Making the fish could hardly be easier or quicker: you brush some tilapia fillets with olive oil, then rub with ground spices of your choice. (The oil adds flavor and helps the spices to adhere and form the dark crust that is characteristic of this dish.) There are lots of recipes for the spice rub online, just google ‘blackened fish’. Tonight I used a combination of paprika, white pepper, cayenne, garlic powder, salt and a bit of cumin. (If using, go easy on the cumin–a little goes a long way.) You then get a lightly oiled cast iron or other heavy non-stick pan smoking hot (literally), then add the fillets, letting a dark crust form on one side and then the other. (Do not move the fillets during this operation except to flip them over once, otherwise you will prevent a nice crust from forming and may break up the delicate flesh of the fillets.) Serve over green salad dressed with oil and vinegar, or oil and lemon (see below) and, if you like, garnish with cherry tomatoes. The whole dish takes around 15 minutes to make!
We like tilapia in our house, but you can really use just about any kind of fish fillets you like, although I imagine a white-fleshed fish would do best and suspect that, by contrast, an oily fish like mackerel would not work very well (although salmon is quite good cooked this way).
NOTE: Although this post was not supposed to be about Italian food, I can’t resist a few words about making salad in the Italian manner, which can be nicely summed up by the following proverb:
A ben condire l’insalata, ci vuole un avaro per l’aceto, un giusto per il sale e uno strambo per l’olio.
Which, loosely translated, means: “to properly dress a salad, you need a miser to add the vinegar, a judge to add the salt and a spendthrift to add the oil.” In other words, there are only three ingredients for dressing the salad and the proportions are as indicated–very little vinegar, the ‘right’ amount of salt (not too much, not too little) and a generous amount of oil. The taste of the oil, in fact, should dominate, not–as is usually the case for oil-and-vinegar dressings in the States but also (albeit to a lesser extent) in a French vinaigrette–the vinegar. Of course, this means that a fruity extra-virgin olive oil is essential.
The other thing that sets the Italian approach apart is that the dressing does not exist separately from the salad itself. You don’t make the dressing in a bowl (as for a vinaigrette) you add the three ingredients, seriatum, to the greens, tossing after each addition. I usually start with the oil, then the vinegar and then finally the salt. Then taste and adjust for balance. (I’m not sure, however, if there are any hard and fast rules about the order.)
Once dressed, serve the salad immediately, as it will begin to wilt almost immediately–unless, of course, you are using iceberg lettuce, but the less said on that subject, the better. The most popular mix for salads in Italy is called (in Rome at least) misticanza. It’s quite similar to the mixed baby greens you can buy here in States. Salads of arugula only (called rughetta in Rome, rucola in standard Italian) are also quite popular, and often serve as a bed for sliced steak (tagliata di manzo) as featured in my Italian cookout post.–it’s a fabulous combination.