Baked Tilapia in Lemon Butter Sauce

Simple baked fish gets none of the glory, but always gets a thumbs-up from those who are otherwise wary of seafood.

It’s quick and easy; my mother would make it when I was growing up for that very reason. Now that I’m a parent, I like knowing I can count on my daughter asking for seconds of this dish.

As the fish bakes it makes its own buttery sauce, which compliments any of the vegetables and starchy sides you serve with it. The biggest task for this weeknight meal is remembering to thaw your fish.

The Best Way to Thaw Frozen Fish Fillets

Fish thaws quicker than other animal proteins like chicken or beef so it’s especially good for those of us who forget to plan dinner from time to time. Here are some tips for how to thaw tilapia.

  • To Thaw Quickly: Place the frozen fish in a bowl or pot of cool water (under 40° F). Change the water out every 30 minutes. Your fish should be thawed in 1 to 2 hours. Once the fish is thawed, don’t refreeze it.
  • To thaw in 24 hours: Remove frozen fish fillets from its packaging. Place it on a plate or dish to contain moisture. Cover with lid or plastic wrap and thaw in the fridge. It should be ready within 24 hours. If you’re fish is particularly thick, it could take a little more than 24 hours. Use within 2 days.

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How Do You Know When Tilapia Is Cooked Through?

The fish will be opaque, and the flesh will flake apart when you prod it gently. The flaking is a sure sign of doneness; fish like this won’t flake until it’s cooked through.

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When in doubt, use a thermometer— it should read 145°F when inserted in the thickest part of the fillet. Though sometimes the fillets are so thin, it’s challenging to get an accurate reading on a thermometer.

How Long Does It Take to Bake Tilapia? 

If cooking fish brings out your cooking insecurities, breathe easy. Sure, you can sauté or grill fish, but it’s prone to breaking that way. Baking it in the oven means minimal handling and creates less mess. Even better, as the fish bakes, you get about 10 minutes to cook some veggies and set the table.


Tilapia fillets cook quickly. This recipe calls for a 450°F oven and the fish should be ready in about 10 minutes. You can prep all your meal components as the oven preheats and dinner will be on the table before you know it.

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Swaps and Substitutions for Lemon Garlic Butter Tilapia

  • Use any flaky white fish: swai, cod, orange roughy, pollock, or flounder.
  • Add 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme into the sauce before pouring it over the fish.
  • Sprinkle 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill or parsley over the fish right after it comes out of the oven.
  • Rinse and pat dry 2 teaspoons of capers and add them to the butter when you add the garlic.
  • Add up to 1/2 teaspoon dried red chile flakes to the butter 1 minute after adding the garlic.

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What to Serve with Tilapia

Couscous is ready in a flash and it soaks up all that lemony butter sauce. Rice or mashed potatoes are nice with this dish, too.

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You can also plate the fish over hot pasta—reserve 1/2 cup pasta cooking liquid and toss with pasta, and butter sauce to create a creamy and vibrant pasta side dish. Simple green vegetables like steamed broccoli, sauteed spinach, or asparagus can round out this meal.

Lori Rice

More Tasty Tilapia Recipes

  • Tilapia with Olives, Mushrooms, and Tomatoes
  • Baked Tilapia with Sun-dried Tomato Parmesan Crust
  • Easy Fish Tacos
  • Easy Miso Fish Soup with Soba


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About the Author: Thien Bao

Hello, my name is ThienBao. I am a freelance developer specializing in various types of code.