A little background on myself is probably due at this point, which may give some insight as to why I started this blog in the first place. I was born in the gorgeous state of Arizona, and spent the first good portion of my childhood there split between Chandler (during its own growing pains) and Flagstaff, my beloved mountain top getaway. It the town where I also went to college at Northern Arizona University (Go Lumberjacks!) and got a degree in Hotel & Restaurant Management. But for the better part of my life, I have lived right here in the criminally underrated Seattle Washington. When I graduated college in the spring of 2009, the world was in the beginning stages of financial panic, so hiring was at an all time low. After much thought, I decided that I would head back home to Seattle and try my luck job hunting in the real world. My parent were wonderful in motivating me to keep looking even when things looked bleak. They gave me shelter and fed me and eventually I would find a door with which I could jam my foot into. I had been forced to abandon my intended career in the restaurant and hospitality industry, and start from the bottom in a law firm mail room. It has been 3 years since I started at the firm and I am now a Corporate Services Manager there. Moving up has left me bored and over stressed, and while some days I enjoy the challenges, it has begun to suck my will to live (cue overly dramatic music!).
Okay, so it hasn’t been quite that bad, but it has created a yearning for something more in my life. I’m 25 years old as of two weeks ago, and I don’t want to succumb to a corporate life just yet. I needed an outlet of some sort with which to explore my passions for cooking and traveling the world. Spurred on by my folks and girlfriend, I decided that I would start a food blog. Finally.
Enter: Cured By Bacon
In the brainstorming for this blog I came up with endless ideas I wanted to explore on here, not strictly recipes but experiences as well. What the future holds is anyone’s guess, but I am excited where things are finally heading, and I am surrounded by the right people, who I am so thankful for. I am finally being me. All of this introspection led me to think about whats comforting to me (food obviously) and as my mind raced, I thought about what I am looking forward to the most.
Seattle is beautiful, especially in the summer. But this time of year, like many other northern cities, its a struggle to live without much daylight and warmth. As I backtracked in my memory banks to sunny days and summertime feasts, it became obvious that clean, bright and healthy would be the next meal I desired. At some point, comforting fall soups and dishes become too much, and you need to reintroduce bright fresh flavors to break up the monotony. I was determined to relocate the summer vibe in my kitchen!
One of my favorite healthy proteins is fish, and while Salmon is my usual go to aquatic species, I was really craving a light white flesh swimmer. But being on a budget after Christmas, there would be no Halibut or even Cod for me yet.
Good thing Tilapia is do damn tasty and cheap then! I got 3 fillets from my local fish monger (read: Safeway. what do you expect, its a weeknight!) for just $3.70!
Asparagus happens to be my Veg of choice to pair with fish so that was the natural accompaniment in my head for this dish.
But how to cook it all? hmmm. This is where the story of my life comes back into play. I can recall two specific fish preparations that my parents made frequently, that I absolutely adored. Cedar Plank Salmon from my pops, and Lemon Caper Rainbow Trout from my mom. The salmon was more of a special event dish, and the trout was a perfect blend of my parents talents and contributions. My dad would go out fly fishing and bring back a giant zip-lock bag full of fresh caught, cleaned and gutted trout, both brook and rainbow. These unassuming little speckled fish have a wonderful flavor all their own, and my mothers lemon caper preparation is total comfort food territory for me.
One main reason, however, is that she also coats them in Wondra and frys them in butter!!
This evening I wanted a toned down lighter version, that would still due justice to those memories and that dish. Stress from my day job lately has caused a lot of old comfort food cravings to creep back into my daily life, but the needs to reconfigure them to my healthier lifestyle has led to many dishes such as the one I made for this post.
I present: Lemon Caper Poached Tilapia with a Panko Dusted Asparagus.
I would say “You wont even miss the butter!”, but lets be real here folks, you will always miss the butter. That being said, you wont even miss the butter!!!
In fact, I’m fairly confident that had I never had the butter fried version of the past, this could easily have slid into that comfort food slot it occupied. The bright flavors of fresh squeezed lemon juice and briny capers really accentuates the delicate flavors of the Tilapia.
