Perhaps this is what some would jokingly call sosyal na tilapia, or tilapia for society’s upper crust. Cut into fillets, stuffed with olive tapenade and served on a pool of tomato sauce that’s been infused with wine and saffron, it’s a far, far cry from inihaw na tilapia or some such dish.
But, after all, this dish is served in the posh InterContinental Hotel Paphos, a five-star luxury hotel in the Aphrodite Hills of Cyprus, a favorite vacation spot of the rich and famous. It’s one of the dishes currently on the a la carte dinner menu of InterContinental Manila’s Prince Albert Rotisserie, along with other signature dishes from its sister hotels worldwide.
When I first saw the dish, I was surprised at how fat the tilapia looked. But it was only because it was two tilapia fillets bound together, with a filling of sautéed spinach between them. InterCon executive chef Alisdair Bletcher said they wrap the fish in pig’s caul to hold its shape and prevent the filling from spilling out during the cooking process.
Pig’s caul is actually the lining of a pig’s abdominal cavity and is known in Tagalog as sinsal or panyo-panyo. Sometimes used for binding embutido, sinsal needs to be washed very well before being used, but it has the added advantage of basting the food with fat, thereby adding a bit of flavor.
Pig’s caul is not readily available in the market; you’ll probably have to order it in advance from your favorite meat vendor. One alternative is to just bind the fillets together with a kitchen twine. It will do the job acceptably, though the basting of fat will be missing.
Aside from the sosyal na tilapia, InterCon is also serving, for its Kitchen Tour promo, pan-fried duck foie gras with rosemary infused duck jus and couscous (from its Lebanon hotel), pumpkin and ginger soup with seared scallops from InterContinental Berlin, and strawberry mille-feuille with vanilla goat cheese mousse, a signature dish of its London hotel.
Making this Mediterranean-style tilapia can be quite challenging as it involves several steps. But here I’ve simplified it for the home cook. It’s worth the effort, if only to have a taste of what guests in InterContinental’s Cyprus branch are eating.
(From Jan. 10-31, Hotel InterContinental’s Prince Albert Rotisserie is serving a special a la carte menu of signature dishes from its sister hotels. Available for dinner, Mondays-Saturdays. For reservations, call tel. 7937000.)
Mediterranean-Style Tilapia Fillet
Makes three servings
For the tomatoes:
¼ c extra virgin olive oil
280 g tomatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch squares
¼ c balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp white sugar
¼ c white wine
1 pinch saffron threads
2 stems spring onions, sliced
Salt and pepper
For the tilapia:
¼ c unsalted butter
3 medium onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
225 g spinach leaves
Salt and pepper
6 tilapia fillets, with skin on
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
¼ c olive tapenade (see tips)
Caper berries, fried
3 sprigs flat leaf parsley or fresh rosemary
Prepare the tomatoes:
Heat a large shallow pan and pour in olive oil. Add the tomatoes and sauté for one minute. Add the balsamic vinegar, sugar, wine and saffron threads. Bring to a boil. Simmer until tomatoes are tender.
Stir in spring onions and season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and set aside.
Cook the tilapia:
Melt the butter in a pan and sauté the onions and garlic until fragrant. Stir in the spinach and mix well. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until spinach leaves are wilted. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
Brush the tilapia fillets with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Arrange one fillet skin side down on a cutting board and spread some tapenade on the surface. Spoon in some of the spinach. Spread some tapenade on inner surface of another fillet and arrange it on top of the first fillet, skin side up. Tie the fillets with kitchen twine so the filling doesn’t spill out.
Repeat with remaining fillets, olive oil, tapenade and spinach.
Wrap the fillets in aluminum foil and cook in a turbo broiler at 180°C (or 350°F) for about 20-25 minutes, or until fully cooked. Unwrap the fillets and remove the twine. Spoon some of the prepared tomatoes on three large pasta or dinner plates, dividing equally. Arrange fillets over the tomatoes and garnish with capers, parsley or rosemary and melon balls.
For more tips, recipes and stories, visit author’s blog, www.normachikiamco.com, and Facebook fan page, www.facebook.com/normachikiamco. Follow on Twitter @NormaChikiamco.
Olive tapenade is sold in specialty shops, but you can also make your own. In a blender, combine: 4 cloves peeled garlic; 1 c pitted kalamata olives; 1 tbsp well-drained capers, 1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley; 3-4 fresh basil leaves, cut into thin strips; 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice; 2 tbsp olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Process in the blender until of pasty consistency.
Set aside any extra olive tapenade and use as a spread for crackers or thinly sliced baguette.
You can have the fish vendor fillet the tilapia for you. Be sure to ask them to leave the skin on. If desired, before preparing the fish, remove any sharp pins or bones (tinik) that may be embedded in the fish.