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  • Steamed Tilapia with a Roasted Onion Marinade

    Posted on | March 16, 2008 | 37 Comments |

    I’ve been real busy lately with work deadlines fast approaching, and preparing for a trip coming up in a week or so. I didn’t get time to look at my rss feeds for three days, and suddenly the number of unread posts were in three digits. I have way too many recipes and restaurant reviews waiting in my drafts. If I don’t type those up soon, the details will be forgotten for sure. The to-do pile for blogging is as tall as the to-do pile for work… Blogging is more fun, if only someone paid me to do this… sigh… Till then, I have to go through my work pile first, and use my R&R time for blogging related activities, so bear with me!

    Ever since I saw the mouthwatering pictures of Aswin’s Pan Fried Fish with Roasted Onion Marinade I have been planning to try something similar.  Finally I got the chance last weekend, when we picked up two Tilapias from the live fish tank in Uwajimaya. I am not very fond of the pre-packaged Tilapia filets, I think those lack flavor, but the fresh ones out of the tank taste really good. I am partial to whole Tilapias, since those look so much like my favorite fish -Karimeen aka Pearl Spot from Kerala. In fact Tilapia is called poor man’s Karimeen in Kerala.

    I made some modifications to the original recipe like adding coconut to the roasted ingredients and also some tamarind juice to the spice paste. The marinade on its own tasted so good, I didn’t want to pan-fry the fish with this marinade. Pan-frying will work great for thin filets, but these Tilapias were too big, there was no way I could cook the fish without burning half of the marinade. My oven broke down a couple of days ago, so I couldn’t bake these either, so I decided to steam the fish instead to make sure the fish is cooked through and the taste of the marinade stays intact.

    I have never steamed a fish before, I don’t have any of the fancy steamer equipments, so I improvised by lining the steamer attachment for my electric rice cooker with parchment paper. Steaming was the greatest idea ever, since even the marinade inside the fish got cooked wonderfully. Normally when you pan fry a whole fish, the marinade inside never gets cooked completely, and always have a raw taste which I hate. It only took about 10 minutes to cook the two large Tilapias, much quicker than baking or pan frying. I still like the taste of the fried fish more than steamed, so once the fish was steamed, I quickly flash fried the fish a couple of minutes on each side with very little oil. The outside turned out really crispy, while the inside was tender and moist, best of both worlds! This is going to be my favorite technique for cooking large whole fish.

    Tilapia with a roasted onion marinade 009


    • Two large sized whole Tilapia
    • 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
    • salt to taste
    • 2 tsp oil
    • 1 tbsp dried tamarind soaked in warm water. (1 tsp tamarind paste)
    • For the Marinade
      • 1/2 cup thinly sliced shallots
      • 2 tbsp thinly sliced ginger pieces
      • 4 large cloves garlic minced
      • 3 small green chilies sliced
      • 1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
      • 1/4 cup fresh grated coconut
      • 1/2 tsp red chili powder
      • 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
      • salt to taste


    Clean the fish and make some gashes on both sides. Rub the fish well with salt and lemon juice and keep aside.

    To make the marinade, heat 1 tsp oil in a pan and add the shallots, ginger, garlic and sliced chilies. Saute till the shallots are soft and translucent. Add the coconut and saute till the coconut mixture starts to brown. Reduce the heat and add the salt, pepper, chili powder and turmeric powder and saute till the spices are completely roasted. Remove from heat.

    Grind the roasted ingredients along with the tamarind water to form a smooth paste. If using tamarind paste, add some water to help the grinding process.

    Apply this marinade liberally on the cleaned fish inside and out. Keep for about 15 minutes.

    Line a steamer with parchment paper so that the marinade won’t drip out. Steam covered for about 10 minutes.

    Heat 1 tsp oil in a large non-stick pan, and flash fry the fish about 2 minutes per side, turning once so that the outside of the fish gets a crispy texture.

    Serve hot with lemon wedges.

    Tilapia with a roasted onion marinade

    The perfectly steamed marinade inside the fish tasted so good… We had a fish each with some simple pan roasted potatoes on the side for a delicious lunch. The potato wedges dipped in the marinade was heaven! Siv had his with a fried egg on top, restaurant style. First I thought he was crazy, but it kind of worked… and it made a great picture too!

