Other Names: Chikadai, terapia (Japanese); nil-buntbarch (German); St. Peter’s fish; sunfish; tilapia del Nilo (Italian, Spanish); tilapia du Nil (French). Cichlidae.

General Description: Tilapia are one of the most popular fish in restaurants and at retail fish counters. Native to Africa and Asia, tilapia have a long history of feeding pharaohs and
kings. According to legend, they were the fish Jesus multiplied to feed the masses at the Sea of Galilee. Commonly known as St. Peter’s fish, tilapia are the most common farm-raised fish in the world. In the United States they are raised in the South and West, with many producers using environmentally responsible closed recirculating systems. The most common species are Tilapia nilotica, emerald green and known for high yield and rapid growth; T. aureus, cold-resistant fish; and T. mossambica, with a reddish color that makes them popular for live fish tanks and displays.

Locale and Season: Tilapia are farm-raised in 50 countries worldwide and available year-round at moderate prices.

Characteristics: Tilapia is mild and sweet-tasting. The raw meat is pinkish-white to white and lean; cooked, the meat is
white, tender, and slightly firm with flaky texture. Tilapia fillets have a thin layer of darker meat just below the skin that is often removed. These moderately priced fish are sold as whole fish or as fillets.

How to Choose: Water quality and feed are critical. The best tilapia has clean flavor; poor quality tilapia can be muddy tasting. Fresh tilapia in America mostly comes from
Ecuador—it is imported frozen from Asia, usually China. Ecuadorian producers sell mostly deep-skinned fillets with the brown fat layer removed. Other Latin American producers leave the fat layer. Asian producers treat frozen fillets with carbon monoxide for reddish color and are known to pass it off as sashimi-quality snapper (izumi dai snapper). Filleted tilapia has probably been frozen in fillet form, so texture and taste can be compromised. Whole tilapia, found at Asian markets, are best.

Storage: Refrigerate for up to 2 days after purchase. Defrost frozen fillets in the refrigerator overnight.


Bake, broil, sauté, pan-fry, or steam.

NOTE: Though attractive, the skin of the tilapia should be removed, because it can have a bitter taste. Either remove the skin before cooking or pull it off after cooking and before serving.

Suggested Recipe: Baked Tilapia with Tomatoes and Olives (serves 6): Combine 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, 3 diced tomatoes, 1/2 cup chopped red onion, 1/2 cup sliced green
olives, 2 teaspoons chopped thyme, 2 teaspoons chopped garlic, 1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes, and the juice of 1 lime. Season 6 (6- to 8-ounce) tilapia fillets with salt and pepper. Arrange in an oiled baking pan and spoon the mixture over top. Bake at 400°F for 15 minutes, or until the fish flakes.

Flavor Affinities: Almond, dill, lemon, lime, mustard, olives, orange, parsley, pecan, pistachio, red onion, shallot, tangerine, tarragon, thyme, tomato, walnut, white wine.

from Quirk Books: