Cooking With Dee: Pan-Fried Tilapia with Cilantro Lime Rice and Avocado

I’ve been doing a lot of cooking the past year or so. Mo got a pretty tough job that leaves her without a lot of time and certainly without a lot of energy, and, as has long been established at this point, I argue with my keyboard for a living. It was destiny that I become a cook. I’ve gotten to the point where I have about two weeks’ worth of dinners I can prepare perfectly, and the ability to improv pretty well.

Some time ago, I gave a Twitter mutual a recipe for Mo’s favorite meal, an orzo and chicken with modified tapenade. For that recipe, I went and actually figured out the appropriate measurements for what I was doing, so it was a legible recipe. This, I’m afraid, was rather dishonest of me. I am not a very organized cook. The people who taught me my initial philosophy of cooking, or whatever, were not the sorts of people to use measurements, or lay things out, or consult any instructions whatsoever.

For the following recipe, I have decided to do it in two parts. One will be how I actually cooked it, with all the flights of fancy and the stupid techniques I use instead of timers and measurements. The second will be me attempting to construct an actual recipe out of the chaos. I hope you’re ready for (the first????) Cooking With Dee:

Pan-Fried Tilapia and Cilantro Lime Rice, With Avocado

Before you do anything else, get everything ready.

In my case, this meant preparing the flour dredge for the tilapia so I could fry easier. Get a generous amount of flour, enough to coat the fish. Add a couple of spoons of cornstarch, and season generously. I used a spice mix, but here, I’ll list all the stuff I think was in there (they never include all the ingredients because of their bastardy): garlic powder, onion powder, paprika (lots), MSG, celery (ground seeds, one assumes). I also added extra cumin on a lark.

Mix well, taking care especially to make sure the cornstarch is well-incorporated. Spread over a plate so the fish can be dredged through it immediately prior to frying.

You could probably also do an egg bath and flour dredge for Extremely Fried tilapia, but just the flour dredge gives it a nice crust and browns to give it that good browned flavor. There’s an actual name for this: the Maillard Reaction. That’s pretty cool. I was thinking about it while I fried the fish.
If you’re using fresh cilantro, now is the time to chop it.

Prepare the rice.

I used short-grain rice because I don’t know how to cook long-grain rice without utterly fucking it up. You probably should not do this. The amount of stirring required to get all the ingredients incorporated fucks with the starches and gives the rice a pronounced weird, starchy flavor. This can be covered for by adding more seasoning, though.

At any rate: for both Mo and I, I made half a cup of short-grain rice. Wash it until the water is clear; don’t skimp on this step or the flavor of the rice will be even weirder. Short-grain rice cooks with a one-to-one rice-to-water ratio. Don’t fuck with this ratio or your rice will implode into goo or dry into shotgun pellets.

Add seasoning and a small amount of olive oil to the rice and water. I used salt, pepper, and cumin. Be decently generous with your seasoning. Stir pretty good so the oil is as well-distributed as one can hope for when dealing with water and oil.

Cook until boiling, stir it once, (this helps keep it from sticking to the bottom of the pan, and I haven’t noticed an appreciable change in texture or stickiness if you only stir as it has started to boil) then simmer on low until the rice is mostly tender.

Once the rice is mostly tender, add your cilantro and lime.

I had some mostly-dried cilantro in a jar in my fridge, because bundles of fresh cilantro go bad faster than I can cook them. The instructions said to add about a tablespoon per two tablespoons desired. I don’t know about all that. I grabbed a bunch of it in my fingers and threw it in there. Visually, I made sure it was just a little less than I’d have wanted to see in the final product, giving the partially-dried cilantro room to rejuvenate. You want the amount of leaf in there to be pretty dense, but clearly not the main ingredient, if that makes sense. The cilantro will turn the rice a very light, spring green color.

There’s no taste difference that I noticed between this partially-dried cilantro and fresh cilantro leaves; however, there were no stems, and the stems of cilantro have a very strong taste and interesting texture. I think they maintain their color better as well.

