Tilapia with Mustard and Capers

Tilapia with Mustard and Capers


It always struck me as odd that I still answer the phone as if I don’t know who is on the other end of the call.   Modern technology has given me the luxury of not having to answer the phone unless I know for sure who it is yet I have not updated my basic salutation since I learned it at age 4.   I used to enjoy talking on the phone but these days I tend to avoid it.  The act of answering the phone used to give me an attractive sense of danger or thrill I suppose.    Would it be an annoying solicitor?  My best buddy?   My boss or a client?  Or worse!  What if it’s my sister?

“How come you never write about me in your blog?  And where have you been?  I’ve been trying to reach you for days.”

It was my sister.  Evidently she was  calling to let me know she had discovered yet another thing I don’t do for her.   Either the caller ID or my brain must have been malfunctioning for I tend to let her calls go to voice mail. Some telephone thrills I can live without.

“I’ve been busy.  And besides, I’m not really sure how to tell you this but I write primarily about food, and, well,  you don’t really know how to cook”.

Should you think I was being unnecessarily cruel to my sister  let me assure you that this wasn’t the first time I have had to tell her she should avoid the kitchen.   This is something she is used to me telling her.  Its not my fault she is  a slow learner and needs the constant reminding of her younger brother.

I always tell people that my sister doesn’t even know how to make tea and they laugh it off as if I’m joking but it is true — she actually called me once to ask me whether or not you had to leave the teabag in the hot water longer for herbal tea than you do for ‘regular tea’!   To my way of thinking that qualifies one as not knowing how to make tea, right?

After she asked me that, and after I stopped laughing I had to  use the occasion to lecture her on Tea 101  — the best teas are loose teas and that she should eschew teabags altogether — blah, blah, blah.   Then I suggested that she just go to her herb garden and grab a handful of fresh mint to steep in the cup.

If you have ever seen her “garden” you are laughing right now.

I suppose people expect the sister of someone who enjoys the kitchen as much as I do to be equally at home in one.   Genetics doesn’t work that way.  For example, I don’t know how to replace a water heater or how to keep score of a football game but she does.    She  managed to avoid the ‘cooking gene’ that just about everyone else in my family benefits from.

“That isn’t true.  You don’t just write about food and I cook just fine!  Everyone had a fantastic time at my house that one time last month.”

“That was a potluck.  Mom and I brought most of the food.”

“Not the fish.  Everyone loved that fish I made.”       

She was right.   Everyone did love ‘that fish’ and yet everyone was also quite sick to death of it.  “That fish I made” is the same fish I’m featuring here today: Tilapia with Mustard and Capers.   I wanted to tell her that if she was going to be completely accurate she should have said “everyone loved that fish I make every single time anyone comes to my house for dinner.

Last year I showed her how to make it when she needed some emergency kitchen coaching.  She had inexplicably invited her boss who travels a lot over to her house for dinner for a home-cooked meal.   An act I can’t help but think reveals an astonishing lack of self-awareness on her part.

I suggested this fish with mustard and capers for her as it is just about the easiest thing to make I can think of.   Instead of copying out the recipe for her I rewrote it so it would look more like something she would understand: assembly instructions.  She was always very good at making Ikea furniture and I imagined that if I ever should have to assemble a new bedroom set from Ikea (as if!) I would want her to help me out by rewriting the diagrams into recipe format.

These flavors are wonderful on any white fish and the elegant sauce makes itself.   Food that makes itself is right up my sister’s alley.

It never dawned on me that once she had mastered it she would never again feel the need to learn anything else!     Despite its deliciousness my family has grown quite tired of it as it is the only thing ever served when it is her turn to host a family evening.   If she has any friends I’m sure they are sick of it too.

“Teach her something new! Please!” my dad begs me.

It wasn’t that long ago they used to tell me I was doing “God’s work” when I would lie and try to convince her there was no shame in hosting potlucks just so we would be allowed to bring our own food to her house.   Now I am being asked to teach a woman who last used the All Clad I gave her to wash engine parts from her Wave Runner to turn around and make something edible with it.

When I succeed, like I did with this fish, I feel just like Annie Sullivan.

Tilapia with Mustard and Capers

Tilapia with Mustard and Capers

This recipe is adapted from Ina Garten.   Whenever you see the word ‘adapted’ and ‘Ina Garten’ in a recipe featured here it usually just means I’ve either reduced the sugar or I’ve reduced the salt or in some cases I’ve reduced both.   Here it was the salt.  Rarely is there anything else I would ever quibble with The Ina over as she tends to get just about everything else just right.    

The method is great and is quite welcoming to variations unless you are my sister in which case you should stick to the instructions.   

You see dear sister?   I will too write about you if you ask nicely.

