Baked Tilapia Recipe and How to Cook a Whole Fish

This baked tilapia recipe will walk you through how to cook a whole fish with easy, affordable, whole tilapia.

Baked Whole Tilapia

I can regularly find huge bags of frozen, whole tilapia for only $12.  The fish are cleaned and scaled, they just need to be cooked.

I find cooking a whole fish is a great way to save money on seafood, but people are often intimidated by it.  If you fall into that group of people, don’t worry. This baked tilapia recipe will walk you through how to cook a whole fish step by step!

HOW I LEARNED TO COOK WHOLE FISH

Holding raw whole tilapia

Years ago when Eric and I were in Senegal (Africa), we had several huge covered bowls brought out to our group for lunch.  You should have seen some our teammates jump back when the covers were removed and they saw several whole fish laying on top of rice and vegetables.

Most of our group decided on granola bars for lunch that day, but Eric and I circled around a bowl with our African teammates and dug in!  The tilapia were incredibly delicious and full of flavor.

I’m so glad I’m an adventurous eater, because if I had refused those fish I would have missed out on a valuable cooking lesson.

Whole fish have all of their fat, with skin on to hold the fat in.  Fish fat is lean, heart healthy, and has a lot of flavor.  By keeping the fat in the fish while cooking you get juicy, flavorful, mouthwatering fish.

Here’s a similar technique to cook whole salmon.

HOW TO BAKE WHOLE TILAPIA

Stuffed whole tilapia

  1. Rinse each whole tilapia and pat very dry. Make two slashes into the skin on each side of the fish.
  2. Whisk together cider vinegar, mustard and dill in a medium sized bowl.
  3. Place two cloves of garlic and a sprig of parsley into the cavity of each fish.
  4. Set the fish in the bowl and turn to coat in the vinegar mixture.
  5. Use two pieces of foil to form two sections in a baking dish. Rub the foil with olive oil.
  6. Place one fish in each section and drizzle remaining vinegar mixture into the fish cavity and the slashes on the top side of the fish.
  7. Bake 15-20 minutes at 400 degrees F until the fish flakes easily with a fork (thickest part of fish should be 145 degrees).

TIPS FOR HOW TO COOK TILAPIA

  • The first step to cook a whole fish, whether you get your fish frozen like I did or fresh from a tank, is to make sure your tilapia is scaled and cleaned. Ask the fishmonger (seafood person) if you’re not sure.
  • If your fish is fresh, refrigerate it when you get home and cook the tilapia that night.
  • If your tilapia is frozen, place it in a sealed gallon bag and refrigerate over night to thaw.  You can also place it in a sink of cold water (in the sealed bag) and change the water out every half hour until the fish is thawed.  You can tell your tilapia is thawed when it bends and wriggles easily.

Stuffed whole tilapia

  • I like using vinegar for whole fish because, especially with strong tasting fish, it can help mellow out any fishy taste.  I find that kids are more likely to eat it that way.
  • Put each fish in its own little aluminum foil boat in the baking pan, so the marinade and juices stay with the fish.
  • Always rub olive oil on the foil to keep the fish from sticking.

Baked Tilapia Recipe

  • Another baked tilapia tip is to put a couple of slashes into the skin of the fish on both sides before baking.  This help keeps the skin from tearing during the cooking process, and also lets the marinade seep into the flesh of the fish.
  • Stuff the fish cavity with aromatics like garlic and fresh parsley to add great flavor.

HOW LONG DO YOU BAKE TILAPIA?

Bake tilapia for about 15 minutes at 400 degrees if your cooking a whole fish. Fillets will need less time. You want to bake the tilapia until the flesh easily flakes with a fork. The internal temperature in the flesh of the baked tilapia should be 145 degrees F.

HOW TO SERVE WHOLE FISH

Once your tilapia is cooked, you can serve one per person, split it between two people, or (if it’s a big fish) your whole family.

When I make whole tilapia, I would give my very hungry exchange students each one of their own, while Eric and I split one.

Whole Baked Tilapia

Our student Asher was blown away the first time I served whole baked tilapia.  I asked him, “Don’t you only eat whole fish in China?”.

“Yes.  But there is just one fish for all of us.  In America I get my OWN fish!”  His excitement was contagious and baked tilapia became one of our favorite meals to serve our students.

IS TILAPIA BAD FOR YOU?

There are a lot of stories out there about the dangers of tilapia, or saying that bacon is better for you than tilapia. Tilapia is typically a pond farmed fish. Some tilapia from China has been found to have been fed manure instead of the appropriate fish food.  But that does not mean all tilapia is unsafe. If you’re concerned, look for U.S. raised tilapia.

BAKED TILAPIA SUPPLIES

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Baked Tilapia Recipe

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5 from 2 votes
Baked Whole Tilapia
Baked Whole Tilapia
Prep Time
10 mins
Cook Time
15 mins
Total Time
25 mins
 

This baked tilapia recipe will walk you through how to cook a whole fish with easy, affordable, whole tilapia. Serves 2 if you each eat your own tilapia, or 4 if you split them.

Course: Main
Servings: 2 tilapia
Calories: 199 kcal
Ingredients
  • 2 whole tilapia cleaned and scaled
  • 1/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup yellow mustard
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill or 1 teaspoon dried
  • 2 Italian parsley sprigs
  • 1/2 teaspoon olive oil
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

  2. Rinse the fish and pat very dry. Make two slashes into the skin on each side of the fish.
  3. Whisk together the cider vinegar, mustard and dill in a medium sized bowl. Place two cloves of garlic and a sprig of parsley into the cavity of each fish. Place the fish in the bowl and turn to coat in the vinegar mixture.
    Stuffed whole tilapia
  4. Use two pieces of foil to form two sections in a baking dish. Rub the foil with olive oil.
  5. Place one fish in each section and drizzle remaining vinegar mixture into the fish cavity and the slashes on the top side of the fish.
    Stuffed whole tilapia
  6. Bake 15-20 minutes until the fish flakes easily with a fork (thickest part of fish should be 145 degrees). Fish will continue cooking five minutes after you remove it from the oven.
Recipe Notes

Vegetarian/Gluten free:  If you eat seafood you're fine, there is no other meat added.  The recipe is gluten free.

0 Weight Watcher Freestyle Points!

Nutrition Facts
Baked Whole Tilapia
Amount Per Serving (1 tilapia)
Calories 199 Calories from Fat 45
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 5g 8%
Saturated Fat 1g 5%
Cholesterol 85mg 28%
Sodium 443mg 18%
Potassium 578mg 17%
Total Carbohydrates 2g 1%
Dietary Fiber 1g 4%
Protein 35g 70%
Vitamin A 1.7%
Vitamin C 2.2%
Calcium 3.5%
Iron 7.9%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

 


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