Flaky Steamed Tilapia

It seems unfair to the laws of the universe that this is so healthy, yummy, and easy at the same time.

But the universe made Hot Cheetos, and this is my revenge.

This is a Chinese style of cooking tilapia, and my family would always cook the fish in this way before we discovered the delicious oily crispness of pan-seared tilapia. We don’t make this much these days, but that’s not my choice. 

I think that in the hot summer months, pan-searing in hot oil is just too hot. The bold sizzle of raw meat hitting the pan sounds muffled in the fuzzy haze of the heat. The oily layer on the tilapia fillet reflects the bright white sun outside and it’s nauseating.

Then you bite in and the fillet is hot. Everything is hot. A drop of sweat rolls down your back. You stare down the tilapia, which stares back at you on a nauseatingly white plate.

You look to your glass of water, only to realize the ice cubes have melted. A little bubble rises to the surface of the water. Then another. And another. Your water begins to boil.

The oven beeps three times, having reached its destination of 475°F. You don’t remember turning it on, but the oven door is now open. Two drops of sweat roll down your forehead. Three. Four. 

Then you realize that beeping wasn’t your oven.

It was your air conditioning’s thermometer.

Flaky Steamed Tilapia

Notes: The great thing about this dish is that it’s totally suited for summer. It’s very light. I love eating it cold and straight out of the fridge on a summer day.

Taste & Texture: I’m sure there are many variations on this dish, but the ingredients I use contribute just a hint of flavor on the fish. It’s very slightly savory, a tiny bit garlicky, and just a smidge salty. You can always add more salt & soy sauce for a stronger flavor. It also has a very delicate flaky texture to it, slightly chewy and very soft. 


  • 4 tilapia filletsMore or less; you know I don’t care about exact measurements.
  • 1/8 cup garlic, chopped. Or hvidløg, if you’re Danish. 
  • 1/8 cup ginger, chopped. Eat it straight. It’s good for you.
  • 1/8 cup soy sauce. We always run out of this. #asianproblems
  • 1/8 cup sherry or cooking wine. The cashiers don’t trust me when I say I’m just going to use it to cook. 


1. Put tilapia on plate. Feel free to crowd them. Then take a knife and stab them at random places so the soy sauce and cooking wine can seep in and give some flavor. Try for 10 stabs per fillet, focusing on the thicker parts.

This painting is my artistic interpretation of humans on New York subways at rush hour.

2. Put everything else on plate. Self-explanatory. 

The garlic and ginger pieces represent the subway riders’ thoughts and burdens and dreams.

3. Steam for 15 minutes. The beauty of steaming is that you can’t really overcook it. Just make sure there’s a small stream of steam coming from the pot at all times; this means the water temperature is just right. 

The Extra Mile:

  • Garnish! Spring onions are my favorite, but we ran out of those. So I used basil instead. Sorry.
  • Drizzle with soy sauce. We also ran out of soy sauce. Gee thanks for reminding me of my misery. 
  • Chill in fridge. Tilapia, like other meats, naturally contains gelatin. So, the liquid on the plate (under the tilapia) will congeal into this savory soy-sauce jelly, which tastes better than it sounds. When you put the jelly on warm rice, it’ll melt into a nice little puddle of soup.



I just can’t believe we’re out of soy sauce. 

How am I going to survive. 

22 Comments Add yours

  1. Annie says:

    I love that your recipes are so simple and easy to make!

    Re: eating ginger straight, it reminded me of how my mom used to slice ginger into matchsticks, soak them in soy sauce for like 15 minutes (and a little sugar, I think? I can’t remember) and then eat it straight up. It was so good, loved it as a kid! (She also did the same with tomatoes)

    1. Kitchen Cici says:

      Thanks! I personally dislike difficult recipes haha. Can’t focus that long when I’m hungry. Oh hey, I haven’t done that before, gotta try that sometime!

  2. ikbensisi says:

    Looks delicious! Love your posts.

    1. Kitchen Cici says:

      ^_^ Thanks! You make me happy.

  3. deedeephotog says:

    This looks yummy! And easy enough that I might even be able to make it! I’m going to try it. I love Tilapia. and your posts.

    1. Kitchen Cici says:

      Aw thanks! Let me know how it goes! :3

  4. This looks lovely and yummy and easy too! A perfect summer time fish dish, can’t wait to give it a try – and it gives me an excuse to use my new steamer! 🙂

    1. Kitchen Cici says:

      Haha exactly! Have fun and let me know how it goes!

      1. Made this dish last night but used haddock instead of tilapia as it is tricky to find in the UK. We used our traditional bamboo steamer and just used soy sauce as we didn’t have any sherry. We served it over some asian stir fry veg (bamboo shoots, mangetout, carrot etc) and oh my goodness was it uber tasty! Will be making this again for sure!

      2. Kitchen Cici says:

        Aaahh I’m so glad you liked it!! Feedback is always nice 🙂 Enjoy!

  5. Hooray! You have received the Versatile Blogger Award Nomination! The Invention of Living has been snooping through your blog and we love what we see! Please check out your nomination on our blog @ theinventionofliving.com along with the guidelines on what comes next! 🙂 Congratulations!

    1. Kitchen Cici says:

      Ah thanks! I’m very happy you like what you see! I will hopefully do this sometime soon. Thank you!

  6. sheynafaber says:

    You’re hilarious! And you sounds exactly like the voice chatting my in own head…. freaky!!! Hehe…

    1. Kitchen Cici says:

      Haha thanks, I’m very glad someone else thinks I’m humorous! It’s comforting. 🙂

  7. Wow this sounds super yummy …!!

  8. Tom Levine says:

    Dang, that looks good! I never thought to steam fish. I don’t know why. This is on my ‘todo’ list. two questions: Can you start from frozen, with steaming? also, how do you fit the plate into a pot, for steaming?

    1. Kitchen Cici says:

      1. Apparently you can cook fish without thawing, but I always thaw the fish before I steam it. Tilapia comes in pretty thin fillets, so it takes only about 10 minutes if you put it in a ziplock bag and soak it in hot water. (soaking meat in hot water is a safe way of thawing, because the meat comes up to room temperature in a short amount of time, which gives bacteria less time to grow. Just don’t leave it in the hot water bath longer than you have to, and cook immediately.)
      2. If you have a steamer or other contraption you use to steam, you can use that as well, it doesn’t really matter as long as the fish gets steamed. I don’t have a food steamer, but I do have this steamer plate with holes in it that fits onto a ledge in my pressure cooker. It’s kind of small so I have to make sure to use a smaller plate. But if you do have a steamer, you can probably just put it in the steamer and steam it however you usually steam your food. The cooking times may vary a little though; I have zero experience with food steamers! But if it’s opaque off-white and flaky, it’s done.

      1. Tom Levine says:

        Perfect! I’m totally going to try this!!! Thanks, t

  9. Susie says:

    definitely going to try this in my dfac 🙂 great recipe, tried it at home, simple and light yum

    1. Kitchen Cici says:

      Awesome!!! I’m happy you liked it 🙂

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