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Phyllo-Wrapped Tilapia and the Elements of Home


Lately I’ve been finding myself being unable to decide. The girl who’s made nearly every decision on the basis of a gut feeling. But lately, well, my gut has been off drinking margaritas somewhere because when it comes to decisions, I seem to be at a loss. A lot has been on my mind lately, but more than anything, I’ve been asking myself the same question over and over: where is my permanent home?

Do you have a home that you think is permanent? As in, your live-there-till-you-die kind of home? In childhood dreams, I always imagined that I’d get married, buy a house somewhere, have a family, a job that I loved and have a place to call home. San Francisco has been my home for 5 years now, and so has this apartment, but lately, it hasn’t felt like home to me. It’s a strange feeling, really. As a child, I moved around so frequently that I’ve come to know many homes, but more than anything, I’m starting to feel like I want my own home that’s not a rented apartment in a huge building on a street with no trees. The reality of having such a home in San Francisco seems daunting and my current home feels somehow…not completely mine–especially when I can’t paint the walls, I can’t get a dog, I can’t rip up the ugly carpet. I keep telling myself that it’s ok to have a temporary home, especially when all of the other elements are in place. I try to put up a lot of art and add personal little touches. And more than anything, I try to make the house smell good. Nothing says home like the smell of a home-cooked meal.

I came up with this recipe a few nights ago and wasn’t quite sure how it would turn out. I find tilapia to be a rather boring fish–delicious, easy and relatively inexpensive–but kind of the chocolate chip cookie of the dessert world. Pedestrian. Don’t get me wrong–I love a great chocolate chip cookie, but I rarely get excited by a chocolate chip cookie. It always feels a deep desire for comfort and instant satisfaction, but rarely creates a lasting memory.

For this recipe, I thought that instead of baking the fish fillets in parchment paper, I’d season them with fresh herbs and lemon, throw in a pat of butter and wrap them into flaky phyllo parcels. To make things a little healthier, I layered the phyllo sheets with canola spray instead of butter. Despite its fancy appearance, this recipe was quite time-efficient and, to my great pleasure: fantastic. The fish was tender and incredibly flavorful–its delicate texture almost reminded me of halibut–and the phyllo absorbed some of the butter that I had wrapped inside, adding a light pastry sweetness. As we ate, I repeatedly found myself saying: “This is actually really good!” We threw some super thin asparagus from the farmer’s market on a grill pan to serve as a side, and cheered with rose wine.

That night, the elements of home (my wonderful husband, delicious food, refreshing wine–and a particularly warmly-lit kitchen table) were all there.

On a completely separate note, this marks my 300th post! Kind of amazing to think about how many recipes, reviews, and reflections have come to be on this here little blog.

Phyllo-Wrapped Tilapia

2 tilapia fillets
2 tablespoons of butter
4-5 sheets of phyllo dough, defrosted
fresh dill, minced (about a teaspoon)
fresh oregano, minced (about a teaspoon)
1/2 lemon
canola spray
salt and pepper, to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Season the tilapia with salt and pepper and set aside.
3. Line a baking sheet with foil and lay down the first sheet of phyllo on top. Spray with canola oil and then top with a second sheet of phyllo. Spray well with canola and repeat with remaining phyllo sheets. (I used canola spray instead of butter, though you could also brush the sheets of phyllo with butter or olive oil).
4. Cut the stack of phyllo into two even stacks.
5. Place one fillet of fish onto each stack. Sprinkle with herbs and drizzle with fresh lemon juice. Sprinkle with some more salt and pepper and wrap the fillets with the phyllo as if you were wrapping a package.
6. Bake the fish on the foil-lined baking sheet for 18-20 minutes (until the phyllo is golden and the fish inside is white and flaky–you may need to cut into the parcel to test its doneness).

Musical Pairings: The National – High Violet + Phyllo-Wrapped Tilapia

Kasey’s phyllo-wrapped tilapia recipe is an amazingly delicious recipe. Brittle, paper thin sheets of phyllo envelop a buttered, herbed tilapia fillet that is moist and flavorful. As a whole, the dish is beautifully textured, well balanced and full satisfying. Thus, it is the perfect pairing for my favorite album so far in 2009: the National‘s High Violet. High Violet is hauntingly beautiful, intricately orchestrated, and emotionally connective. Like The National’s other albums, it requires an initial investment by the listener, but rewards the effort with songwriting that soaring and evocative and lyrics that genuinely hit home. It gets my vote for the best album so far this year. More at Musical Pairings. –Matthew

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Posted by Kasey

KaseyProfileSunspot

Kasey is the food editor and co-founder of Turntable Kitchen. She loves dark chocolate, warm crusty bread, and traveling to new places. She speaks Russian, but does not like vodka.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/6p01053695af5a970b sarah deibler

    I agree with you about tilapia…but the ever-sacred chocolate chip cookie? Your words are blasphemy :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05641448576726538534 Kasey

    Sarah: you have a point! I like choc chip cookies as much as the next person, but they're never as exciting as say…a rich cake, or an inventive crisp with a scoop of ice cream. I see your point though :) Attacking the mother of all American cookies can be called blasphemous!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03085680032434922467 Jen

    I love your sentiment 'Nothing says home like the smell of a home-cooked meal' :)I think of a lot of things when I think of home. My city (San Francisco is definitely my home!), my apartment (less permanent, but still provides comfort and familiarity), my kitchen (probably the most familiar/comfortable part of my apartment), my friends, my family… I guess this leads me to say that 'home' is a state of mind supported by both by tangible and intangible things/ideas… sometimes bad traffic on 280 even makes me feel at 'home'!-Jen (Modern Beet)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05641448576726538534 Kasey

    Jen: you have a lovely way with words. On different days, different things say 'home' to me, but more than anything I love this quote that I once saw in Dublin (at the Guiness Factory, of all places!): "home is where they understand you."

  • http://prettygreengirl.com/ prettygreengirl.com

    Darn, I think my original comment got lost! Happy 300th! I've been trying to get more fish into my diet, and this looks like a delicious way to do so!I also moved a lot as a kid – 7 times before college. Every few years, I get restless and anxious and feel the need to move. But when I moved back to San Francisco a few years ago, it was the first place I felt, "Oh, I could live here forever." I think that's been expanded to the general Bay Area (well San Francisco and North – hello, Marin!), but I can't really see myself living anywhere else. Well, maybe Portland. :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05641448576726538534 Kasey

    Thanks, Janet!!! I think a lot of people feel that way about the Bay Area, and I think that's what sometimes rattles me–I don't have the desire to run anywhere! Plus, my family and friends are here, which is always a big bonus. So glad we finally got to hang out this week–looking forward to next time!

  • Pingback: Tilapia with Tomato, Olive & Caper Sauce | Never Enough Thyme

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