If you like lemon chicken, chances are you will like this tilapia with chili-lemon sauce too.
Thin, thin slices of tilapia fillets are seasoned, dredged in tapioca starch, deep fried until crisp and served with spicy lemon sauce. For an interesting twist, just before serving the dish is sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds. Including preparation time, this dish cooks in about 20 minutes.
I like to keep a few bags of tilapia fillets in the freezer because they’re so convenient and because everyone in my family loves tilapia. Tilapia fillets are now widely available in the frozen section of supermarkets. No cleaning, no smelly mess. Just rinse, pat dry, season and cook.
Tilapia with chili-lemon sauce
For the chili-lemon sauce
- juice of 2 lemons
- zest of one lemon
- 4 chilies finely sliced (see if you want your chilis very hot or mildly hot)
- 1/2 to 3/4 cups of light brown sugar depending on how sweet or how tangy you like your sauce
To fry the fish
- 1 to 2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
- Start by making the sauce. It takes some time for the sauce to thicken so start early. By the time the tilapia fillets are done, the sauce will be perfectly thick.
- Pour the lemon juice into a small sauce pan. Add the zest and sugar. Set over high heat and let the sugar melt without touching the pan or contents. DO NOT STIR to prevent crystals from forming. Once the sugar dissolves, you may swirl the pan occasionally.
- When the sugar has dissolved, add the chilis. Reduce to heat to medium-low and just allow the mixture to boil uncovered.
- Cut each tilapia fillet vertically into halves. Holding the knife at a 45-degree angle, slice the tilapia fillets as thinly as you can. Season with salt and pepper. Toss in tapioca or corn starch.
- Heat the cooking oil in a wok. When smoking hot, fry the fish fillets in batches. Scoop out with a slotted spoon as each batch cooks and transfer to a strainer to allow excess oil to drip. If the temperature of your oil is correct, each batch will cook in less than three minutes. Allow the oil to heat up again before adding the next batch. When all the fish has been cooked, transfer to a serving platter.
- Check the sauce. It should still be pourable but thickened. Note that it will continue to thicken as it cools so don’t wait until it is hardly pourable before turning off the heat.
- Pour the sauce over the fish, chilis and all. Sprinkle the toasted sesame seeds on top.
- Serve the tilapia with chili-lemon sauce at once.