When I first published this recipe back in 2008, it was an "if you've never heard of tilapia, wait till you try it" type of thing. Which is silly now because everyone's heard of tilapia. It's one of the most popular fish, mainly because, paradoxically, it doesn't taste "fishy."
And its meaty flesh is firm and easy to cook in any number of ways, including, as in this case, sautéeing. Also, I read recently that some people don't like to cook fish at home, even though they like to eat fish because the smell tends to hang around afterward. Well, because tilapia is so mild, you don't have to worry about a fishy smell after you cook it.
And of course, there are the rest of the ingredients. When you think about it, bacon, capers baby tomatoes and caramelized red onions, with a splash of lemon juice, not to mention butter, will be great for pretty much anything. I mean you could make this exact recipe with chicken breasts instead of fish. Needless to say, it will also work with any firm, white fish such as halibut or cod or even catfish.
- 4 fresh tilapia fillets (about 4 oz. each)
- 2 strips bacon, diced
- 1 medium red onion, peeled and sliced
- 1 handful baby tomatoes (also called grape tomatoes), sliced
- 2 Tbsp capers
- Juice of 2 large lemons (1/3 to ½ cup lemon juice)
- ¼ cup flour
- 2 oz. unsalted butter (½ stick)
- 2 tablespoon vegetable oil
- Kosher salt, to taste
Slowly caramelize the onions in a pan with a bit of butter and oil. This will take between 20 and 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a cold sauté pan, slowly cook the bacon until most of the fat has turned liquid. The diced bacon should be golden brown but not too crispy. Transfer the bacon and fat to a heat-proof container and set aside.
Lightly dredge the tilapia fillets in flour and shake off any excess.
Now pour about half the bacon fat back into the sauté pan you cooked the bacon in. Bring the heat up until it starts to sizzle, then add the tilapia.
Cook the tilapia for 2-3 minutes, without moving it around the pan too much. Lower the heat if the pan starts to smoke.
Gently flip the fillets over and cook the other sides for another couple of minutes. The fish should be crispy and golden brown. Remove the fillets from the pan and set them aside.
Pour the rest of the bacon fat into the pan, then add the rest of the butter. When the butter foams, add the sliced tomatoes, the lemon juice, and the capers. Cook for a minute, then add the caramelized red onions and the diced bacon. When everything is nicely bubbling, return the tilapia to the pan and heat it through for about 30 seconds, then remove from heat.
Gently remove the fillets from the pan and plate them, topped generously with the bacon, onion and tomato mixture.