Savage recipes: tilapia

Tilapia are one of the most intensively farmed fish in the world, providing high quality protein for millions of people every day. Toronto, Canada is the largest single global market for live tilapia. Canada now farms tilapia, in BC, Alberta and Ontario. It is a freshwater and warm-water fish that lives on plants. Photo courtesy of blog at


This is a freshwater fish today found and now farmed in the US, Asia, Africa and the Middle East, including the Sea of Galilee — hence the story that St. Peter’s fish, the one in the Bible caught by St. Peter with a shekel in its mouth, was a tilapia.

Tilapia eat nothing but plants, grow fast, have low levels of mercury but are high in protein, phosphorus, niacin, selenium, B12 and potassium. Tilapia is one of the most important aquaculture fish in the world. However, one 2009 study (from the Wake Forest University School of Medicine in North Carolina) says that omega-6 (bad fat) is higher in farmed tilapia than desirable because fish farms feed oils to the fish. The study recommends wild tilapia, but this is almost impossible to obtain. Another point of interest is that the females among farmed tilapia are fed testosterone to change them into males, as tilapia are prolific breeders and otherwise will produce nothing but millions of tiny unmarketable fish.

SeaChoice recommends US farmed tilapia. Recently, tilapia is farmed in Canada as well, mainly in Ontario, Alberta and BC. Read about tilapia aquaculture at

I found frozen tilapia fillets at Costco imported from Ecuador — one of the “yellow card” (some caution required) sources, at Seawatch. The package says No Preservatives.

Pan-fried Tilapia with citrus and white wine

This recipe is fast. Prepare everything else first, and do this in the last 10 minutes before you plan to eat. You have to pay attention to it throughout.

6 tilapia filets
3 tbsp flour
salt and pepper

juice of ½  lemon
juice of ½ orange
1 cup dry or just off-dry white wine
1 tbsp capers, finely chopped

2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp good olive oil

Wash and partly dry the filets. Dredge them in the flour flavoured with salt and pepper until lightly coated.
In a wide shallow frying pan, melt the butter in the olive oil over medium heat.
Sauté the tilapia for 2-3 minutes on each side. If all the oil and butter disappears, add more. The flour should absorb the oil so as to make a thin crisp coating on the fish.

Remove the tilapia from the pan onto a serving platter; add the lemon and orange juices, the white wine, and the capers. There’ll be a satisfying whoosh of steam as the liquids come to a boil. Reduce the sauce until it thickens slightly.  Pour over the fish and serve.

WINE suggestion: Gewürtztraminer, Pinot gris, Chambertin, one of the light Okanagan or Italian whites. The orange juice adds a hint of sweetness here, so an off-dry white wine is perfect. If you prefer red, this is the time for a Merlot or a light new Bordeaux.