Thursday, December 29, 2011

Best Of 2011: Beer Battered Tilapia

Good evening everyone! Tonight we're continuing our look back at 2011's best recipes with a visit to a very unique and delicious dish that wont impact your waistline. Beer battered tilapia fillets that were full of flavor and a lot of fun to make!


The Recipe: Beer Battered Tilapia
Original Recipe Found On:

What You'll Need:

2-4 X Tilapia Fillets
3 Tablespoons Whole Wheat Flour
2 Tablespoons All Purpose Flour
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cumin
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/8 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
1/2 Cup Beer*
4 Teaspoons Canola Oil (Divided Into 2 Teaspoon Sections)

-The batter creates enough to bread 4 fillets (If you're only cooking two fillets you will only need 2 teaspoons of canola oil)

*You're looking for a lager or pilsner for the beer in this section. The idea is to add moisture and flavor to the dish without weighing down the batter or overpowering the dish with an alcohol flavor. Skip the Guinness and other stouts and opt for something like Heineken - it's a light lager that will pack a lot of flavor without over burdening the batter. (Plus, you can drink the extra while you cook! Win-win!)

This dish originally calls for tilapia, which is ideal because it is a thin, flat cut of fish that tastes great with a breading. I had originally planned to use talapia in our version of the dish, only to find that my inventory of tilapia was not as full as I had originally thought. I opened our freezer last night to find we only had one tilapia fillet left. Needless to say, cooking one talapia fillet for two people really isn't much of an option. So, I had to improvise. Luckily, we had two cod fillets left in the freezer. Since cod and talapia are both white fish fillets, they can be substituted without much worry about flavors clashing. The only downside is that cod is much thicker and oddly shaped than talapia, which makes breaded the fillet (and cooking the breading evenly) much more of a challenge. Since I didn't pay close enough attention to our inventory - it's a challenge I'll have to take on. However, I'd strongly recommend using thin cut talapia fillets for this recipe, as it will greatly lower the cooking challenge.

Begin by combining the whole wheat flour, all purpose flour, cumin, cayenne, salt and beer in a medium bowl. Whisk together until all the lumps have been removed to create the batter. Be aware, the batter is going to react strangely at first, as all of the carbonation in the beer bubble up and reacts violently to the mixture. Just keep whisking and within 20 seconds or so, the batter will start to take shape.

The first method in creating a healthy batter that isn't full of high fat dough (or deep fried) is substituting some of the all purpose flour for whole wheat flour. The whole wheat flour changes the batter's flavor profile slightly, adding a more 'grain/wheat' flavor to the dough - similar to the flavor that is achieved by deep frying regular batter. This simple substitution allows for the flavor to stay - but a bad cooking method (deep frying) to be removed.

Next, cover your talapia pieces in the batter. Now, although the original recipe doesn't really specify how to create a great, even batter - they simply assume that telling someone to 'dip the fillet in batter' will result in a evenly coated delight that cooks with ease. Not so fast. I've been down this breading road many times before (especially with fish) and I'll be the first to tell you that you need to make certain steps first or else you'll be cursing out the frying pan and eating poorly breaded fish fillets for dinner.

First, make sure the talapia fillets are completely dry. Use a paper towel (or two) and soak up all the moisture you can before you even think about breading the fillets. Moisture creates a barrier between the fillet and the breading, meaning that once the heat comes into the equation, the breading wont seal to the fillet - rather it simply lets go and falls into the pan.

Secondly, don't just 'dip' the fillets in the batter. Take a few extra moments and carefully dredge the fillet through the batter (both sides) making sure to work the batter in the cracks and crevices on the fillet. Once properly dredged through the batter, allow the fillet to drip off excess batter and (ideally) put the breaded fillet directly into a prepared skillet.

Speaking of a prepared skillet - you can prepare your own skillet by adding 2 teaspoons of canola oil to a large, non stick skillet and bringing it to a shimmering point on medium high heat.

Some breading recipes will tell you to bring the canola oil to a light smoke. I tend to shy away from this due to the nature of canola oil. Canola oil has a very high smoke point, which is why it's ideal for browning / frying fish. It can become very hot without smoking the fish out of the pan. Ideally to create a nice browned fillet, you would want your oil slightly smoking (as that indicates it is at its highest heat). I've found (through trial and error) than bringing canola oil to a smoke point just makes the cooking a little too fast for my liking. The oil is too hot and it forces you to cook at a faster pace than necessary in order to prevent the fillet from burning. Instead, I've found that bringing the canola oil to a shimmering point and simply adding a minute or two to the cook time has resulted in a more evenly cooked, less stressful fillet 99% of the time.

Once your oil is shimmering, add the fillets to the skillet (two at a time) and cook 4 minutes per side or until the breading is crispy and golden. If you're cooking more than two fillets, transfer the finished fillets to a plate loosely tented with aluminum foil and set aside. Add another 2 teaspoons of canola oil to the skillet, heat until shimmering and repeat the process. If you're only cooking two fillets - congratulations! You're done! Serve with tartar sauce (or 'naked' as it has a great flavor on its own) and enjoy!

The Results:

Sometimes the healthy version of a classically 'unhealthy' recipe is hard to create. The flavors don't quite match up or the dish just fails to compare to the fat laden original dish. Thankfully, tonight's dish earns a 'very close' rating when compared to the original dish. While you're never going to be able to recreate a breading that tastes 100% like deep fried batter without...well...deep frying, this batter comes very close to the original. It has a great 'beer batter' flavor without all the calories. Clocking in at 230 calories per fillet - this healthy dish is a great addition to any family's evening menu!


That's all we have for you tonight. We're continuing our best of 2011 flashback with another revisit tomorrow night. Until then, 

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