Easy Cook: Kung Po Inspired Tilapia

I sent my husband to the grocery store to purchase catfish. He brought home tilapia. It’s not the same fish; you can’t deep fry a delicate tilapia filet–it will fall apart. I remembered a recipe for a quick-to-prepare Chinese dish for “Kung Po Cod” in our local newspaper using cod fish and lots of peppers. Why not use the tilapia instead? The dish is fantastic; but about the only similarity with the real Kung Po dish is the peanuts.

About Kung Po

What is Kung Po? Kung Po is a classic dish in Sichuan cuisine from the Sichuan Province in southwestern China. This cuisine is very hot due to the Sichuan peppercorns used in preparation of the dishes.  Kung Po dishes are made with marinated chicken (although shrimp and pork are also used) and the dish usually contains lots vegetables and peanuts. The fiery hot taste comes from the Sichuan peppercorns. Here’s Kung Po Chicken from one of my favorite local Chinese restaurants.

The newspaper article was about healthy Chinese food that you can prepare in a hurry at home for supper. Skip carry out lines at the Chinese restaurant. Making Chinese food at home also allows you to control the sodium and fat content which typically are rather high in Chinese restaurants.

The recipe called for the fish filets to be lightly dusted in cornstarch then sauteed. The thin tilapia filets I used cooked quickly – making this truly a “fast food” dish. Then stir fry vegetables and make a tasty sauce of soy sauce, brown sugar, garlic, ginger and cornstarch. Simmer the sauce a few minutes to thicken, combine everything, add peanuts and the dish is done. I usually serve with plain rice and begin to cook this prior starting on the fish preparation.

Secret Ingredient

The secret ingredient in my dish is oriental rice wine. I adapted the recipe and kept to ingredients in my kitchen cupboard. The recipe is supposed to be quick and easy!  The recipe called for rice wine vinegar which I didn’t have; so I used rice wine instead. Wow, this really made the dish. Everybody loved it.

I made a few other changes too. No hot peppers? I substituted a few red pepper flakes. And I left out most of the vegetables–seemed too much for the delicate tilapia filets. But I did add peanuts and green onions. My dish is a stretch from Kung Po Chicken at my favorite Chinese restaurant. Both preparations are delicious.

The restaurant’s Kung Po Chicken was ready in less than 10 minutes. Wish I had their large woks!   As far as quick and easy–I’m not sure you could beat this restaurant.

Their fried rice is excellent, too.

My Kung Po inspired Tilapia recipe is a keeper. Think I’ll rename it; in the meantime, we continue to enjoy it.

Easy Cook: King Po Inspired Tilapia

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients:

  • 4 tilapia filets (about 5 oz each), frozen
  • 1 Tbsp sodium-reduced soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp water
  • 1 Tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 Tbsp vegetable oil such as Canola oil
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1/2 cup peanuts
  • 2 chopped green onions
  • 2 minced garlic cloves
  • 1/4 cup cilantro leaves, garnish (optional)
  • 2 cups cooked rice

Sauce Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup sodium-reduced soy sauce
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 1/4 cup oriental rice wine
  • 1 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tsp grated fresh ginger
  • 1/8 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 Tbsp cornstarch

Method and Steps:

  1. Defrost tilapia filets in refrigerator or under running water, rinse and pat dry.
  2. Combine 1 Tbsp sodium-reduced soy sauce and 1 Tbsp water. Place 1 Tbsp. cornstarch on plate. Dip tilapia filets in soy sauce/water to coat and then cover both sides with cornstarch. Shake of excess cornstarch.
  3. Heat 1 Tbsp vegetable oil in heavy skillet over medium high heat. Add coated tilapia filets and cook several minutes until brown and done, turning once. Remove to a serving plate, loosely cover to keep warm.
  4. Add sesame oil to skillet, add most of the peanuts and green onions (save a few for garnish), and minced garlic cloves and stir. Cook until heated through, about a minute.
  5. Reduce heat of skillet to medium. In small bowl, whisk together sauce ingredients until combined and cornstarch dissolves. Pour into skillet which contains peanuts, green onions and garlic. Stir constantly and cook until thickened and bubbly. The sauce should thicken quickly.
  6. Remove from stove and pour over tilapia filets. Garnish with remaining peanuts, green onions and cilantro (optional).
  7. Serve with hot steamed rice.

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