This is a grand, fragrant, and visually impressive dish. A feast for both the eyes and the palette. I invented this dish in honour of my parent’s wedding anniversary, and it is a good one to make when you have things to celebrate. Brining the fish adds incredible tenderness and flavour and I do this often, but if for any reason you are pressed for time, you can skip the brine and just season the fish really well with your favourite salt or seasoning; and then continue with the rest of the recipe. Enjoy!
2 whole medium tilapias, gutted, scaled and cleaned
2 coconuts, grated
2 yellow sweet bell peppers
2 green sweet bell peppers
2 orange sweet bell peppers
2 tablespoons extra virgin coconut oil
2 cans coconut milk
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon fresh ginger
1 teaspoon fresh garlic
Salt and black pepper to taste
Fresh basil, a few leaves
Fresh tarragon, a few leaves
Steamed jasmine rice for serving
For the brine:
15L (26 pints) clean drinking water in a large bowl
5 cups kosher salt (or regular salt)
½ cup sugar (optional)
4 limes, halved
2 oranges, halved
4 garlic cloves
4 slices of ginger
2 onions, halved
3 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
2 teaspoons mustard seeds
5 bay leaves
3 birds eye or scotch bonnet peppers, halved
- Begin by brining the fish. Place all the brine ingredients in a large bowl and mix until the salt and sugar are dissolved. Now put in the tilapia and leave to soak in the brine for about 6 hours. If you are back in the sweet hot motherland or if you live abroad and are making this during the summer, you can empty a big bag of ice into the water to keep it cool, to ensure your fish does not go off. If you add ice, then add a bit more salt to the brine to compensate for the dilution. Alternatively you can brine the fish from frozen, so that the fish itself acts as the ice to keep the brine cool. Or, you can brine in a plastic tub in the fridge, if you have the space.
- Once the fish is brined, remove from the water, lay it on a foiled oven tray, and pat dry with a paper towel. Now drizzle with olive oil and bake in the oven at 200*C for 30 – 40 minutes depending on the size of your fish.
- While the fish is in the oven, make the sauce. Add the coconut oil to a hot pan and once it is warm, add the garlic, ginger, and onion. The idea is to let them heat gently with the oil to really extract their flavours. Once they are hot and sizzling, add the chopped bell peppers. Now add the grated coconut. Season generously with salt and pepper, stirring all the time, and then add the coconut milk. Once this begins to simmer gently, tear up the basil and tarragon and add them to the sauce. Taste, adjust seasoning if you need to, and then take off the heat.
- Once ready, place the nicely baked fish onto a serving platter and pour the wonderfully creamy, coconutty sauce over the top. Serve with steamed basmati rice, and enjoy.
This recipe is from Season 1 Episode 1 of Minjiba Entertains, commissioned by The Africa Channel and showing on RealTime DSTV Channel 155, Emirates in-Flight Entertainment, Amazon Prime, and Demand Africa.