Specialty of the house

Squid's tilapia pleases

May 22, 2011 

My wife and I are expecting our second child soon, so we don't expect to be able to get out too much in the near future. I would love to make the horseradish-crusted tilapia from Squid's for her after the baby comes.

My wife discovered this dish first, and, to her frustration, I tend to order it now every time (she's the one who does not like to have copycat ordering at the table). Anyway, we both love the dish. Think you could help? - Peter Liao, Chapel Hill

One of the restaurants in the Chapel Hill Restaurant Group (others include Spanky's and 411 West in Chapel Hill, 518 West in Raleigh and Mez in Durham), Squid's opened in 1986. With a menu covering the seafood spectrum from Southern fried to contemporary to oyster bar, the restaurant remains a local favorite after a quarter-century.

Executive chef Andy Wilson is happy to share the tilapia recipe.

A graduate of Johnson & Wales and a longtime chef at Squid's, Wilson said he introduced the dish seven or eight years ago, initially to showcase the nightly fresh catch. Echoing the flavor of wasabi at sushi bars, the horseradish crust was a versatile match for everything from grouper to snapper.

The presentation proved to be a popular one. It wasn't long before horseradish-crusted tilapia earned a place on the regular menu. Wilson chose tilapia partly for its low cost and ready availability and partly for its mild, universally appealing flavor.

An ethnic restaurant staple that's almost always farmed rather than wild-caught, tilapia lacks the cachet of other fish - many of them sustainably caught - that often appear on Squid's specials board. But tilapia is a worthy fish in its own right, according to Wilson, especially if you choose the source with care.

"We get ours from Ecuador and Guatemala," the chef said, "where the quality is much higher than the Chinese tilapia that's more commonly available."

Squid's customers clearly agree: Horseradish-crusted tilapia is the restaurant's best-seller, Wilson said.

Specialty of the House gets recipes for local restaurant dishes. Send requests, including your name and city, to Specialty of the House, c/o The News & Observer or email ggcox@bellsouth.net.

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