    Category: Mains, Seafood

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    37 Responses to “Steamed Tilapia with a Roasted Onion Marinade”

    1. Meeta
      March 16th, 2008 @ 10:50 am

      I love tilapia it’s a wonderful fish. I also quite like the way you prepared it here.Fantastic with the coconut and spices.

    2. sra
      March 16th, 2008 @ 11:06 am

      Yeah, I would have thought the same too, egg on fish, what the …? But the photo looks good, and the fish looks really good. I’m with you on preferring fried over steamed but I do like mustard fish in banana leaves, and that’s steamed. :drool:

    3. sunita
      March 16th, 2008 @ 11:24 am

      Sig, that looks yummy…we love tilapia :-)

    4. indosungod
      March 16th, 2008 @ 11:43 am

      Looks yum, the bulls eye never fails to impress even on fish :)

    5. Asha
      March 16th, 2008 @ 1:26 pm

      Yummy! Tilapia would be my next fish to try!:)

      Sig, have a wonderful break.I will be off too from Thurday, see you in May. Enjoy the Spring friend, hugs to you, cheers until then!:) :( Martini):

    6. Cham
      March 16th, 2008 @ 2:16 pm

      I love Tilapia. The fish looks Yum :smile:

    7. Meena
      March 16th, 2008 @ 2:35 pm

      I absolutely love Tilapia, it’s one of my favourite fish. Your marinade sounds delicious Sig, a wonderful combination of flavours. This is going into my to-try pile! :)

    8. Pravs
      March 16th, 2008 @ 4:40 pm

      I am partila to whole tilapia too :( Yes): Also think these are similar to karimeen, which we don’t get here. Nice the marinade masala. Lovely with a egg on top.

    9. musy
      March 16th, 2008 @ 5:25 pm

      Have a great trip, girl! take a deep breath and it will all be fine :) he he, and i know, i have those “unread posts in three digits” happening to me ever so often :-D You really make things look GOOD! As much as i dislike egg, the sunny side up on this blog always looks hot! hey, and i am eyeing the roasted potatoes, girl-can’t have my fill of the spud :-D


    10. shilpa
      March 16th, 2008 @ 6:55 pm

      Wow….I am drooling here…I haven’t tried tilapia yet. This goes into my must try recipes now.

      I know the feeling of too many drafts and forgetting things if I dont write down…thats why I am posting like mad and I wish someone paid for it too :cry:

    11. Nags
      March 16th, 2008 @ 7:47 pm

      ohhhh.. that IS a good idea, steaming and then lightly frying!! The egg on top pic looks really yummy! nice one Sig :)

    12. arundati
      March 16th, 2008 @ 8:22 pm

      looks fab…is it odd that i feel compelled to comment on non vegetarian dishes considering i dont eat it?? dont know…but the pictures and the post warranted a comment….

      ps: i wish too that someone would pay me to blog….!! :smile:

    13. Nirmala
      March 17th, 2008 @ 12:59 am

      Sig! We have something in common. I tried a similar steamed fish but wrapped in banana leaves for the first time this week. (am yet to post about it). They were simply superb but still amma did a quick roast to have that cripy outer layer. This was simple superb. We tried with Koduva fish.

    14. rachel
      March 17th, 2008 @ 4:11 am

      tilapia or karimeen..give me any fish cooked this way…i’ll gladly eat it….. :smile:

      have a nice trip!

    15. Happy Cook
      March 17th, 2008 @ 5:22 am

      Wow i love fish done like this with all tha masala. Tilapia i don’t know if i get it here will look for it when i go for shopping

    16. saswati
      March 17th, 2008 @ 6:56 am

      wow what a fabulous looking fish…i am sure going to give it a try…bookmarked it :( Yes):

    17. Rachna
      March 17th, 2008 @ 7:18 am

      hmm a malayalee friend once made fish for all the friends and used potato for my serving with the exact same marinade wrapped in a banana leaf and cooked in hot coal….wow cant forget that taste…although it was so many years ago…. this marinade reminds me of that…. hmmmmmm

    18. Kalai
      March 17th, 2008 @ 9:06 am

      Love the cooking techniques you’ve used here, Sig! I totally agree with you abt the taste of the inside marinade remaining raw when you fry it. Your marinade sounds too awesome and those pics are mouthwateringly good! :)

    19. sagari
      March 17th, 2008 @ 9:26 am

      browning with little oil after steaming is a great idea ,it looks like deepfried

    20. Sandy
      March 17th, 2008 @ 10:48 am

      Wow flash frying… another creative idea :razz: I will definitely try this out.

