Pistou is from the South of France, a French answer to pesto that always makes me think of summer, as it's the only time I've been to sun-soaked, herb-overrun Provence. Tarragon is an underused and under-appreciated herb in American cooking, but in France it is quite commonly paired with tomatoes or seafood. Its slight anise flavor partners with fish in that perfect, fresh way that fennel does, but more delicately, and with a sort of basil-like sweetness and freshness. It also adds a nontraditional and unexpected note to a basil pistou, adding a sophistication to the dish.
I love tilapia because it's a cheap and cheerful blank canvas. All this dish requires is a quick sauté and a whirl around the food processor. And then the delicate, heady summer scents of basil and tarragon fill the kitchen. Spoon this pistou over the tilapia when it is still hot, or top seared sea scallops, or plaster onto grilled jumbo shrimp. It even works over grilled salmon on the barbecue. It's a great summer recipe that's easy, but still a touch (and I say this tongue-in-cheek) gourmet.
About the author: Kerry Saretsky is the creator of French Revolution Food, where she reinvents her family's classic French recipes in a fresh, chic, modern way. She also writes the The Secret Ingredient series for Serious Eats.
French in a Flash: Tilapia with Tarragon Pistou
- 1 clove garlic
- 2/3 cup fresh tarragon leaves
- 1 cup fresh basil leaves
- 1/4 cup toasted walnut halves
- 1/4 cup olive oil, plus extra for searing the fish
- 2 1/2-lb fillets of boneless, skinless tilapia
- Salt and freshly cracked pepper
- Lemon for serving
In a food processor, obliterate the garlic. Add the tarragon and basil leaves, and pulse to break up. Add the walnuts, and season with salt and pepper. Pulse to a rubble. Stream in the olive oil with the machine running. You should have the texture of a pesto.
Heat a nonstick sauté pan over medium-high heat. Season the tilapia filets on both sides with salt and pepper, and drizzle a tablespoon or two of olive oil into the hot pan. Sear the fish about 3 minutes on each side, until golden on the outside, and flaky.
Serve the seared fish with a big scoop of tarragon pistou on top, with lemon wedges alongside.