cornmeal-crusted tilapia and mom pat’s tartar sauce
Mr. Birdy has a large, wonderful, loving family. His father’s side of the family hails from a small town on the coast of Georgia.
The stories of two sets of our grandparents are eerily similar. A teenage girl from a well-to-do family falling in love with a charming, young, working-class man. Both Grandfathers worked in the armed forces before their careers while the Grandmothers stayed at home, tending to the children. A long life of love and family spent in the sweet South, spent together. With each passing within months of the other. Love, man. Sweet tea on the porch on a warm summer evening, made from scratch dinners eaten away from the TV, early morning boat rides with the birds singing good morning love. Like, straight out of The Notebook love. Ridiculous, consuming love… you know, the kind Carrie was always looking for.
All four of these Grandparents passed away when Mr. Birdy and I were in the young stages of our relationship. Living on opposite sides of the country allowed for little time together, let alone time for travelling to meet extended family. All four gone, within months of each other. It was a trying time.
It’s not easy knowing I missed out on meeting two amazing people in Mr. Birdy’s life, nor is it easy knowing he’ll never hear the generations-old stories told by my Grandmother or feel the giant bear hugs of my Grandfather.
What I can do, though, is try to know them as best I can now. Through his memories, photos, and my favorite, food. One way I get to know Mr. Birdy’s grandmother is through her tried-and-true southern recipes. Oh. my. her. recipes. Few people can say the Atlantic ocean is their backyard, but Mr. Birdy’s family could. Like, catching trout off the dock for dinner, crabs in the crab traps, waking up to the dolphins whistling back. yard.
Like the best Southern recipes, Mom Pat’s are made with simple ingredients, an assumption that you know how much of what to use, and love. If you’re not making that recipe with love in your heart, it just won’t taste the same.
Cornmeal-Crusted Tilapia with Mom Pat’s Tartar Sauce
for the fish:
2 tilapia fillets, cut into pieces (cod or sole would work well here, too)
1 c. flour (I used all purpose)
1 c. cornmeal
2 eggs, beaten or 1 c. egg beaters
2 tbsp old bay seasoning, divided, plus more for sprinkling
1 tsp garlic powder with dried parsley (from world market, we use it in almost everything)
salt and pepper
preheat oven to 350 degrees
Set up an assembly line with 3 bowls for breading the fish. In the first bowl, combine the flour, 1 tbsp old bay seasoning, salt, and pepper, in the second, the eggs or egg beaters, and in the third, the cornmeal with 1 tbsp old bay and the garlic powder.
Cut the tilapia into pieces and spray a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray.
Dredge the tilapia pieces in the flour first, the egg second, and the cornmeal third. Use one hand to coat the fish in the flour and cornmeal and the other hand to coat the fish in the egg. Ensure all sides of the fish are coated in each mixture before moving on to the next. Sprinkle with more old bay.
Place the breaded fish on the greased cookie sheet (or, you could place the fish on a wire rack on a cookie sheet and not have to flip it during cooking). Mist the fish with more spray if you like, this will create more browning during the baking. Cook the fish for approx 15 minutes, or until the fish flakes easily with a fork. I cooked mine for 12 minutes on one side and 4 minutes on the second side in a counter-top convection oven.
Serve with lemon wedges.
Mom Pat’s Tartar Sauce
1/2 c. mayonnaise
1 tsp minced onion
1 tsp pickle or lemon juice (I like to use half of each)
1 tsp pickle relish (we use dill pickle relish)
1 tsp. olives (optional)
Cayenne pepper or paprika to taste and add color
Combine all ingredients in a bowl or, if using sliced pickles, a food processor.
I like to top mine with a sprinkle of paprika and fresh dill.
best served with sweet tea in a mason jar.
and don’t forget to add this guy to your sweet tea party. He’s hillaaaaarrrriiioooouuusssss!