Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Chile-Garlic Tilapia Fillets

Today's brilliant insight is basically
"Put some spices on some fish and grill it."
I don't like fish. Some seafood is pretty good - I actually like crab, shrimp, and lobster, but most fish falls somewhere on a continuum between 'disgusting' and 'tolerable' as far as I'm concerned. The problem is that fish is just so darned good for you. With that in mind, I try to increase my fish intake in various ways. Usually, I just try it in restaurants, but I've been trying to cook fish at home more often (heavily prompted by Miriam).

Through some (sometimes unpalatable) trial and error, I've found a few kinds of fish that I like pretty well, and I've figured out some ways to cook them that make them taste good.

One of the fish that I've found to be a consistent winner is Tilapia. Tilapia is a good fish for people who don't like fish. It has a really mild flavor and it's easy to cook. If you like the idea of sustainable fish, it's a good choice because it does well when farmed. It's also cheap.

I hesitate to call this a recipe. It's so simple that the word "recipe" seems a little pretentious, but I'll go ahead and treat it like one.


1 tbsp paprika
1 tbsp cayenne pepper
2 tbsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
4 tilapia fillets
1 lemon


Spice Shaker (recommended)
Grill Pan (recommended)
Oil (for the grill pan)

Combine the paprika, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, salt, and pepper into one container that you can use to shake the spices onto the fish. Try to get the spices well mixed together before applying them to the fillets.

The holes in the lid make it easy to apply the spices to the fillets.

Use a paper towel to pat the fillets dry. They don't have to be bone-dry, but you should reduce their surface moisture a little bit because it will make the spices stick better. Apply the spices evenly to both sides of the fish.

This advanced culinary technique is called "dumping spices onto the meat."

Apply some oil to the grill pan and put it over high heat. You need to make sure that it's well lubricated and very hot, or the fillets will stick to it and fall apart when you try to turn them. Place the fillets onto the hot grill pan and let them cook for 3 minutes. They will begin to turn white as they cook.

Once the fillets go on the heat, don't touch them. If you try to move them too soon, then they'll stick.

Flip the fillets onto their second side and let them cook for another 3 minutes. You want them to be done all the way through, but don't cook them so long that they dry out. Tilapia is flaky and white when it is done.

I like to use a very thin metal spatula to flip the fish. It's easier to get it under the fillets.
Remove the fillets from the heat. Cut the lemon into quarters and squeeze the juice of one quarter onto each fillet just before serving.

  • This recipe would work with any mild, white fish. Trout would probably be a good candidate.
  • The seasoning for this recipe is spicy. I like it that way, but if you don't, you can leave out the cayenne and double the paprika..
  • Squeezing the lemon juice on at the end sounds like a throwaway step, but it really does make a big difference.
  • I like to serve this with a very simple salad. It's a good summertime dish because it cooks fast and doesn't heat up the kitchen.
  • You can do this on a grill, but I always have trouble with fish sticking to mine. I've had better luck keeping the fillets intact when I use a grill pan.
  • Tilapia fillets aren't very big, so I usually plan on serving two fillets per person.

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