Professional chefs have long known brining meat and fish imparts wonderful layers of flavor and locks in moisture. Tilapia, a naturally lean fish that is somewhat bland and prone to drying out when cooked, benefits immensely from the flavor infusion of a brine. Tilapia's neutral flavor marries well with just about any brine seasonings, and unlike more dense meat and poultry, tilapia soaks up brining flavor fairly quickly, saving on overall prep time.
Brine: Worth its Weight in Salt
A basic brine is salt and water. Other ingredients might include a little sugar to balance the saltiness; a tiny bit of acid, like citrus juice or wine, to impart brightness of flavor and to tenderize the meat; and any array of herbs and spices you desire.
The Nuts and Bolts of Making Brine
Begin making your brine by separating a few cups of water from the larger quantity, whatever it is. Heat this smaller amount of water by either boiling or microwaving it. Dissolve the salt and sugar in the hot water. Be sure all the salt and sugar are dissolved before adding the other ingredients and the protein to the brine. Then, add the remaining ingredients and a handful of ice cubes. You want the brine to be at least lukewarm or nearly cool before you add the tilapia to it.
A Soak For Timeless Flavor
Lay the tilapia in a non-reactive dish and pour enough brine over it to submerge it. Brine the tilapia in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. If the tilapia is frozen, brine for 1 hour or just until the fish is thawed. After cooking the tilapia, it keeps well in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days or in the freezer for 4 to 6 months. Be sure to use a sturdy, resealable plastic container or a freezer bag.
The Fish That Fairs on any Plate
Baked tilapia makes a quick, light supper for any night of the week. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Lay the tilapia in a baking dish. Drizzle olive oil over the fillets, toss in some fresh herbs and add a tablespoon of butter. Cover the baking dish with foil and bake the tilapia for 25 to 30 minutes, or until it flakes easily at the touch of a fork. Serve with wild rice, greens and a Pinot grigio. You can also lightly pan-sear the tilapia in a little olive oil, capers and thin slices of lemon. Dredge the fillets in flour before searing, making sure to shake off excess. Sear in a heavy-bottomed skillet for 3 minutes. Flip the fillets and cook for another 3 minutes or until their thickest parts are opaque at the center. Chase the seared tilapia, some wilted spinach and black beans with a glass of Zinfandel.