Visits to my house by British Gas this week: 3
Hours spent at my house by British Gas this week: +/- 7
Futile phonecalls to Landlord this week: 3
Number of tops I’m wearing as I type this: 4
Pairs of socks I’m wearing as I type this: 2
Number of working boilers in my house at the moment: 0
Number of warm hands and feet: 0
Number of happy thoughts: 0
Last night I joked about it, tonight I did it: I ran the new washing machine on its hottest cycle and leant up against it for warmth. And that’s all I want to say about that.
For many people, whole fish represents some sort of culinary final frontier. Some people refuse to buy or order it “because of the eyes” (!). Others find it hard to take home a meal that resembles almost exactly the beast it used to be in life. And yet others are just plain nervous about how they are going to cook it. Happily, I don’t fall into any of these categories and recently I find that we’ve been buying whole fish more often. You get more fish for your money, which appeals to Nick 😉 One way of treating them is to fillet them (not that hard but takes practice so as not to waste too much meat), but I prefer to cook them whole: skin, eyes and all! Cooking a whole fish is so childishly simple and yet bringing it to the table always elicits compliments. Guests seem to think you’ve done something truly amazing by cooking a whole beastie from the deep!
Tilapia is not really a fish I grew up with. In South Africa in the 1970s when I was a kid, fresh fish was either hake (if you weren’t particularly wealthy); snoek (if you lived in Cape Town); or kingklip or sole (of you were wealthy). Tuna was something you got in a tin, as were pilchards. And although my horizons did broaden beyond the fish of my childhood, I don’t think I tried tilapia until I came to London. So although the rest of the world might have been munching away on them for decades, tilapia are still a novelty to me.
Tilapia form part of the cichlid family of fish, grow to about 10-30cm in length, and are prized for their firm, sweet flesh. Here are some things that I’ll bet you didn’t know about them:
- they can live both in fresh and brackish water;
- the name tilapia is a Latinisation of thiape, the Tswana word for fish;
- they are ideally suited to aquaculture because of their adaptability, but the water temperature where they live has to be heated to tropical temperatures. One way that this is done is by uising waste heat from power stations and factories;
- unusually, adult tilapias care for their young, sometimes by gathering them in the parent’s mouth for safekeeping (called mouth brooding); and
- tilapia were introduced in Kenya to control the mosquito population, as they consume mosquito larvae.
I was particularly pleased to read the bit about aquaculture, as this means that tilapia are sustainable and I can enjoy them more often – hurrah!
This recipe is incredibly simple and relies mainly on the tilapia’s sweet flesh and the classic combination of garlic, parsley and lemon. Flat leaf or Italian parsley is thought by some to have a better flavour than its curly cousin – and this is borne out by chemical analysis, which has shown that it contains a higher concentration of essential oil. It is also able to withstand heat better and retain its flavour – so it’s perfect for this dish. I served mine with celeriac remoulade but the choice is yours: roasted geen beans; roasted cherry tomatoes; sweet potato fries – or whatever takes your fancy.
WHOLE BAKED TILAPIA WITH FLAT-LEAF PARSLEY AND GARLIC (serves 2)
2 whole tilapia, cleaned
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
30g butter, softened
a large handful of flat-leaf parsley (stalks and all)
1 Tbsp lemon juice
salt and pepper
Pre-heat the oven to 200C. Prepare two squares of aluminium foil large enough to completely weap each fish and spray with a little olive oil on the shiny side.
Mix together the softened butter, garlic and lemon juice.
Rinse and pat the fish dry, including inside the body cavity. Lay each fish in the centre of its piece of aluminium foil, on the shiny side.
Season with salt and pepper inside the body cavity, then spread half the butter inside each fish. Lay the onions on top of the butter inside each fish’s body cavity and top the onions with a flat-leaf parsley. Make 2 slashes in the skin on the top surface of each fish.
Sprinkle the skin of the fish with salt and wrap each fish in its foil parcel. Place on a baking sheet in the pre-heated oven for 20-30 minutes or until the fish is just cooked. Carefully open each parcel (be careful not to lose the juices!) and place under the grill for a further 5 minutes to brown a little before serving.