Thawing Whole Tilapia

The best method to defrost is to cut a slit or poke a couple of holes in the packaging and put on a plate in the refrigerator overnight. If you want to use the fish sooner, remove it from the initial package, transfer it to a Ziplock bag, and soak it in cold water for 20 minutes. Put something heavy on top to help keep it submerged. 

Filleting Whole Tilapia

Watch our video on how to fillet whole tilapia. Or, you can scroll down towards the bottom for tilapia fillet cooking instructions.

Whole Tilapia Cooking Guidance

– Whole tilapia, cleaned and gutted
– Olive oil
– Lemon slices
– Fresh herbs (such as parsley, thyme, or rosemary)
– Salt and pepper to taste
– Optional: Garlic cloves, sliced onions, and other herbs and spices for additional flavor


1. Preheat the Oven:
– Preheat your oven to 375°F (190°C).

2. Prepare the Tilapia:
– Thaw the fish using the guidance above. Once thawed, remove the packaging, rinse the fish under cold water, and then pat it dry with paper towels.

3. Season the Inside:
– Season the inside of the tilapia with salt and pepper. You can also add lemon slices, fresh herbs, and any optional ingredients like sliced garlic or onions for added flavor.

4. Season the Outside:
– Rub the outside of the tilapia with olive oil. Season generously with salt and pepper. You can also add a sprinkle of fresh herbs.

5. Make Cuts:
– If desired, make diagonal cuts on both sides of the tilapia. This helps the heat to penetrate and flavors to infuse better. This is called “scaling”. 

6. Arrange on a Baking Dish:
– Place the seasoned tilapia on a baking dish. You can line the dish with parchment paper for easier cleanup. Checkout the sides suggested in the next section as some could be included alongside the fish. 

7. Bake or Roast:
– Bake the tilapia in the preheated 375F oven for about 20-25 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 145°F (63°C). Cooking time may vary depending on the size of the fish.

8. Broil for Crispy Skin (Optional):
– If you like crispy skin, you can broil the tilapia for an additional 2-3 minutes, keeping a close eye to prevent burning.

9. Serve:
– Carefully transfer the tilapia to a serving platter. Garnish with fresh herbs and lemon slices. You can also squeeze additional lemon juice over the fish before serving.

10. Enjoy:
– Serve the whole tilapia with your favorite sides, such as the ones mentioned in the section below. 

Best Sides for Tilapia
Tilapia pairs well with virtually everything! Here are some ideas for sides to serve with your tilapia.

  • Roasted Vegetables: Toss a mix of vegetables such as asparagus, cherry tomatoes, zucchini, and bell peppers with olive oil, salt, and pepper, then roast them in the oven.

  • Quinoa Salad: Make a refreshing quinoa salad with cucumber, cherry tomatoes, red onion, feta cheese, and a lemon vinaigrette.

  • Steamed Vegetables: Keep it simple and healthy by steaming broccoli, green beans, or carrots. Season with a bit of salt and pepper.

  • Couscous: Prepare couscous and add chopped fresh herbs like parsley or mint, along with lemon zest for a light and fluffy side.

  • Sauteed Spinach: Quickly sauté spinach with garlic and olive oil for a nutritious and easy side dish.

  • Sweet Potato Fries: Bake sweet potato fries for a slightly sweet and crispy alternative to regular fries.

  • Rice Pilaf: Serve tilapia with a flavorful rice pilaf, incorporating ingredients like diced vegetables, herbs, and broth.

    Whether you prefer something light and refreshing or heartier and more substantial, there are plenty of options to complement your tilapia dish.


Basic Cooking Guidance: Fillets

Preparing the fillet
While the pan or oven are heating, pat dry your fillet with a paper towel or tea towel to remove the excess moisture. Then oil the fillet and season both sides with salt and pepper.

Pan-Sear in a Skillet
Heat a pan over medium-high heat with a little bit of cooking oil to coat the bottom of the pan and heat until it’s sizzling hot. Once the oil starts to shimmer (hot enough to sizzle), place the fillet onto the pan. Press down lightly on the fillet with a spatula for thirty seconds. Reduce heat to medium and let it cook for three to four minutes undisturbed. Flip the fillet and cook for one or two more minutes.

Air Fryer
Spray the bottom of the air fryer basket with oil, and then arrange the fillet in the basket. Run the air fryer for 7 minutes at 400 degrees.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Arrange the salmon on a foil-lined baking sheet and cook for 12-13 minutes.

Some of Our Favorite Tilapia Recipes from Seafood Nutrition Partnership
Healthy Tilapia Fish Tacos
Pistachio & Tortilla Crusted Tilapia with Chili Lime Sauce
Pan-Seared Blackened White Fish