One of our 2015 food resolutions is to add more fish to our diets and the season of Lent, which begins today, gives us the perfect opportunity to cast a wider net into the world of fish. Today’s catch is Blackened Tilapia with Mustard Creole Sauce.

Tony chose to feature tilapia for several reasons. First, it’s new to his repertoire, which is typically focused on ocean fish, like sea bass, grouper and shellfish, or freshwater fish, like walleye and salmon.

Next, it’s affordable and widely available in our local markets and superstores, typically priced around $3 per fillet.

Mild, sweet and flaky, tilapia has the perfect taste and texture for this preparation and is firm enough to withstand being blackened, unlike sole or walleye, which are more delicate and may not hold up as well.

Grouper, cod, catfish or any mild, firm white fish will also work for this recipe.

Tony uses a simple blackening process which begins by coating the top of each fillet with a dry Creole seasoning rub, and then searing each piece, top-side-down, in a hot pan for one or two minutes until blackened. Tony prefers his fish lightly blackened and only slightly spicy, so our recipe is created from his point of view, but you can adjust the level of blackening and spice as desired. To finish, the fish is baked top-side-up in a 400-degree oven for eight to 10 minutes, until opaque and flaky inside.

Having just indulged in a Fat Tuesday/Mardi Gras meal at Sarello’s last night, we’ve been inspired by the exotic world of New Orleans cuisine and have paired today’s blackened tilapia with a savory Mustard Creole sauce. This sauce is big on flavor and perfect with blackened white fish, but would be just as good with beef, chicken or pork.

The sauce can be made up to a week in advance and refrigerated, then re-heated on the stove or in the microwave until hot. The recipe calls for 2 teaspoons of Creole seasoning, and we typically use the same spice mix that we used to blacken the fish. We’ve included the recipe for our Creole seasoning dry rub, but at home I’ve often used a store-bought version with great results.

Other ingredients in the sauce include sliced yellow onion and red bell pepper, white wine, chicken stock, whole grain mustard, olive oil and heavy cream, which serves as the thickening agent for the sauce. The sauce is pureed, so the vegetables do not require special knife skills – a basic slice or rough chop will do.

The vegetables are sautéed with the olive oil and Creole seasoning until softened, then add the white wine and cook for five to seven minutes until the liquid is reduced by half. The cream, stock and mustard are added next, and the sauce continues to cook for 10 to 15 minutes until the onion and pepper are soft and fully cooked.

We use a handheld immersion blender to puree the sauce, which should appear smooth and velvety when ready, and thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. If it seems too thin, continue cooking over medium-low heat for another 10 minutes.

To serve, we fill each plate or serving platter with the mustard Creole sauce and then top with the blackened tilapia. Pair this dish with a simple salad or a light pasta dish and you have the perfect Lenten dinner.

Blackened Tilapia with Mustard Creole Sauce

Ingredients

6 tilapia fillets

3 to 4 tablespoons Creole seasoning (see recipe below)

6 tablespoons olive oil

2 to 3 cups Mustard Creole Sauce (see recipe below)

Directions

Generously coat just the top of each fillet with the Creole seasoning. Use a shaker, if possible, or fill a pie pan with the dry rub and dip the top of each fillet until fully coated.

Use a medium or large sauté pan and heat olive oil (use 1 tablespoon per fillet of fish); sear just two fillets at once, top-side-down, for 1 to 2 minutes, just until blackened. Transfer fish to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake in a 400-degree oven for 8 to 10 minutes, until the inner flesh appears opaque and flaky.

To serve, fill a platter or serving plates with Mustard Creole Sauce and top with blackened tilapia.

Creole Seasoning

Ingredients

2½ tablespoons paprika

1 tablespoon garlic powder

1 tablespoon onion powder

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1½ teaspoons cayenne pepper (increase if more spicy heat is desired)

1 teaspoon dried basil

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

Directions

Mix all ingredients in a medium bowl until combined and store in an airtight container.

Mustard Creole Sauce

Ingredients

1 yellow onion, peeled and sliced

1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped

1½ teaspoons Creole seasoning

1 tablespoon olive oil

½ cup white wine

2 cups heavy cream

1½ cups chicken stock

1½ tablespoons whole grain mustard

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

Directions

Sauté the onion, red pepper, olive oil and Creole seasoning over medium-low heat until the vegetables have softened and the onions appear translucent. Add the white wine and cook over medium heat until the liquid has reduced by half, about 5 to 7 minutes.

Stir in the cream, chicken stock and whole grain mustard and continue to cook over medium heat for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once the vegetables are completely cooked and soft to the bite, puree the mixture with a handheld immersion blender, food processor or liquid blender, until smooth and velvety in texture, and thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. If it seems too thin, continue to cook over medium heat for 10 more minutes.

Taste the sauce and add salt and pepper to taste, starting with a teaspoon of each, stirring to incorporate. Remove the sauce from stove and serve immediately or refrigerate in an airtight container for up to one week.