Thursday, February 25, 2010

Bitten by Bittman

It was bound to happen. My love affair with Mark Bittman was destined to end at some point.

I could accept the fact that I was only one of many Bittman lovers out there. I didn't even mind that his recipes often don't specify exact measurements. But when he bashed Tilapia, I had to step back and reconsider our relationship.

Here's what happened. Yesterday, on a whim, I purchased two Tilapia filets at United Meat Market, the excellent Windsor Terrace butcher, with no specific plans about what to do with them. (If you haven't been there, by the way, you need to high tail it over to the market, which has been operating since the early 80s and is a real slice of 'old Brooklyn.').

I assumed that Mark Bittman would have an idea of how I should cook my Tilapia. But when I checked my well-worn copy of Bittman's Bible How to Cook Everything, I was shocked and disappointed. Not only does Bittman not feature any Tilapia recipes, but he's got a paragraph (highlighted in red, no less) about "Why I'm not Crazy About Tilapia."

Bittman writes:

Framed tilapia has become extremely popular and readily available over the last few years, in large part becasue it's so easy to raise. (You, personally, could probably dig a hole in the ground, fill it with water, and become a tilapia farmer tomorrow.) But I'm not taking the bait. To me, tilapia is bland tasting (or worse: muddy) with a mealy texture that disintegrates into shreds within a few minutes of cooking. If you disagree, by all means use it in any of the recipes that call for thin fish fillets.

Pretty harsh, if you ask me. And to be honest, I don't think I have it in me to farm my own tilapia in a ditch in our backyard.

Determined to show Bittman that tilapia can be tasty, I came up with my own recipe:

1. Roast Brussels Sprouts and garlic (with olive oil, salt and pepper) at 450 degrees.

2. Coat Tilapia fillets with sesame oil, salt and pepper, soy sauce, and sesame seeds and toss on the pan with the Brussels Sprouts.

After about 10 minutes, take them out.

That's it! Once the Brussels Sprouts are done (about 35 minutes later), serve with the Tilapia and couscous. Or you can time it better so that the Tilapia is done at the same time as the sprouts, but I couldn't get it together.

Roasting is my new favorite way of cooking. Put anything on a pan and coat with some sort of oil and salt and pepper and it tastes great -- even Tilapia.

For the record, Mr. Bittman, my Tilapia did not disintegrated into shreds within a few minutes of cooking (or at all), as you predicted.

"It's not as good as Chilean sea bass, but it's pretty yummy. And not at all muddy," said Avo.


Bernie Bernstein said...

It's Me, Mom - I have to agree with you and Avo. Dad and I love Tilapia. It's one of our staples. You can also use Panko to dredge the fish in and either pan saute or bake and it's delicious. So, Mark Bittman, go back to the drawing board (or kitchen) and cook up some wonderful Tilapia.

Muffy Sainte-Marie said...

I -sort of- have to agree with Bittman, I'm afraid. Not to be uber-politically correct, but tilapia is a farmed farms are getting better, apparently, you know where that tilapia came from? Industrial aquaculture is generally a nasty, unsustainable bit of business that creates similar problems to factory farming on land - antibiotics, sea lice, pollution, etc...check it:

Kathy N. said...

I like Tilapia, too. At the same time I am trying to become more aware of the political economy of the fish I eat---especially since fish is the only "animal" protein I eat! Can you add Bittman's snobby dismissal of Tilapia to the minefield of information that you have to process when you are learning to cook? One of the many pitfalls of becoming a foodie?

Undomesticated Me said...

Muffy has a point, but Bittman never raised political/ecological issues. For him, it is more of a taste issue.

BrooklynBorn said...

agreed I am a tilapia lover, and even though this is an old thread I had to weigh in. I have been a huge Mark Bittman fan and I too was crushed like the tilapia he bashed.

My method is very simple, cover in olive oil, salt, pepper (etc) and cover with fresh basil leaves. Wrap in foil at least overnight and fry cover. Delicious!