Veracruz-Style Tilapia (Tilapia Veracruzana)

We’re riding the end of summer produce wave here in NorCal.  It started with zucchini, now we are in the midst of a tomato influx.

For more tomato recipes see Homemade Tomato Sauce and Chilled Gazpacho.

Skip the story and get a cookin’ with the printable recipe: Veracruz-Style Tilapia

Some of my favorite foods are from what Christopher Columbus intriguingly called “The New World.”  These foods include tomatoes, peppers, corn, beans, avocados, and let’s not forget potatoes from the land of the Incas.  As much as we equate tomatoes with Italian food, it was a Central American ingredient first, and indeed some of the tastiest uses for summer-ripened tomatoes can be found especially in Mexican food.

Veracruz-style fish is the most popular fish dish in Mexico, followed closely by fish tacos.  OK, I made up the fish tacos taking second place, but Veracruz, a state on the eastern edge of Mexico bordering the Caribbean Sea, is well-known for its seafood.

Traditionally it’s made with red snapper, a medium-firm white fish, but bass and (in this recipe) tilapia make fine substitutes.  The only thing to remember with tilapia is that very thin fillets have a tendency to fall apart since it is such a light fish.  You can see this evidenced in my above final dish picture.  What this means is you have to cook the fish at the absolute last minute before you’re ready to serve so it doesn’t totally fall apart.  OK the last 6 minutes; they do need to cook.  Another option would be to cook the sauce and fish separate, then top the fish with the rich, red sauce when ready to serve.  Your delicious choice.

We’ll start with tomatoes, about 1 large tomato per serving.  We’ll need to peel these with a paring knife which is a short, sharp knife, usually with an edge about 2-3 inches long and a handle that just feels like it’s made for the palm of your hand.  It’s used for precise cutting requirements, like peeling tomatoes.  Adult supervision is required for anyone over age 18.  First hint: be careful.  Second hint: have confidence in your abilities; the knife, not to mention the tomato, can feel it.  Third hint: don’t use overripe tomatoes since there is a higher chance of cutting yourself as you peel the skin off.

Start at the top, where the core is.  Slide your paring knife just under the tomato’s skin.  This is the kind of cutting task that will let you know if you have a sharp knife or not.

Making a circular path, continue cutting the peel until you reach the bottom.  With practice, it should come off all in one long, funny looking concentric circle piece.  Don’t worry if yours doesn’t look like that.  We all need a goal to work towards sometimes.

When you get to the end, sometimes you can just pull the last chunk off.

Rough chop your tomatoes and place in a food processor.

Whir them until they look like this.

Many people like to puree half the tomatoes and chop up the other half for a chunkier sauce texture.  This is a delicious variation.  I’m lazy, so I just puree them all.

Dice up 1 onion of your color choice.  Dice up a bell pepper of your color choice.  There can be a lot of color combos here.  I’ll leave the algorithms to people who know how to figure that out.

We’re also going to seed and de-membrane 2 fresh jalapeno peppers.  This means cut the peppers in half and slip your knife right under the membranes to cut the white parts out.  Can you handle a lot of heat?  Then be lazy and leave the seeds and membranes in and just dice the pepper up.

Saute these pieces of aromatic bliss (onions, peppers, jalapenos) in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil.

Don’t forget about the 5 cloves of minced garlic.  This recipe is not for the flavor-phobic.  Then again, none of my recipes are.

Pour in the pureed tomatoes.  Bring the sauce up to a simmer.

Slice up some pimento-filled green olives.  Those are the ones with the little red peppers stuffed inside, but don’t worry they’re not hot peppers.  Think 4-5 olives per serving.

Oh goodness this makes me want to have a dirty martini.

Season with 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper.

Simmer the sauce until it thickens.  Or, if you’re in a rush, make a slurry by dissolving 2 teaspoons of corn starch in 2 teaspoons of water in a small cup.  Once it turns a murky white color, drop it into the tomato sauce, then continue the simmer until thickened.

Add your tilapia fillets.  Drown them in sauce as best you can so they soak up all the delicious flavor. Cook until flaky, about 6 minutes for super thin fillets, like mine.

Serve with sliced, boiled potatoes for a true New World dinner.  This dish gets along with white or brown rice also.

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