The Man Who Cooked For Himself: Crispy Pan-Fried Tilapia with Greens and Lemon Vinaigrette


The Man Who Cooked for Himself is a book that I recently re-discovered at a thrift store. I picked a worn copy of this book up off the shelf and opened it up, only to be instantly transported back to my childhood by memories of this book. No one in my family remembers The Man Who Cooked for Himself as vividly as I do, so it must have been a book I checked out frequently from the library, but I have such good memories of reading it!

Although the illustrations are a little outdated, I still like this simple story about a man who lives by himself and has his groceries delivered to him by a friend. When his friend goes out of town, the man has to pre-order his groceries for two weeks and soon runs out of food to eat. The answer to his problem is closer than he expected, as the man begins to notice the food all around him. After finding his own dinner of fish, wild berries, and watercress, the man is inspired to grow his own garden and learns to provide food for himself. My favorite line of this book describes the man’s outlook after he forages for his own dinner,  “The man began to look at things more closely than he ever had before.” This story is a wonderful (and delicious) reminder to look at the world with new eyes and a good lesson in independence.

The first dinner that the man provides for himself is “fried fish, watercress salad, and berries for dessert.” I’ve created a quick, simple version of this meal that would make a delicious week night meal. I coated tilapia in an extra-crispy breading mixture, pan-fried it until crisp and served the fish and salad with a drizzle of lemon vinaigrette. It was difficult to find watercress in grocery stores in my area, so I substituted arugula and spinach, but any crispy greens would work. The breading mixture used in this recipe is a combination of flour, panko breadcrumbs, and cornmeal that I have found to be the perfect combination of crunchy and flavorful while still sticking well to the fish. There are lots of steps for kids to help with in this recipe. Measuring and stirring the breading ingredients, whisking together the vinaigrette, or washing and tossing the salad are all great cooking activities for kids.



Pan-Fried Tilapia with Greens and a Lemon Vinaigrette 

Serves 4

Time: 30 minutes


4 Tilapia fillets, or other firm, white fish fillets

2 Tablespoons flour

2/3 cup Panko bread crumbs

1/4 cup yellow cornmeal

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1 egg, beaten

4 Tablespoons olive oil, divided

2 Tablespoons butter

4 cups watercress, arugula or other crisp greens

2 Tablespoons lemon juice

1 Tablespoon white wine vinegar

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

salt and pepper, to taste

  1. Pat the fish fillets dry and season lightly with salt and pepper. Combine the flour, Panko, cornmeal, kosher salt, paprika and garlic powder in a shallow dish or bowl. Put the beaten egg in another shallow dish. Bread the fish by dipping each piece in the egg and then in the Panko/flour mixture.
  2. In a large cast iron or non-stick skillet, heat 2 Tablespoons of the oil and the butter over medium heat. Once butter is melted and oil is shimmering, add the breaded fish fillets to the pan and cook until browned, about 4 minutes per side. Cook fish in 2 batches if they seem too crowded to brown in one batch. Once fish is browned and crisp, drain on a paper towel lined platter.
  3. While the fish is cooking, rinse the greens and drain them in a salad spinner or colander. Place in fridge until needed. To make the lemon vinaigrette:  In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the remaining 2 Tablespoons olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, mustard and a pinch of salt and pepper until the oil is emulsified. This means that the vinaigrette will thicken slightly and the oil and vinegar will no longer separate.
  4. Serve the fried fish with 1 cup of greens and drizzle both the greens and fish with about 1 Tablespoon of the Lemon Vinaigrette.