      Wishing you and your hubby wonderful holidays !

    21. Rina
      March 17th, 2008 @ 11:49 am

      Wow!!!! Love this recipe dear…. Fish looks so moist and yummy. I usually bake whole Talapia… with lemon pieces and other masalas…Can’t wait to try u’r steamed fried version with onion and tamarind grind paste…. :razz: :drool:

    22. mandira
      March 17th, 2008 @ 12:49 pm

      Sig, the fish looks heavenly! I have to try it with coconut and tamarind in the marinade.
      Glad it came out so well, aswin will be thrilled :)

    23. Anuzi
      March 17th, 2008 @ 12:59 pm

      Oh my Tilapia looks delish! :drool: I have never steamed fish either but its a healthier alternative to frying and it seems doable with your method of cooking so I might try out this weekend.
      I too have been super busy at work maybe its the time of year or something. Regardless definitely get some rest in dear….maybe even steal the credit card and go nuts at the mall :evil:

    24. Mona
      March 17th, 2008 @ 2:14 pm

      The fish looks scrumptious! Have not yet tried Tilapia.. But i do not know if i will have it along with a fried egg! :neutral: Thats a v unique combo, Men!!

    25. Kaykat
      March 17th, 2008 @ 4:12 pm

      Whoa! That is *something*.

      Tilapia makes for happy cooking, I usually bake it (and only use filets), sometimes in parchment. Never tried the steaming thing, sounds like a great idea.

      I’m seriously in love with that marinade – can’t wait to try it out. Maybe I’ll end up flooding your inbox with questions while you’re on vacation! :)

    26. Raaga
      March 18th, 2008 @ 12:37 am

      Have a great trip… the pics are lovely… what’s a good fish substitute?

    27. richa
      March 18th, 2008 @ 6:52 am

      yup, that happens with everyone, but it’s ok! there are things to be taken care of which need immediate attention :grin:
      anyway, that marinade sounds very good.

    28. Anna
      March 18th, 2008 @ 8:40 am

      I missread your recipe name as Steamed Tilapia with roasted onion MARMALADE. And I had to pause and wonder from which part of Kerala could she have got this recipe?! Who is she trying to kid –malayalis and marmalade on fish? Sacrilege!! I LOVE whole tilapia like you.

    29. sandeepa
      March 18th, 2008 @ 9:58 am

      Wow Sig, I had not seen this new look of yours. Uber cool

    30. Jyothsna
      March 18th, 2008 @ 10:36 pm

      Lovely! one more dish for me to try :)

    31. archana, mama of twins
      March 18th, 2008 @ 11:50 pm

      this i have to try, because it sounds so delish and esp for MIL. Bongs love fish right. :)

    32. roopa
      March 19th, 2008 @ 12:24 pm

      Loved the combination of egg and tilapia:)

    33. Remya
      February 18th, 2009 @ 4:25 pm

      it just looks yummyyyyyyyyyyyyyy :roll:

    34. Anu Rao Pillai
      December 14th, 2009 @ 3:20 pm

      I have been meaning to post my comments for the last one year now, but never got down to it …… I love your blog, love reading your intros, and the way you make the recipies your own with a modern twist. I have tried this recipe over n’ over again with different variations such as baking instead of steaming; used for shallow frying the tilapia fillets, and so on… It has been a super hit with amongst our American as well as Indian friends. Thank you for all the great recipies that you have here, and do continue the good work. :grin:

      • sig
        December 20th, 2009 @ 1:49 pm

        Thanks Anu! Yeah, I love this marinade in baked fish too. Glad you liked it :)

    35. roopa
      July 1st, 2012 @ 5:23 am

      Hi sig, thank u so much for this wonderful recipe :) I am halfway thru the recipe with the marinade fried and fish salted. Taking a break with the sleepy young one now, have to say the marinade is tasting awesome e en before it’s ground :) iam super excited ! I am gonna use this marinade for several other seafood recipes :) maybe tuna thoran without the tamarind , mmmm :) thanks !