Fork in the Road: Just skip the sauce and shallot-tomato topping, and it’s an easy gateway fish dinner.
Serves 4 to 6, assuming some people will have 1 piece, some 2
What the Kids Can Do
Make the cornmeal mixture, dredge the fish, and slice the tomatoes with an age-appropriate knife.
Not much, but you can certainly prep the ingredients a day or so ahead of time, and prepare the cornmeal mixture and keep it in a sealed container for a few days.
The first time I made this for dinner, Charlie put down his fork, looked at me, and said, “Congratulations, Mom. You’ve finally found a way to make fish taste like chicken.” Stop, stop, you’re embarrassing me. But it’s true: There’s a very good chance that kids who don’t think they like fish will like this fish prepared in this way.
The ease of making this fish recipe cannot be overstated, and tilapia is possibly one of the most available, sustainable, inexpensive, and unthreatening fish out there, so it’s a star on many levels.
1 cup cornmeal
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
Kosher or coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 fillets tilapia (8 ounces each)
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 shallots, thinly sliced
2 ripe tomatoes, seeded and diced
1/2 cup chicken broth, preferably low-sodium
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard, coarse or smooth
1. Combine the cornmeal, paprika, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in a shallow bowl. Cut each fillet down the middle (you will see a dividing line). Dredge each piece in the cornmeal mixture, making sure each piece is completely coated. Set aside.
2. Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shallots and cook until soft and golden, 5 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Let cook until heated through, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and set aside. Wipe out the pan.
3. Add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil to the skillet and heat over medium-high heat. Place half the coated fillets in the pan, making sure they are not touching. Cook until each side is golden brown, and the fish is cooked through, 5 to 8 minutes in total, depending on the thickness of each piece (when you cut them in half you’ll see one side is thinner than the other). Transfer the fish to a plate and tent the plate with aluminum foil to keep the pieces warm. Wipe out any dallying crumbs from the skillet, add the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, and cook the remaining fish, transferring it all to the plate as it is finished cooking.
4. When you’re finished cooking the fish, keep the pan over the heat and add the chicken broth, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. When the broth begins to simmer, whisk in the mustard.
5. Serve the fish with mustard sauce drizzled over each piece and a scoop of the tomato-shallot mixture, or see the Fork in the Road and serve some of the pieces plain.
Simple Cornmeal-Crusted Tilapia
This one’s quite easy: Skip the sauce or skip the tomato mixture, or skip both, and your kids (or whoever is not interested in the adornments) can enjoy a piece of simply prepared fish while you enjoy a restaurant-esque, interesting meal.
(Recipe from “Dinner Solved!: 100 Ingenious Recipes That Make the Whole Family Happy, Including You!” by Katie Workman, Workman Publishing Company, 2015, $17.95)