How To Cook Tilapia
What is Tilapia?
Tilapia is a very mild and popular tropical white fish that is farmed around the world, from Africa to the Southern United States. It is usually found in stores as a skinless fillet, fresh or frozen. It is a fish that can please the palate of those who turn their noses up at “fishy-tasting” fish, as well as those who love all fish and seafood. Perhaps the most appealing trait of this healthy, low fat, low calorie, high protein food lies in its versatility in the kitchen. For anyone asking how to cook tilapia, the answer is that it can be prepared in almost any manner imaginable and can be accompanied by a vast range of side dishes.
Different methods of cooking Tilapia include baking, broiling, frying it in a pan, braising, grilling, and more. Any of these methods can result in a simply prepared and mouth-watering dish.
When selecting fish, it is important to use your senses:
- Smell: When buying fish it is extremely important that you smell it to ensure that it is fresh. The fish should smell sweet and, ironically, not fishy. If it smells fishy or has other strong flavors the fish is past its prime so don’t buy it.
- Sight: It’s also best to examine the fish when checking for freshness. Whole fish should have bright eyes and firm flesh; whereas fillets and steaks should be firm and bright looking with no brown spots or discoloration.
- Touch: When examining fish with your eyes, it’s important to touch them to feel for firmness. Fresh fish is never soft. Instead, it is very firm to the touch.
Fresh fish can be stored in a refrigerator tightly wrapped for up to two days at the most. To ensure that the fish that I prepare tastes the best, I always buy my fish the same day that I plan on preparing it. If this isn’t possible and the fish needs to be kept cold for more than a few days, be sure to wrap the fish tightly and place it in the freezer until ready to use. To thaw the fish, simple run it under cold water.
Preparing the Fish
It is always best to rinse the fish off and pat it dry as your first step of preparation. This will remove any sticky or slimy residue and the fish will absorb marinades, as well as hold on to any coatings better. Since it is a delicate fish, it will not take much time for a marinated fish to absorb flavors. Usually thirty minutes is enough time. Often simple basting the fish with something as simple as a mixture of melted butter and lemon juice, or Italian salad dressing, is enough to give it flavor.
If you wish to give the tilapia a breading, your options are endless. Some ideas include bread crumbs, cornmeal, or potato chips. You can brush the fish with a liquid like butter or olive oil, then dredge it in the crumbs, or you can simply press the breading onto the moist fish.
Tilapia is a fast cooking fish. It can be cooked in a 375° oven for 15-30 minutes, depending on its thickness. Under a preheated boiler, it can be done in only 4-6 minutes, flipping it at the approximate halfway mark. The most important aspect to the timing of cooking this fish lies in being able to recognize when it is done. You can tell it is cooked through when it is no longer translucent, white all the way through, and when it can be flaked with a fork. Be careful not to overcook it. As it is a lean fish, overcooking it can make it dry and detract from its flavor. If you choose to grill the tilapia, do so carefully. It is a somewhat fragile fish and can fall apart more easily. Putting it in a grill basket with smaller openings can help with this problem. Last, although the microwave is a miracle invention that has created many cooking shortcuts, it is not a good approach for cooking tilapia. The fish will crackle and pop, and the end result will be a shredded mess.
The mild flavor of Tilapia makes it perfect for almost any seasoning. For a fresher flavor, opt for herbs like dill or cilantro. For a warmer appeal, prepare your fish with something like curry. Side dishes that can accompany your fish include rice, potatoes, a crusty bread, or more. Vegetables can sit next to your fish as a side dish or they can serve as a bed on which to place it. For example, you can set your fish on a bed of crispy salad greens or on a steaming bed of cooked escarole.
As Tilapia is not an expensive fish, you can explore your many options for how to cook tilapia with little financial expenditure. Perhaps the most important rule should be, if it sounds good, give it a try.
Tilapia Cooking Videos
See how to cook this mild, versatile, and inexpensive white fish. In this video, you’ll learn how to pan sear tilapia.
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