Tilapia refers to a variety of freshwater fish species. These fish are native to Northern Africa, especially in the Nile River region. They were introduced to much of the rest of the world as an easy and economic fish to farm commercially. Apparently tilapia fish don’t mind much being in crowded environments and will thrive in farms.
Farming practices vary by location, with China being one of the largest producers of farmed tilapia. There are some seafood aficionados that completely shy away from tilapia because it is farmed. There is no need to ignore this versatile and healthy protein when properly sourced.
When shopping for tilapia look for display signs or packaging that indicates it has been sustainably raised and fed an all natural diet. Tilapia is generally filleted with the skin removed and most bones pulled out when you see it in the market. Sometimes it is pre-packaged. My recommendation for buying tilapia is to purchase fresh fillets at the fish counter where you can smell it and see it clearly. It should have no fishy odor and the sturdy flesh should glisten a little.
Nutritional Composition of Tilapia
This fish is a great source of protein. A 3.5 ounce portion packs 26 grams of protein and at only 128 calories. The same portion size has zero carbohydrates and only 3 grams of fat.
Tilapia is rich in vitamins and minerals. The 3.5 ounce fillet contains the following:
- Selenium: 78% RDA (Recommended Daily Amount)
- Vitamin B12: 31% RDA
- Niacin: 24% RDA
- Phosphorus: 20 % RDA
- Potassium: 20% RDA
Flavor and Texture
Tilapia has a distinctively mild flavor without a fishy taste. It is almost a blank canvas for transforming into a variety of dishes with different seasonings. Tilapia will take on whatever it is marinated in or spiced with. If you just like the mildness, then salt, pepper, and lemon may be all you need. Smoking tilapia will add a lot more flavor.
This is a white fleshed fish that is flaky when cooked. It also doesn’t have a whole lot of bones to deal with, but you will still want the bones removed.
Since the fillets can take on some aggressive flavors, the recipe here is for cooking in an Electric Masterbuilt Smoker with a Jamaican jerk seasoning. Feel free to adjust the herbs and spices to your liking. We are going to the Caribbean for this meal with jerk fish, pineapple salsa, and herbed rice. Make the salsa and rice while the fish is in the smoker.
Smoked Jerk Tilapia
- 2 pounds of tilapia fillets, approximately 6 to 8 fillets
- 1/4 cup mild oil, such as grapeseed or canola
- 1/4 cup light brown sugar
- 2 TBS ground allspice
- 2 tsps red pepper flakes
- 2 tsps sea salt
- 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp ground cumin
- 1/4 tsp ground cloves
- 1/2 tsp dried thyme
- Lime wedges for serving
- Water for smoking
- Mesquite wood chips
Total time: 2 hour 10 min – Prep time: 10 min – Cook time: 2 hour – Serves: 6 people
1. In a medium bowl, whisk together all of the oil, sugar, spices, and herbs. Place the tilapia fillets in a large baking dish. Add the jerk seasoning and coat all sides of the fillets. Set the fish aside while you prepare your smoker.
2. Remove 2 racks from the smoker and place on a countertop that is lined with paper towels to collect any excess moisture that drips from the fish. Place the seasoned fish on the racks. Fill the smoker water bowl 1/2 way. Place the wood chips in the side tray of the smoker. Open the top vent. Turn the smoker on and preheat to 160°F.
3. Place the racks with the fish inside the smoker. Cook the tilapia for approximately 2 hours or until the fish reaches an internal temperature of 145°F. Replenish the wood chips and water as needed, approximately every 60 minutes.
4. Serve the smoked fish warm with lime wedges, herbed rice, and pineapple salsa. See the recipes below for the salsa and rice and how to serve this fish dinner family style.
Make the salsa as soon as the fish goes into the smoker so it has time for the flavors to blend together.
- 1 medium pineapple
- 2 tomatoes
- 1 red onion
- 1 small jalapeno pepper
- 2 TBS chopped cilantro leaves
- Juice of 2 limes
- Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Total time: 15 min – Prep time: 15 min – Serves: 6 people
1. Slice the top and bottom of the pineapple off. Cut the outer skin and eyes off. Cut the fruit vertically around the tough center core and toss the core. Dice the slices into small bite size pieces. Dice the tomatoes into the same size pieces. Peel and mince the onion. Remove the stem and seeds of the jalapeno and mince.
2. In a medium bowl, place the pineapple, tomatoes, onion and pepper. Add the lime juice and toss everything together to combine well. Season with salt and pepper and toss again. Cover the bowl and place in the refrigerator while the fish smokes.
Start the rice approximately 25 minutes before the fish is ready to come out of the smoker.
- 1 TBS unsalted butter
- 4 scallions thinly sliced, separate the white from the green parts and reserve the green
- 2 cups long-grain white rice
- 3 cups filtered water
- 1 tsp sea salt, or two 1/2 tsps
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 3 TBS fresh chopped fresh parsley
- 1 TBS fresh chopped cilantro
- 1/2 teaspoon lime or lemon zest
Total time: 28 min – Prep time: 10 min – Cook time: 18 min – Serves: 6 people
1. Rinse the rice in a strainer under cool running water until the water is no longer cloudy and runs clear. Allow the rice to drain while you move on to step 2.
2. In a medium/large sauce pot, heat the butter on medium heat until it melts. Add the white parts of the scallions and sauté for 2 or 3 minutes. Add the rice and stir until it is evenly coated with the butter and scallions. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon of the salt.
3. Raise the heat and add 3 cups water. Bring this to a boil. Reduce the heat to a low simmer and cover the pot. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes until all of the water is absorbed and the rice is tender.
4. Remove the pot from the heat. Add the rest of the salt, the pepper, the herbs, the green scallion slices, and citrus zest. Stir gently with a fork to fluff the rice and incorporate all the ingredients. Don’t overwork the rice or it will become mushy.
5. Place the rice on a large serving platter. Place the smoked fish on top of the rice. Top the fish and rice with salsa. Serve family style and enjoy with iced tea, cold beer, or island rum over lots of ice with an orange or lemon slice.