Tilapia is a fresh water fish with origins in the Nile River. Its culinary potential was appreciated by the ancient Egyptians and the epicurean Greeks. Aristotle is believed to have given the fish its name Tilapia niloticus (fish of the Nile) in 300 BC.
Today, nearly all tilapia is farm-raised, in ponds or tanks. Tiliapia farming is considered ecologically friendly. The farms can be fully contained having little effect on surrounding waterways. Farm-raised tilapia are also fed plant-based feeds; unlike other farmed fish that require wild fish to be caught to feed them. Tilapia farming and consumption are rapidly increasing in the US. Tilapia is now the fifth most popular seafood consumed in the United States.
Fish is an important part of a healthy, balanced diet. Dietary guidelines call for eating fish twice a week. This guideline is intended to boost intake of an important nutrient, omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce the risk of heart disease. But eating more fish has also be shown to lower risk of stroke, particularly in women and reduce risk of Alzheimer’s by as much as 60%. Tilapia is also low in mercury which makes it a great choice for women and small children.
Tilapia has a light, sweet flavor and semi-firm texture making it the perfect fish for children and others who don’t care for the flavor of stronger fish. Tilapia is less expensive than most fish. Being farm-raised there is an unlimited supply which keeps prices down. Taste and affordability make tilapia a great choice for the family table.
Age to introduce: 10-12 months, flaked into small pieces. Fish is a very healthy food for your baby and it is easy to gum.
CAUTION: Be VERY careful to check for bones before serving.
Toddler Treat: Real Fish Sticks
Fish sticks can be a toddler staple, but most of the “boxed frozen” brands have lots of breading, very little fish and a long unappetizing list of ingredients. This healthy recipe for fish sticks is faster to make than cooking the other kind in the oven. Plus they are so tasty; the whole family will enjoy them.
For a change of pace, make little fish sandwiches by buying small dinner rolls and cutting the fish pieces in squares instead of strips. The cute sandwiches are fun and easy to manage for little hands too!
- 2 Tbsp. Flour
- 2 Tbsp. Corn Meal
- 1 Egg
- 3-4 Tilapia fillets
- 2-3 Tbsp. peanut oil
- Salt and pepper
Directions: Crack egg into a wide bowl and beat with a fork. On a shallow plate mix the corn meal and flour together. Cut the tilapia into long strips; season the strips with salt and pepper. Dip the fish pieces in egg and then coat both side with the flour mixture.
Heat peanut oil in a skillet over medium heat. Place fish in skillet and sauté until they are nicely browned on both sides and cooked all the way through (about 2- 3 minutes per side). When done transfer talipia to a paper towel.
Serve fish sticks warm with tartar sauce, ketchup, lemon butter or ranch dressing for dipping. Makes 9-12 fish sticks.
Tilapia for the family
At the market: Tilapia is sold fresh or frozen. Tilapia is most commonly sold in fillets (4-7 ounces each). Choose tilapia fillets that appear moist and resilient; avoid cuts that have a musky odor.
Tilapia is sold under many names including: St. Peter’s fish, Cherry snapper or Hawaiian sun fish, Nile perch, and Sunshine snapper.
- Frozen: Tilapia will stay fresh for up to four months if it is wrapped tightly in the freezer. Thaw frozen tilapia in the refrigerator or under cold running water. Discard tilapia that is mushy when thawed.
- Fresh: Thawed or fresh tilapia should be refrigerated and used within two days. Do not refreeze.
Preparation: Tilapia can be prepared broiled, fried, grilled, baked, poached, sautéed, or steamed. Tilapia can be marinated but for less than 30 minutes. Over-marinating can change the texture of the fish.
Creative and simple ideas to include Tilapia into your family meals:
Awesome Fish Tacos: Whether they are crunchy or soft shells, tacos are a fun family meal. Tilapia is the perfect fish for fish tacos. Follow the recipe for Simple Fish Sticks in the Toddler Recipe Section adding 1 Tablespoon of taco seasoning to the flour mixture. Serve with crunchy or soft tortillas and your favorite fixen’s, such as refried beans, shredded lettuce, salsa, pico de gallo, avocado or gaucamole.
Fruit Salsa and Tilapia: Broiled Tilapia (recipe below) is a great dinner entrée served with fruit salsa, a tossed salad and fresh bread. Broiling is a quick way to prepare this fish. And for added simplicity, purchase fruit salsa at the market or if you have the time, make your own with the recipe below:
Broiled Tilapia: Rinse tilapia and pat dry. Place tilapia in a single layer on a foil-lined baking sheet. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Broil 6 inches from heat until fish is opaque but still moist-looking in center of thickest part, 8 to 10 minutes. Serve while hot.
Fresh Fruit Salsa:
- 1 cup of diced fruit (pineapple, grapes, mango, papaya, or peaches)
- 2 Tbsp chopped cilantro
- 2 Tbsp lime juice
- 1 Tbsp chopped jalepeno or a sprinkle of red pepper flakes (optional)
- Salt and pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Serve fruit salsa on the side or spoon over the fish fillets.
Make a Bed: The Lemon Tilapia Sauté (recipe below) will look restaurant chic by serving a side dish underneath the fillet – like a bed. Of course, you can use plain rice or pasta for the bed, but here are a few more interesting “beds” that will jazz up the flavor of this dish:
- Couscous tossed with shredded spinach and raisins
- Brown rice with chopped pecans and craisins
- Angel hair pasta tossed with olive oil, olives, capers and garlic powder
- Steamed vegetables (any kind) with fresh herbs
Lemon Tilapia Sauté: Heat 2 tablespoons (30 ml) of oil or butter in a skillet over medium heat. Rinse tilapia and pat dry. Season tilapia fillets with salt and pepper and place them in the hot skillet. Cook for approximately 2 to 4 minutes on each side until fish flakes easily. Remove from pan. Turn off the stove heat. While the pan is still warm, melt 2 Tablespoons butter and one tablespoon lemon juice in it. Stir, scraping up the little browned bits.
To Serve: On each dinner plate, spoon the bed ingredients, lay 1-2 tilapia fillets on top and drizzle the lemon butter pan juices over the top. Garnish with a lemon wedge.
Tilapia Pouches: Baking tilapia in foil pouches is a hassle-free method to cook veggies and fish. Plus clean up for this dish is a breeze. Simply choose your veggies, top with fish fillets, season, fold up the pouches and pop them in the oven!
Choose the veggies (1/4 – 1/2 cup per pouch):
- Julienne carrots and zucchini
- Sliced tomatoes, and onions
- Fresh corn cut off the cob and green peas
- Julienne green beans and sliced mushrooms
- Tilapia fillets (1-2 per pouch)
- Salt and pepper
Seasoning (per pouch):
- 1 Tablespoons olive oil
- 1 Tablespoons lime juice
- 1 Tablespoons white wine
- 1 Tablespoon of chopped fresh herbs (basil, ginger, cilantro or parsley)
Directions: Preheat the oven to 400 F. Cut four 10″ sheets of foil. Place equal amounts of mixed vegetables in center of foil sheets and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Rinse tilapia, pat dry and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place a fillet on top of each vegetable mixture. Whisk seasoning ingredients together in a small bowl and spoon over top the fish.
Bring together long sides of foil, crimp together to form a tight seal. Fold over remaining edges and form a tight seal. Place pouches on a baking sheet with the foil seamside up. Bake until fish is tender, 12 to 15 minutes. Open the “pouch” and serve.
If you don’t want to heat up your kitchen, try this same recipe on the BBQ.
Note: Be careful opening cooked pouches, the escaping steam can cause burns.