Fried Tilapia in Indian Tomato Masala or Fried Tilapia in Italian Tomato Olive Sauce

Fried Tilapia in Tomato Masala is a favorite Indian dish I learned to make from my cooking teacher Farida. It is a layered potato and fish dish covered with a spiced tomato masala. It does take time to prepare but it can be done in steps over the course of a couple of days. I recommend baking the potatoes the day before and reheating them when ready to serve; the rest comes together easily. I also make a delicious and light Italian version without the potatoes consisting of just the fried tilapia topped with a tomato olive sauce. Both versions, included here, can be prepared using any firm-flesh white fish, and they are both nice options if you are observing Lent. You can decide whether you are in the mood for Indian or Italian.

Fish Masala
Roast potatoes
3 large russet potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1/4-inch slices
olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
garlic powder
onion powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil 2 baking sheets. Place potato slices in a single layer on each sheet. Sprinkle the potatoes with salt, pepper and a light sprinkling of garlic and onion powders. Drizzle potatoes lightly with olive oil and roast for 35-40 minutes until potatoes are fork tender. You could also cook the potato slices in the microwave. Set aside.

Fried Fish
6 tilapia fillets or 2 lbs. firm white fish fillets
1 tablespoon kosher salt
juice of half a lemon

Rinse fish fillets and pat dry. Sprinkle both sides with kosher salt; a tablespoon with be enough for 6 fillets. Lay each fillet on a baking sheet and squeeze the juice of half a lemon over all the fish. Cover with plastic wrap and chill one hour, then rinse off salt and lemon juice. Pat dry with a paper towel.

Tomato Masala
1 (28 oz.) can crushed tomatoes
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon chopped garlic or garlic paste
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1-1/2 teaspoons fine salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
3/4 cup canola or vegetable oil
1 medium Anaheim pepper, seeded and chopped
1 cup chopped cilantro

In a bowl combine tomatoes with water, garlic, and spices. Mix well. Take about 1 cup of the tomato masala mixture and spoon it all over the fish fillets. Heat 3/4 cup of oil in a frying pan on medium heat. There should be enough oil to come about half-way up the fish fillet when frying. When oil is hot fry two fish fillets at a time for 3-5 minutes until golden on the bottom and getting a bit crisp. Gently turn fish over with a spatula and cook two more minutes. Transfer to a 9×13 glass baking dish. Repeat with the remaining fish. Set the baking dish with the fish aside. Keep the frying pan with the cooking oil hot and pour the remaining tomato masala mixture into the hot cooking oil. Let it cook for 10-15 minutes until the tomato mixture begins to darken in color. If it seems like you have a excessive amount of oil floating on the top of the tomato masala pour some of it off, but you do want to leave some because it imparts the fried fish flavor to the tomato sauce. Add Anaheim pepper and cook 10-15 minutes longer until the tomato masala begins to stick to the bottom of the pan. Add cilantro and cook 5 more minutes. Place warmed roasted potatoes on top of the fish in the baking dish. Top with the cooked tomato masala mixture and serve. Serves 4-6.

Fried Tilapia in Italian Tomato Olive Sauce
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup chopped onions
2 clove garlic, chopped
1 rib celery, finely chopped
2-1/2 cups chopped tomatoes
1/2-1 teaspoon dried Greek oregano
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups chicken stock
15 kalamata olives
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed
6 tilapia fillets
1 cup flour seasoned with salt, pepper, onion powder and garlic powder
Canola oil for frying

Follow the step above for marinating the tilapia in lemon juice and salt. While the fish is marinating prepare the tomato olive sauce by heating the olive oil in a frying pan on medium heat. Add onions and cook 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook 1 minute. Add celery. Cook 3 minutes, then add tomatoes and cook 5 minutes. Add chicken broth, oregano, salt and pepper to taste. Cover and cook about 20 minutes or until vegetables are tender and the sauce is slightly thickened. Add olives and capers. Cook 5-10 minutes longer. Set aside while you fry the fish. Rinse and pat tilapia dry. Take the six tilapia fillets and dip in seasoned flour. Fry in hot oil on both sides, then set on paper towel-lined dish to drain. Place fried fish in a deep serving dish and pour tomato olive sauce over the fish. Serve.

Note: Another method for cooking the tilapia in olive caper sauce without frying the fish. Place enough sauce on a half sheet baking pan to cover the bottom. Place tilapia over sauce then spoon sauce over the fish. Cover tightly with foil. Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes or until the fish is white and tender. You can do this with the Indian Tomato masala as well.

Fried Tilapia in Tomato Masala

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