Tilapia is an inexpensive, versatile, tasty white fish that can be prepared in a number of different ways. But what happens if you're all set to prepare dinner and you realize that you've forgotten to thaw your frozen tilapia fillets? Here's the good news: You can skip the thawing process altogether if you don't have the time or energy to defrost your fish.
How to Cook Frozen Tilapia
Sometimes, you just want to be able to throw together an easy dinner without preparing anything in advance. If you bought a package of frozen tilapia and you don't feel like waiting for an hour while it thaws, you can cook it while it's still frozen. The trick is that you'll have to increase the cooking time in your recipe to ensure that the fish gets cooked all the way through.
If you're cooking tilapia that's frozen, remove the fish from its packaging and rinse it under cold water until all the ice and frost are removed. Next, blot the fish completely dry using paper towels; this step is important (don't skip it!), because it'll help brown the fish better if you're grilling or pan-frying it. This will also help any marinades or seasonings stick to the fish better.
Finally, it's time to prepare the tilapia. You can do this one of a few ways; tilapia tastes great when it's baked, fried or sauteed as long as you season it properly. Just make sure that if you're cooking frozen tilapia, you increase the cooking time in your recipe by 30 to 40 percent, especially if your tilapia is particularly thick (though this usually isn't the case with tilapia; it's a thin fish).
How to Cook Thawed Tilapia
Frozen fish makes for an easy, fast and very convenient dinner when you'd prefer not to spend hours waiting for your fish to thaw. If, however, you don't mind thawing out your fish, there are several ways you can prepare it. Getting perfectly cooked fish is probably much easier than you think, provided that you take the time to learn some simple kitchen tricks.
First, remember that you should never thaw your fish at room temperature or with hot water, as this is how bacteria grows. Rather, you should always thaw your tilapia in the fridge to avoid bacteria buildup. It's also important not to over-marinate your fish; this can actually "cook" the fish slightly, like ceviche.
Many people tend to overcook fish. However, especially with tilapia, it's pretty easy to tell when it's done. When tilapia reaches the proper cooking temperature, it turns opaque and flakes easily. You can tell it's done by sticking a fork in the fillet and gently twisting the fork; if it resists flaking, it's not done yet, but if it flakes easily, it's good to go.
Tips for Cooking Frozen Fish
Cooking frozen fish is a cinch once you've done it a few times. Steaming, poaching or broiling tilapia (more so than roasting or sauteing it) is probably the best method of preparing it when you're working with frozen fillets. Also, note that fish doesn't retain its seasonings well when it's still frozen, so it's best to hold off on adding spices and herbs until it's slightly thawed, or you could wait until the end of the cooking process.
Tilapia is usually best when it's been thawed, not cooked straight from the freezer, but that doesn't mean you can't cook frozen tilapia. Just be sure to rinse and dry it properly and cook it longer than your recipe calls for. While the cooking process may take a little longer, this sure beats waiting hours for your fish to defrost.
Justine Harrington is a travel, food & culture journalist based in Austin. Her work has appeared in Forbes, Fodor's, Marriott Bonvoy Traveler, USA Today, and dozens of other print and online publications.