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Grilled Tilapia

Grilled Tilapia 01

Until recently, my only experience with Tilapia was as small, otherwise unidentifiable, fillets or chinks served to me in restaurants; I had never seen, much less cooked, the whole article and, when I saw some in my local store freezer I couldn’t resist.

I actually purchased the one you see above about a year ago. I originally planned to steam it, as I recall but, as sometimes happens, it was put into the freezer and then forgotten. Luckily, when it came to light during a periodic culinary ‘spring cleaning’, it seemed to have survived quite well without any signs of ‘freezer-burn’ or other decrepitude. Still, it needed to be used fairly soon and, as I was alone for the week, and had lovely weather, I decided to see how it might do on the barbecue grill… 

Grilled Tilapia 02

Here is the whole fish after being thawed. I forgot to record the weight but it was heavier than a half-kilogram (one pound), and not quite one kilo (or two pounds). Surprisingly, it was neither scaled nor eviscerated and, while that didn’t perturb me at all, it struck me that I have not purchased fish in that states from a supermarket before.

Grilled Tilapia 03

I decided on a vaguely Asian mode of preparing my Tilapia and, after cleaning it, I made three slashes in the flesh of each side (as is frequently done in Chinese and Japanese fish cookery) to aid cooking and help seasonings penetrate the flesh. In this case, I salted the inside and the outside lightly and then brushed the inner and outer surfaces with a mixture of soy and Mirin (bout a 1:1 ratio), making sure to get both salt and liquid into the side slashes.

Grilled Tilapia 04

For additional flavor, I packed the belly cavity with some scallion, whole garlic cloves, and sliced ginger. I didn’t have whole fresh ginger root on this occasion but some of the pickled, ‘sushi-style’ variety substituted nicely.

Grilled Tilapia 05

I decided upon a modified Japanese ‘salt-grilling’ technique for the actual cooking and I rubbed the skin and fins with lots of coarse salt (avoiding the slashes and interior). The previous summer, I bought a folding wire contraption designed for grilling certain things (such as multiple small items that might be difficult to turn, or liable to fragment) but I never got to use it before bad weather set in for the season. The item is very well suited to fish cookery over open flame and so this particular experiment represents my inaugural use of the … well, whatever it is called…

Grilled Tilapia 06

Here is the Tilapia on the grill (and you get a better view of the wire ‘grilling-thingie’ in this shot).

I grilled the fish for about 20 minutes on each side until the skin was turning nicely crisp and the flesh was firm with a slight ‘springy’ resilience. The aroma, I must say, was heavenly.

Grilled Tilapia 07

I ate the fish by myself without any ‘sides’ other than a bit of crusty bread and butter. One thing that really impressed me was the way the flesh lifted away so easily from the bones … can you see that in this picture? … Once I completed eating one side, it was easy to flip the remaining fish over and repeat the operation again to leave nothing but the ‘frame’.

On the whole I enjoyed my Tilapia but I found that was a huge disparity in taste between one part of the fish and another. All the flesh had the slightly earthy quality of freshwater fish, while the lighter meat near the backbone was exceptionally sweet, almost scallop-like, in flavor. The fattier flesh, from the belly, the tail area, and behind the gills was, in contrast, quite a bit darker and, too my mind not nearly as tasty.

The skin was also very flavorful, especially where crisp and slightly charred, but Tilapia have very thick scales and I didn’t de-scale it as thoroughly as I should have done. Next time (and there will be a next time so my wife can try the fish), I will be a little bit more careful. Other than that, though, I think I may keep the rest of the recipe much the same…


11 Comments Post a comment
  1. Laurel #

    How was the skin? I heard that Tilapia skin wasnt that great cooked and is normally removed

    September 9, 2014
    • Not bad where it had crisped up from the grilling and less good where it was not crisp. I enjoy the skin on Salmon and Char generally, but not so much on Tilapia.

      September 9, 2014
      • Laurel #

        Good to know! I love Salmon skin, never tried Char though

        September 10, 2014
  2. I ate one in Africa once. Delicious fish.

    September 9, 2014
    • I am seeing them on restaurant menus more and more these days.

      September 9, 2014
  3. Hi John, the contraption is called a grilling basket. It doesn’t really look like a basket, but still that’s what it’s called. I use them very often because it makes turning so much easier and there is no sticking to the grill — especially great for asparagus!
    I like your preparation, which could also be done steamed or in the oven, but I think grilling is preferred to lessen (mask) the ‘muddy’ taste of fresh water fish. In some cultures it is not uncommon to even cook the fish with the entrails still inside, but diners should be warned 😉 The fish may actually stay fresh longer with the entrails still intact, because the bacteria in there may actually be released by cutting into them. Also, you can freeze the fish more quickly when it doesn’t have to be gutted first. Interesting about the different flavors in different parts of the fish!

    September 9, 2014
    • I might try grilling with the entrails sometime (assuming I can get the fish that way again). I’m sure it must have an impact on the final flavor!

      September 9, 2014
  4. Very good job! The cutting of slashes on the fish is something I never tried, though I remember my mother did that with one type of fish. For descaling fish, I bet you don’t have a special equipment! I inherited that from my mother who brought it all the way from Hong Kong. Next time, I will post it on my blog.

    September 14, 2014
    • LOL – Actually I do (or at least did) have a fish de-scaler… I used to do a lot of fishing and a de-scaler was always an item in my tackle-box. I haven’t done any real fishing for years and I have misplaced my last de=scaler ages ago 🙂

      September 14, 2014
  5. Gorgeous!

    September 16, 2014

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