Thursday, November 7, 2013

Pan Grilled Tilapia or Salmon with Pineapple Salsa

Closeup of Salsa on Fish
Colorful and Healthful

Recipe adapted from

As we look towards the treat- and comfort food-laden holidays, it’s good calorie economics to eat more lightly in the meantime. And so I offer this recipe with light, inexpensive, and sustainably farmed tilapia. The original recipe, no longer available at, called for salmon, higher in calories but filled with healthful omega 3 oils. It’s the tail end of salmon season in the Bay Area, so I’ve included a salmon cooking variation at the end. With its higher oil content, salmon browns more readily, but tilapia browns up just as deliciously using a method I derived from my dad.  Atlantic or Pacific cod, lingcod (plentiful right now), and line-caught black rockfish are sustainable white fish that can be prepared like tilapia.

Three Pieces of Grilled Tilapia in Pan
Pan Grilled to Perfection
Dad’s method of cooking fish was to flour it and fry it in butter, and I’ve adapted his technique to use just a small amount of flour and oil. This method will brown any lowfat fish fillet, whether thick or thin. After dredging the fish in the flour mixture, shake off excess so just a thin layer clings. Then flop the fish directly into the heated oil. When all of the fillets are in the pan, tilt the pan around to ensure the oil is distributed evenly. Don’t skip the salt in the flour mixture, as it provides flavor contrast with the sweet-sour-spicy salsa.

Bowl of Pineapple Tomato Salsa Topped with Cilantro
Easy and Delicious Salsa
Canned crushed pineapple is economical and convenient in this recipe, but fresh chopped Maui pineapple makes the salsa even better. So feel free to substitute. The amount of tomatoes and cilantro can be varied, and other flavorings adjusted to taste. Variations are endless, so if you have another favorite pineapple salsa recipe, please share it in a comment. Mahalo!

Plate of fish and Bowl of salsa
Serve Salsa on the Side
Pan Grilled Tilapia with Pineapple Salsa
serves 4

1 – 14 oz. can crushed pineapple, or 1¼ cup chopped fresh pineapple
¾ cup chopped tomatoes (~3 small)
2 tbsp. minced red onion
3 – 4 tbsp. coarsely chopped cilantro
2 tsp. lime juice
1½ tsp. rice vinegar
2 pinches cayenne pepper
1½ lbs. tilapia fillets
¼ cup unbleached flour
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. dried oregano
¼ tsp. dried thyme
¼ tsp. dried marjoram
1 – 2 tbsp. sunflower or other high heat oil
optional garnish: cilantro

Prepare salsa:
Drain pineapple if using canned. Stir chopped tomatoes, red onion, and cilantro into drained pineapple. Add lime juice, rice vinegar, and cayenne pepper. Stir well and set aside.

Prepare tilapia or cod:
Mix together flour, salt, oregano, thyme, and marjoram on dinner plate.

Heat electric skillet to 350 degrees, or regular skillet over medium high. When hot, add 1 tbsp. sunflower oil and distribute evenly over bottom of pan.

Dredge tilapia fillet in flour mixture, shake off, and place immediately in hot oil. Repeat with other fillets.

Tilt pan to distribute oil evenly. You should hear sizzling noises. If not, add another ½ tbsp. oil and tilt pan to distribute evenly.

When fish starts getting opaque in both thick and thin spots, slide wide spatula below fish and flip. This will be about 5 minutes for a ½ lb. fillet (3 fillets total).

Cook second side of fish until fish is completely opaque and bottom slightly browned, another 3 – 4 minutes for ½ lb. fillets.

Remove to platter without flipping. The first side cooked will always look more appealing. Cut into serving sizes if desired.

Serve fish with salsa and garnish with extra cilantro.

To pan-grill salmon fillets:
Salmon doesn’t require flour to brown or herbs for flavor. Heat skillet over medium high heat (350 degrees F for electric skillet). Add a scant tablespoon of sunflower or other high heat oil and distribute evenly over bottom of pan.

Sprinkle fillets with salt, recommends ½ tsp. for 4 six-oz. fillets. I’d use a bit less.

Flop fillets into pan and flip when they start to get opaque. recommends cooking 4 minutes on each side (4 six-oz. fillets). Fish is done when it flakes easily. 

Plate of Fish topped with salsa
Bright Dinner for a Dark Evening

1 comment:

  1. This is akin to a pickled papaya I once tried in the Philippines. I love them both on fish.