St. Peter’s Fish
In Matthew 17:24–27 we find the story of the miracle known as the “coin in the fish’s mouth.” Jesus tells Peter to go catch a fish in the Sea of Galilee, in which he will find a coin with which he is to pay the temple tax. Galilean tradition tells us that the fish was a tilapia and so tilapia are known there as St. Peter’s Fish. A popular dish in the region is St. Peter’s fish served whole and fried, with chips (that’s fries to Americans). This is the dish I serve on the feast of St. Blaise, as we laugh in the face of dangerous fish bones after getting our throats blessed at Mass. But if you’re not feeling that vibe, this recipe can be prepared with fish fillets. The cooking time is the same. For the seasoning, combine dried oregano, basil, garlic powder, paprika, chili powder, etc. or use a seasoning mix like Old Bay, Tony’s, taco, Mrs. Dash, or Italian. Or omit this and instead top with 2 Tablespoons of chopped fresh herbs like basil, cilantro, and parsley after cooking. Or do both!
- 1 whole tilapia 12-16 oz or 4 tilapia fillets 4-6 oz each, fresh or defrosted
- Salt and fresh ground pepper
- ¼ cup all purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons dried herbs
- Oil for frying
- Optional for serving: 2 Tablespoons chopped fresh herbs thai sweet chili sauce, malt vinegar, lemon wedges, chips (fries) on the side
Heat oil in a deep fryer according to the appliance instructions, or heat about 1 inch of oil in a heavy skillet to shimmering (about 350°F). Rinse the fish and pat it dry. A whole fish should be scored before cooking. A fishmonger can do this for you, or it can be done at home. With a sharp knife, make shallow diagonal cuts about one inch apart down each side of the fish. Season the fish on both sides with salt and pepper to taste. Combine the flour and dried herbs. Dip the whole fish or the fillets into the flour on both sides and shake off the excess. Fry the fish until it’s crispy, usually 3-4 minutes per side. Remove from the oil onto a wire rack and check doneness with a fork. If you’re cooking multiple fish, keep them on a paper towel on a baking sheet in a warm oven (200°F).
To serve, plate the whole fish, and top with chopped fresh herbs and lemon if desired. Be sure to let everyone admire his fishy face and tail, then remove the meat for individual servings. Use a spoon and a butter knife. Hold the fish steady with the spoon and use the knife to remove the top, bottom and side fins. Then, from the neck, use the spoon to go through the skin and meat and lift the fillet away from the bones. Use your fingers to remove any bones you see. Repeat on the other side. Instruct your fellow diners to feel a mouthful first with their tongue, to double check for bones, then chew and swallow. Great with chips (or, in America, fries) and served with malt vinegar or thai sweet chili sauce.