Tilapia with Mustard and CapersTilapia with Mustard and Capers
Tilapia with Mustard and Capers

Tilapia with Mustard and Capers

Adapted from Ina Garten

This is what you will need:

  • 4 (8-ounce) tilapia fillets (or other fillets such as red snapper)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 ounces creme fraiche
  • 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard
  • 2 tablespoons minced shallots
  • 2 teaspoons drained capers

This is how you make it:

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
  2. Place the fish fillets in an oven safe baking dish.
  3. If you are using filets with skin put the skin side down.
  4. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.
  5. You can also use a sheet pan lined with parchment.
  6. Combine the creme fraiche, 2 mustards, shallots, capers, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a small bowl.
  7. Spoon the sauce evenly over the fish making sure the fish is completely covered.
  8. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish or until it’s barely done.
  9. (The fish will flake easily at the thickest part when it’s done.) Be sure not to overcook it!
  10. Serve hot or at room temperature with the sauce from the pan spooned over the top.


About Trevor Kensey

To be truthful, I don't know what “Sis. Boom. [blog!]" means either. The name implies something explosive just happened I suppose I would like it if each post would make made a small 'boom' in your day or at least a fizzle. Even though a recipe is included with every post I have a hard time calling this a "food blog" or even myself a "food blogger".

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  1. I almost never answer the phone either. I am simply not as social as I once was. I used to be a bon vivant of the Middle Ages, but now I am just a middle aged bon vivant. It’s not the same thing AT ALL. I hope your sister appreciates this wonderful ode you have written to her!

  2. I love this preparation but am scared of tilapia. If it’s farmed, it’s not really a fish, right?

    More like a fish-flavored corn product.


  3. One can only hope that your sister has as delightful sense of humor as yours!

    I have the same conversation with anyone who talks to me about tea bags. I have also discovered that the best way to convert them is to brew them a pot of real tea and watch their expression with the first taste!

  4. Okay, I’m running off on a tangent! I love tea – I was practically raised by Brits. I would have to say about 80% of American restaurants and Cofee Shops have NO idea how to make a great cup of tea. And, it’s really not hard! As a non-coffee drinking American, I find this most annoying. A great cup of tea is one of life’s simple, yet profound, pleasures.

    I worked for an English company for a while, and I loved that the office in Nottingham had a hot water dispenser with all the tea, milk, and sugar I could ask for. Even the hotels in England have electric teapots.

    Okay, I’m back – I like this recipe & will definitely try it. My brother is a really good cook, too, so I’m lucky.

  5. This post makes me really happy that my brother doesn’t have a blog. Ouch! Hilarious, but ouch!

  6. I have saved this recipe, hoping soon for a day when I have access to fresh fish.
    Funny about your sister, most people I know do not want to be written about in a blog! And yes, things would be so much different if they were foodies themselves-my sister lives for the fast food of Sonic!

  7. Your sister sounds like my husband. He needs explicit instructions. The kids still groan about the time he made rice with no seasonings…no salt, no nothing. But she can make a great fish dish…and be fodder for an entertaining blog post. Kudos for that!

  8. I know your sister and love her but everyone (including her) knows she can’t cook. And yes, we would all love it if you would teach her something new. Something new that didn’t involve fish, mustard, or capers.


  9. If I wrote a post like this, my sister would tell on me to my mother and my mother would try to ground me (even though I am a few decades old).
    The year my sister was my 4th grade teacher was pure hell – a therapist’s dream.
    Sounds like she’s a good sport.

  10. Sounds like it’s her culinary little black dress;) It does sound delicious…kind of sick of tilapia…might try it w/ haddock.

  11. Kate, most of us would prefer to have this fish again than to see my sister in a little black dress. lol.

  12. Oh goodness!! You are so funny Trevor!! I just LOVE reading your blog. It actually brought a few laughs and smiles to my face this morning. What a way to start the day. Thank you!!
    A great big hug!

  13. What a cute post! Did you also notice that the dish you showed her how to make became ‘her’ dish? That is so my brother. 🙂 We like talapia and I think my family would enjoy this.

    I also still say ‘Hello’ when I answer the phone. It just seems like good phone etiquette. I just hate it when I call someone and they immediately start talking…it just throws me off a little.

    I like the warm red on your blog, Trevor.

  14. Thanks for entertaining me! I’m sitting at the computer with the phone on hold to the IRS. A very annoying voice keeps coming on to tell me I can use the website which would be true if the EIN portion of the website was functioning!! Errrrrg:( I need to go back and read your post again…its hard to stay in my happy place when on hold for 30+ minutes. Sorry for the rant. What I meant to say is I also love The Ina and her recipes never disappoint!

  15. Funny post… Trevor! I love that your sister would wash engine parts in her cookware. Hey…we all have our own special gifts. Your fish does look delicious!

  16. I love this simple fish recipe, might try to throw a handful of fresh herbs in it and use it to bribe my sister;-)

  17. My siblings and I are the exact same way! 🙂 At least its an endearing relationship you have with her!