As for the Asparagus, I felt that some crunch and texture would be nice against the tender stalks and flaky fish components of the dish. The Panko is enhanced with a a little toasting, as well as the addition of olive oil, garlic and fresh herbs.
Lets begin shall we?
- 2-3 fillets of fresh or thawed Tilapia( really any light white flaky fish will pair well here)
- 1 Bunch of Asparagus
- 1/2 cup of Panko (Japanese Breadcrumbs, if you are unable to locate them in your local grocery store, regular breadcrumbs will do just fine.)
- 4 Tbsp of Olive Oil
- 1 Lemon
- 1 Tbsp of Capers, plus a little of the brine
- 1 Tbsp of chopped fresh Garlic
- 1 Tbsp of chopped fresh Rosemary
- 1 Tbsp of chopped fresh Thyme
- 1 tsp of kosher salt
- 1 tsp of fresh cracked black pepper
First things first, lets get those pale white Panko breadcrumbs toasted and saturated with goodness. Put a medium sized frying pan over Medium heat with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. When the oil is more viscous and slides across the pan easily, go ahead and throw in the Thyme, Rosemary and Garlic and let them infuse the oil for a few minutes while stirring. Right when the Garlic is starting to take on some color, toss the 1/2 cup of Panko into the pan and mix the oil and herbs in thoroughly. The pan will appear fairly dry, but the oil saturated Panko will still toast without burning. Take a whiff now of that awesome garlicky herb-y smell rising up. NOW WHO’S HUNGRY?! sorry, moving on. keep the breadcrumbs moving around so that they all toast equally all over. After a few minutes is should look like this, and you may pull the pan off the oven to cool.
- Next step, prepare the Asparagus for its oven tanning bed nap by first preheating the oven to 375 degrees. Each stalk of Asparagus has a dry fibrous bottom (poor wording, sorry) that is essentially inedible. To find the breaking point back into fresh stalk, simply bend the bottom 3″ of a stalk until it shows its breaking point. With this template, go ahead and cut the rest of the stalks slightly above that breaking point. Put 1 tablespoon of olive oil on a baking sheet and toss the Asparagus making sure they are all coated then spread them out until flat. Sprinkle a pinch of salt and pepper over the oiled and spread out stalks and toss in the oven. Roasting times may vary so keep an eye of these bad boys after the 15 minute mark. Mine took about 20 minutes.
- While the Asparagus is being cooked alive, we can get working on the Tilapia fillets. In a large frying pan pour in the last 2 tablespoons of olive oil and bring it up to Medium High heat. Right before placing the Tilapia into the pan, sprinkle salt and fresh cracked pepper on the fillets. When the oil is heated, but not smoking, test the oil by tossing a few droplets of water into it. If it starts to sizzle, its time to slap those T-laps (new nickname) into the pan and cook untouched for 1 minute.
- Be proactive during that minute, roll your lemon on a hard surface a few times to help release the juice inside. Cut the lemon in half and juice the whole thing over the fish. Use a fork to twist the insides and really get all of that sweet sour nectar out. By this point, the fish should be living in a delicious lemony olive oil bath, slowly poaching. Go ahead and turn down the heat just slightly. Time to add your capers into the pool party (I added some of the caper juice to this poaching liquid as well). Hopefully you haven’t moved the fish around too much (thanks for saying something earlier, Nic). When the fish starts to go opaque around the edges growing into the center, VERY GENTLY flip the fillets over, using either a fish spatula or a wide pancake style spatula. With fish, its necessary to support the whole piece when flipping, as it has a tendency to break apart, especially when being cooked in this manner. Continue slowly poaching the fish for just a few minutes more, while also spooning the cooking liquid and capers over the fish to keep building that flavor. To check the fish, lightly push the backside of a fork into a corner of a fillet. If it gently flakes off, you may turn off the heat and begin plating.
- When plating, make sure to spoon the last bits of the concentrated lemon caper sauce back over the Tilapia. The Panko we made earlier should now be sprinkled over the Asparagus for the final layer of texture (and flavor).