When I was searching through menu options this week and came across mufete de cacuso (Angolan tilapia), I knew I had to try it. Mufete de cacuso is Angolan tilapia fish stuffed with lemon and onions. The fish is cooked in its entirety, and the meat is carved from the body right before eating. I had never cooked a full fish before, let alone one with eyeballs! I smelled a challenge (literally)!
To be honest with you, I was nervous just thinking about cooking this dish. I had gotten two cleaned and frozen tilapia fish from the African market in Oak Park, Detroit. But every time I made eye contact with them in in my fridge, I found myself wondering if I could even bring myself to touch them…. Let alone eat them!
Buying the fish frozen had detracted some of my initial fear; at the time of purchase, the fish had almost seemed fake. But as the fish thawed and began to resemble their old selves, I gulped a nervous breath of air and grabbed their squiggly bodies.
Steps to Cooking a Full Tilapia Fish
If you’re ever cooking a full fish, remember that, before cooking, the fish needs to be de-scaled and gutted. Most butchers or fish markets will do this for you if you ask. My fish had come de-scaled, and there was already a slice across the bottom of each belly showing me that they were gutted and ready to go.
Combatting that “Fishy” Flavor
Unfortunately, tilapia fish sometimes maintain their fishy taste if they’re not cooked correctly. To combat this, first take care to choose fresh fish. Frozen fish that thaw automatically take on a fishier taste than fresh fish. My meal wasn’t too fishy, but I definitely could have benefitted from a fresh catch.
Secondly, acidic-based foods, when mixed with fish, will take away some of the “fishy” tase. With thick cuts, like a whole fish, soak the fish in vinegar for up to 15 minutes (any more and it will get mushy). I have also heard that soaking the fish in milk can help, but I cannot personally vouch for this method.
Time for a Challenge
I rinsed and soaked my fish, then made two “bowls” from aluminum foil. These bowls sat side by side in a glass 9×13 pan. I placed each fish in its own bowl, and then stuffed them with lemon slices and onions. I drizzled each fish with olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and more vinegar. After 40 minutes in the 400 degree oven, poof, that fish was ready to rock!
By the time my mufete de cacuso (Angolan tilapia) had come out of the oven, I had grown accustomed to the eyeballs. I wasn’t cringing when I looked at them anymore. In fact, I was so excited to try my new creation that I dug right in.
I must say, this mufete de cacuso (Angolan tilapia) turned out exactly how I expect Angolans eat it. Unfortunately, I’m not sure it was one of my favorite dishes. Angolans tend not to use many spices in their meals, so as to highlight the natural flavor of the fish. Though I wish I could say that it was the perfect flavor, I think the dish could have benefitted from more spices or seasonings to brighten it up a little bit.
Regardless, I am so proud of my attempt at cooking a full fish! The entire Foreign Fork household gained some Bad-Ass Points in my book (my mom screamed a little when she saw the fish, but even she took a little bite!). If you’re brave enough to try this dish (if I am, you DEFINITELY are), I want to hear how it went! Let me know in the comments below. Thanks for reading friends! Talk to you soon.
Mufete de Cacuso
Roasted Angolan Tilapia with Lemon and Onions
- 2 full tilapia fish (fresh if possible) gutted and descaled
- 1 lemon
- 1/2 yellow onion sliced
- apple cider vinegar
- olive oil
- sea salt
- 1/2 tbsp dill more or less to taste
Lemon Butter Sauce
- 1/2 stick butter
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tbsp minced garlic
- 1 tsp dill
Pour vinegar over fish and let rest for 10 minutes (you can also try the "soaking the fish in milk" method, though I do not have personal experience with this).
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a 9x13 dish, use two sheets of aluminum foil to make two bowls, one for each fish.
Place each fish in its aluminum foil bowl and stuff the insides with lemon slices, onion slices, olive oil, salt, dill, and vinegar. Also coat outside of fish with olive oil and vinegar
Place in oven and bake for about 45 minutes, until the fish is flaky.
When the fish has about five minutes left, begin making the lemon butter sauce. Melt the butter in a saucepan on the stove. Add in the rest of the ingredients and stir to combine. Pour over fish meat when the fish comes out of the oven or serve on the side.