This scary-ass thing is a roasted whole tilapia.
Yup. Terrifying. But tasty.
We bought our house about a year ago, and it turns out there’s a big Latino community around the area. That means bomb Mexican, Colombian, and Salvadoran restaurants all over the place. Plus, the most badass grocery store ever.
It’s just a Price Chopper, nothing special about the chain. But this location has bins of dried chiles. Epazote. Hot tortillas. Chicken feet.
Whole fish. Heads, tails, fins. Eyes. Whole tilapia. Whole buffalo. Huge river catfish, and banana leaves to wrap them for the grill.
I’ve been broadening my culinary comfort zone slowly but steadily, but I’ve waited almost a year to try the fish. I was excited to see them, but intimidated to use them. They had eyes. They were looking at me. My potential food was looking at me.
The American Cultural Norms part of me doesn’t like my food looking at me. Ol’ Normie prefers a shallow doublethink fiction in which fish filets materialize in between sterile polystyrene trays and a layer of stretch wrap.
I conquered Ol’ Normie by appealing to my predator self. Look at me, food. I’m coming for you. You are going to be inside me.
Yes. Deep, deep inside me.
WHOLE FISH: MORE SUSTAINABLE?
I don’t have specific research here in front of me, but I’m going out on a limb here and just saying whole fish are a more sustainable food than fish filets.
There’s less packaging. A shorter chain of steps in between living animal and food on your plate. More individual control over waste. (I’m gonna use the bones to make stock! : D)
There’s also a demand to respect the fish.
Even though this demand is the least tangible element in measuring sustainability, it’s incredibly important. This fish was alive, and it was killed so that I could eat it, and the very least I can do is recognize that damn fact. Pretending that a fish only ever existed as a filet is not only disingenuous, it’s also dangerous; I’m training my brain to ignore facts in favor of a self-serving narrative.
I’m not going to let a fuzzy orange man-baby do that to me, and I’m not going to do it to myself.
You can quote me on that. (Please, please quote me on that. With zero context.)
TIME TO ROAST A WHOLE TILAPIA!
I really did nothing here, guys.
I bought the tilapia. It was already gutted and scaled. I gave it some slashes on each side with my trusty 8-inch chef’s knife.
I mixed soy sauce, molasses, and sriracha until I thought it tasted pretty damn good. There might have been some Chinese 5-spice powder in there as well.
I spread that sauce all over the fish, and I threw that shit into a 450° oven.
Then I waited. Maybe twenty minutes or so. While I waited, I consulted the Serious Eats Guide to Roasting a Whole Fish.
When I tried to turn the fish over and the tail fell off, I figured it was probably done. My thermometer concurred; it registered 135° when I stuck it in the thickest part of the fish.
At this point, I should have consulted the Serious Eats Guide to Carving a Whole Fish. Instead, I just decided to mangle the poor beast like I’m Ash and the tilapia is a Deadite.
Thankfully, a hack presentation job doesn’t affect flavor, and this tasted damn good. I served it over couscous, with some more of the soy/molasses/sriracha/5-spice sauce, and a roasted sweet potato rutabaga confetti on the side.
Look your food in the eye as often as you can. That should be a food right.
- 1 whole tilapia, with head and tail, scaled
- 1/4 cup molasses
- 1/4 cup sriracha
- 1/4 tsp Chinese 5 Spice Powder
- Preheat the oven to 400°.
- Mix the molasses, sriracha, and spice powder together. Split it equally into two small bowls: 1 for cooking and 1 for serving.
- Dry the fish with paper towels.
- Cover a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil or parchment paper, if you wish; this can make cleanup much easier. Set the fish on the baking sheet. Slather the fish with the sauce from 1 bowl. Baste it well all over, inside and out, and put in the oven.
- Cook for 20 minutes, or until the flesh flakes easily with a fork. Let rest for 5 minutes before serving. The Serious Eats Guide to Carving A Whole Fish can help you out here: http://www.seriouseats.com/2014/07/technique-how-to-carve-whole-cooked-fish.html