Thai Tilapia vs Coconut Crusted Tilapia

Imagine my surprise... called out in my own house. I was just minding my own business on a Sunday evening when it was noted we had 4 tilapia steaks. He casually said we should find 2 recipes, I cook half of the fish one way and he would do another. I'm not quite sure how it happened but the next thing I know we're in opposite corner's of the living room, hunkered over our laptops, glaring at one another. The Iron Chef battle was on.

The staple fish of my life has been sardines, codfish, and salmon. When my mom is feeling lovey-dovey- she will make my favorite: red snapper covered in onions. It's a very simple recipe like all the food my family makes. This white fish threw me off guard. It's very bland and I loath the idea of butter. We had tried fish tacos the other night and that recipe was plain as dry wall. Yuck. That route was closed off.

I went for something we both like: coconut. Fish coated in light, coconut flakes with a touch of lime and then fried. It wasn't overpowering but you could taste the sweetness. My recipe called for an apricot sauce but I didn't have any jam so I threw in some sweet chili sauce from the bottle, like the one for egg rolls.

His family is Cambodian. It's a different food profile but it has one thing in common with my family's: spice. We all love heat. His recipe stole the show. I hate to say that but it's true. Don't get me wrong-- I love coconut. When it comes to my meals though- spice is king.

What a coincidence- his sister had given me thai pepper plant as a gift that same weekend (thank you Tita). I smell a set up!! *cough cough My brother was the judge and he put it best.... they're two very different flavors. Both are delicious and he would make either in his own home. The texture of the coconut was awesome but the flavor of the thai was superior. Like I said, that's our palette.

Pick the one that works for you. Note, our fish was adapted from the recipes. We didn't run out to the grocery store- we used what we had in the house so don't stress if you don't have enough basil or something.

Thai Tilapia
adapted from Asian Food Recipes

4 tablespoons flour, mixed with a pinch of salt and white pepper oil for deep-frying
1 tablespoon oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 thai red chillies, sliced
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon white pepper
10 basil leaves
4 stalks of asparagus (optional)

To make the Hot Basil and Chilli Sauce, heat the oil in a wok or saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and chillies and stir-fry for about 1 minute until fragrant. Add the sugar, oyster sauce, fish sauce, soy sauce and pepper, asparagus (optional) and stir-fry for a further minute. Finally add the basil leaves, mix well and quickly remove from heat. Set aside.

Clean the fish... rinse well in cold water.

Dip the fish in the flour mixture to coat thoroughly. Heat the oil in a wok over high heat. Deep-fry the fish for 3 to 5 minutes until golden brown and crispy. Remove and drain the excess oil on paper towels. Place on a serving platter.

Pour the Hot Basil and Chilli Sauce over the deep-fried fish and serve immediately.

Coconut Tilapia
adapted from All Recipes

1/2 cup lime juice (optional)
1/2 cup flaked coconut, finely chopped (sweetened or unsweetened, your call)
1 tablespoons flour
1/2 tablespoon Creole seasoning (I didn't have this so made a quick mix based on this list)
2 fillets tilapia
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 egg

I poured lime juice in a ziplock bag and let the tilapia soak it in while I prepared everything else.

Toss together the coconut, flour and Creole seasoning in a bowl. In a separate bowl, toss the tilapia with the cornstarch, and shake off the excess. Pour the egg substitute into a separate bowl, and dip the fillets in the egg. Press fillets in the coconut mixture coating all sides.

Heat canola oil in a frying pan to a temperature of about 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Fry fillets one or two at a time on both sides until golden brown. Remove to drain on a paper towel.