The most common tilapia on menus and ice at the grocer is Nile tilapia, Oreochromis niloticus. Increasingly common at meal time, under many circumstances tilapias are considered highly invasive. At invasivore.org, we recommend catching them yourself for this recipe, which calls for whole tilapia, not just fillets
1 whole tilapia, about 100-300g (~1/2lbs)
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup corn flour
After gutting and scaling the tilapia as with any fish, make two or three shallow cuts into the flanks of the fish running diagonally down from the base of the dorsal fin towards the belly of the fish (see picture for example). Sprinkle some salt into the cuts, and then lightly coat the tilapia in corn flour. Heat about ½ cm of oil in a frying pan at medium heat until it crackles when a small amount of water is dripped in.
Carefully place the fish into the oil. Fry for up to 10 minutes on the first side, carefully watching the heat, so as not to burn. Yes, this seems a very long time to fry a fish, until the outer layer of flesh is brown and crispy. While the fish is frying on the first side, dice the onion and tomato. Soon after turning the fish, slide the tomato and onion into the oil, alongside the fish and continue frying. Remove the fish from the oil when it is brown and crispy on the second side.
Continue to cook the tomato “soup” and add about ½ tbs salt. Stirring often with a wooden spoon, cook another 5 minutes, homogenizing the soup by gentle mashing. Pour the soup over the fish, and serve. Nshima and “rape”-the leaves of the canola oil plant, Brassica, also invasive in the US- make excellent accompaniments. Though in Zambian culture, it’s always the fish and vegetables that accompany the staple Nshima.
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