As for the lime, add about two tablespoons. You should probably squeeze your own fresh limes. I’ve got Shitty Nerves and Bones Disease, though, so I use bottled lime juice. The lime shouldn’t overpower the cilantro. Put in about a teaspoon of olive oil, for taste.

Put the lid back on the rice and put it back on to finish cooking all the way. I turned off the simmer and just relied on the residual heat of the pan and burner to maintain the steam.

Next, the tilapia.

I used four fillets. I have a lot of frozen tilapia and not a lot of room in my freezer so I wanted to use a lot. Ensure they are entirely thawed and not enormously cold when you begin to cook with them or they’ll mess up the temperature of your oil.

Add enough olive oil to a skillet to generously coat the bottom. You don’t have to add a whole lot, but you wanna ensure that pan doesn’t go dry, or everything will start to smoke and be gross. Olive oil has a pretty low smoke point, but I like the taste and it’s better for you than vegetable oil. I could probably use avocado oil, but who knows how that tastes, and I’ve only just now started to get Mo to like avocados in the first place. Maybe one day.

Ensure your oil is hot before you add the fish. I hold my hand over the pan, about five-ish inches above, and see how long I can hold it there. If it isn’t uncomfortable to do so for more than like a second, the oil isn’t hot enough. If it is smoking, you have gone too far. If it is on fire, you have gone past the point of no return. Remember not to put water on oil fires.

Fry the fish two at at time; overcrowding the pan will mess up the crust. Cook about four minutes per side, a lil less if they’re small, a lil more if they’re big. They’ll be opaque and a little bit curled up at the edges when they’re ready to flip. If they weren’t covered in flour, you could also tell by the opacity and whiteness of the meaty part, but alas. Place on a paper towel-lined plate to drain a bit while you finish up.

Prepare the bowls.

First put in the rice. After all this time, it should be done. If it is not done, you will have to crunch them. Check for seasoning. At this point it’s a little late for cilantro, but adding more lime won’t hurt it, nor will adding salt.

Next, put in the tilapia. I arranged it to one side, but honestly you’re gonna mix everything up anyway so you don’t like have to do this.

Slice your avocado.

Cut a small avocado in half. Get that pit outta there, then cut the avocado, still in the peel, into cubes with the end of a very sharp knife. Try not to cut yourself. If you do the peel will protect your avocado from the blood, but it is not fun.

Scoop the pre-cubed avocado out of the peel with a large spoon, into the bowls of rice, opposite the fried tilapia. Sprinkle with lime juice to make sure the avocados don’t brown. Also it tastes good. Season generously; I used the same mix as went into the flour dredge for the fish.

Into the space between the fillets and the avocado, put a dollop of sour cream. Put some sriracha over the tilapia. Sriracha isn’t southwestern or Latin or whatever but it is good.

Now you are done!

Pretty chaotic. Let me try to divine a method from this madness:

1/2 cup of rice (long grain preferred, but any rice will work)
1/4 cup fresh chopped cilantro
3 tablespoons of lime juice
2 teaspoons, 2 tablespoons of olive oil
1/2 cup flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
4 tilapia fillets, near room temperature
1 small avocado
Sour cream and sriracha for garnish
Southwestern seasoning to taste

  1. On a large plate, combine the flour, cornstarch, and a generous amount of seasoning. Set aside for dredging.
  2. Prepare the rice per instructions, seasoning generously and adding 1 teaspoon of olive oil to the water. Just before it is done, add the cilantro and lime juice, stirring to incorporate. Return to simmer to finish cooking.
  3. Meanwhile, salt and pepper the tilapia fillets on either side. Once you have added the cilantro to the rice, dredge two of the tilapia fillets well in the flour mixture, being sure to tap off excess flour.
  4. Fry, cooking both sides 3 to 4 minutes each. Set aside on a paper-towel lined plate.
  5. Divide the rice into two bowls. Place the tilapia fillets on the bed of rice. Divide a small avocado in half, and cut into bite-sized cubes. Place alongside the tilapia fillets. Sprinkle with lime juice and more seasoning to taste.
  6. Garnish with sour cream and sriracha.

Serve very hot.

For my mutual.

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