazing with its sweet, smoky, spicy, citrus flavors. And look how beautiful it is! Serve with an ear of fresh corn and a salad with avocado, and you’ve got a beautiful plate of healthy “good eatin’.”
Here’s something you may not know about tilapia, but as soon as you read this you can tell your friends and amaze them with it. Or just sound like a fish fact Know-it-All. Tilapia can be found in the Sea of Galilee, and are sometimes called “St. Peter’s fish.” This comes from the story in the Gospel of Matthew about the apostle Peter catching a fish that carried a coin in its mouth. (Matthew 14:24-27.)
Becky’s Sweet and Smoky Tilapia
2 T. olive oil
2 T. butter
4 medium to large tilapia fillets
2 T. smoked paprika
2 T. cumin
3 T. brown sugar
salt and pepper
1 lemon, cut in half
Pre-heat oven to 350.
Put oil and butter in rectangle pan (large enough to hold tilapia without overlapping) and put in oven until butter has melted. Tilt pan until it is evenly coated.
In small bowl, mix paprika, cumin and brown sugar. Lightly salt and pepper both sides of 4 fillets. Lay tilapia fillets side by side in the buttery pan. Turn over so both sides are coated with oil/butter. Generously sprinkle tops of tilapia with the brown sugar-spice mix (using all of it), patting it in gently as you would a rub or blackening seasoning. Squeeze one half lemon over all.
Put in oven for 15 minutes or until fish flakes easily. Then turn oven to broil and watching carefully, broil the tops of the fish until the spice mixture starts to caramelize. Remove, serve with the remaining lemon half, cut in pretty slices as garnish.
Variations: Try this method with other fish and other spices you enjoy!
Vegan Variation: Use Earth Balance instead of butter, pressed or plain tofu slices or veggie burgers instead of fish.