Serious Eats: Recipes

The Secret Ingredient (Vanilla): Almond-Crusted Tilapia with Vanilla Sauce

[Photographs: Kerry Saretsky]

The history of vanilla is a rich one. It is the pod of an orchid, and long grew only in Mexico; when explorers tried to bring vanilla back to Europe, the plant could not survive without the little Mexican bee that pollinated it. It wasn't until 1841, when a young slave on the Ile Bourbon discovered that vanilla could be hand-pollinated, which led not only to an international vanilla market, but also to vanilla's high price. It is the second highest priced spice, after saffron.

Vanilla, for being so common and ubiquitous, has a very exotic history. This dish is a bit exotic itself, even though I had a version of it at the now defunct Hoot, Toot, and Whistle in Delray Beach, Florida. I crust tilapia with almonds and panko, and fry it until golden and crisp, and serve it with a mild and creamy vanilla beurre blanc. The original version, I think, was with catfish and pecans. So you can play around. But it's an unusual and savory way to play with vanilla in your own kitchen.

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 French in a Flash series for Serious Eats.

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