Filipino fish

Garlic Fried Tilapia with Pineapple Salsa

Saturday, February 01, 2014Enz F

Among the edible fishes that I came to know, Tilapia is one of my personal favorite. Offer me anything tilapia – it does not matter how it is cooked and prepared; be it fried, steamed, grilled or broiled; from pinaksiw (vinegar stewed) to ginataan (simmered in coconut milk) – never expect me to pay a head-shake in return. Any tilapia dish for me is joy. Aside from being easy to cook, affordable (a kilo can only cost you around PhP70 or less than US$2 as of this writing), always fresh (the fish is literally jumping out of the basket when bought) and readily available in the local wet market, it has a distinct flavor that never fail to delight my palate. Its savory meat tastes like crossbred bangus (milkfish) and chicken, except that this one is softer and milder in texture. And unlike bangus, its flesh is much easier to shred as it is less bony and less complicated. When I was younger, every time my lola serves tilapia, it was a strange thing that I could literally eat every part of the fish. No pun intended. Odd as it may seem, the mouthwatering aroma of tilapia, especially when fried, is so tempting that it could strip off away some table etiquette and a few human dignity (I think) giving me an irresistible urge to eat like a caveman – chomping and munching not only the meat but also all its crispy and tasty tail, fins and head till the very last juice, leaving almost no residue except the bones (fish massacre, you know what it means?). That crazy way of eating we, Pinoys, fondly call "sarap to the bones" (deliciousness to the bones). If we share the same thing, better not pet a cat or else poor kitty might starve to death. 

Fried tilapia is best enjoyed if eaten using bare hands with hot steamed rice and dip sauces on the side
Meanwhile, you never really enjoyed a fish if you do not eat it using your bare hands with hot steamed rice and dip sauces on the side. Common very Pinoy dipping sauces that go well with fried tilapia, or any fried fish for that matter, are toyo-mansi (a soy sauce and calamansi lime juice combination) or just a mixture of vinegar, crushed garlic and a pinch of salt. But nothing really beats lola’s way – hand-squeezed tomatoes with bagoong isda (fermented fish sauce). It is just perfect! Being a native Ilocana, she knew every dishes that has bagoong isda. I dearly miss my lola and her dishes when she passed away.

Salsa is a popular Mexican side dish
Just recently, I got fascinated with different kinds of dips and salsa. I am not referring to the popular Latin American rhythmic dance but the traditional Mexican side dish and dips mainly composed of tossed tomatoes, lime juice, onions, chili peppers, cilantro leaves and other coarsely chopped raw ingredients. I made a number of variations for some old friends to try on and several versions just suit their taste. I just had to modify other ingredients, like omitting the onions and substituting jalapeno with milder siling haba or green finger pepper because a few of them are not so fond of spicy dips (besides, siling haba is more available and based on the reviews that I have seen online, this is our local version of jalapeno). The pineapple-guacamole salsa and the no-frills plain tomato salsa earned good hits. These are great dips for our tortilla chips and tacos while nibbling some roasted chicken over a long overdue conversation.

Truly an excellent combination for a feastful lunch
Being so similar to our very own squeezed tomato side dish, I am contemplating that salsas could also go perfectly with my garlic fried tilapia. I actually intended to make a repeat of my pineapple-guacamole but since it is not yet season for avocadoes as I could hardly find a good supply in the market, I opt to omit the avocado for the mean time and just settle for pineapple. Besides, the succulent pineapple alone, with all its sweet and sour excitement, can already tickle anyone else’s taste buds. What more with the salsa version paired to the equally exciting fried tilapia? This tropical version turned out to be colorful and simply refreshing. Having to attempt a different way of indulging myself to this childhood favorite, I thought this one is truly an excellent combination for a feastful lunch.

Garlic Fried Tilapia with Pineapple Salsa
Number of servings: 3 to 4

(Printer-friendly recipe)

  • 1 lb. fresh tilapia, cleaned and descaled 
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced 
  • 1 small fresh pineapple, peeled and cut into tidbits 
  • 2 pcs. tomatoes, finely chopped 
  • 2 pcs. siling haba (green finger pepper) 
  • 1 pc. red bell pepper, deseeded and chopped 
  • 1 tbsp. fresh parsley, minced 
  • 1 pc. dayap (lime) 
  • ½ tbsp. lime zest 
  • ¼ tsp. cumin powder 
  • 1 tbsp. and a pinch salt 
  • cooking oil 

  1. In a saucer, mix the salt and minced garlic. Rub the mixture on each side of tilapia. Leave aside for 3 to 5 minutes. 
  2. Heat generous amount of cooking oil and pan fry the tilapia until both sides turn golden brown. Remove the fried tilapia from the pan and transfer on a platter lined with paper towel to absorb the excess oil. Set aside. 
  3. In a salad bowl, combine the pineapple, tomatoes, green finger pepper and red bell pepper. Squeeze in the lime juice, and then sprinkle with parsley, lime zest, a pinch of salt and a dash of cumin powder. Mix thoroughly until well blended. 
  4. Serve the pan fried tilapia with pineapple salsa on the side. Enjoy! 

  1. After rubbing the salt-garlic to tilapia, leave it for a couple of minutes or so to allow the flavor to be absorbed by the fish. 
  2. If there is no available fresh pineapple, canned pineapple tidbits will do. 
  3. If you want some juicy salsa, you can actually have all the ingredients in a slow blender. But do not overdo or the texture will turn into smoothies. I prefer mine to just mix all the chopped ingredients and consume it in its chewable form. 
  4. Try other salsa variations, by substituting the pineapple with corns, carrots, guacamole or mangoes. Just choose whatever suits your taste.

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