I tried searing tilapia as a steak on the stove like I do with salmon... Big mess.

I dropped it on boiling hot olive oil. All the skin stuck to the pan and I did not manage to get a medium rare at all.

How do you sear tilapia as a steak? There is nothing on YT about the subject.

  • (googling "pan seared tilapia" return a few good hits on YT)
    – Max
    Commented Mar 24, 2016 at 13:02
  • Have you seared other fish successfully? If not maybe you want more general advice.
    – GdD
    Commented Mar 24, 2016 at 16:15
  • 4
    I don't think I've ever had tilapia any way other than fully cooked (except by accident and it wasn't that pleasant)... It's not like tuna or salmon. Is there a reason you want to treat it like a higher-quality fish? I mean, it's a white fish, which means it's has little in the way of oils... it does much better when cooked gently over moderate heat (from my experience) or just outright battered and fried. Treat it more like catfish than fatty fishes.
    – Catija
    Commented Mar 24, 2016 at 16:32
  • @catija What do you mean by that? Are there certain tiers of fish that are "unfit" for searing? Why are "white fish" not good for searing? And GdD. I do actually can make a decent medium rare Salmon so I am actually getting there.
    – Bar Akiva
    Commented Mar 24, 2016 at 19:03
  • 3
    @BarAkiva If salmon and other fatty fishes are akin to steak, white fish is more like chicken; if undercooked, it's mushy, bland, and unpalatable (safety issues aside). Cod is just about the only such fish that I've seen served deliberately underdone in the center, and that wasn't a huge success. I agree with Catija's advice.
    – logophobe
    Commented Mar 24, 2016 at 21:14

2 Answers 2


Are you sure tilapia steak can be eaten medium rare?

I'm 100% sure that tilapia must not be eaten half cooked. Half cooked fish has a lot of bacterial such as bacterial bathogens, parasite, natural toxin etc.

Please be careful because tilapia isn't a sushi grade fish. All tilapia in japanese cuisine or any cuisine in the world must be fully cooked.

Anyways, assumingly you wanted your tilapia steak to be fully cooked and nicely seared, there's a few ways my mom would do and other chef would usually do.

  1. Usually, my mom would score the the fish and then place it on a large sifter and allow any excess water in the fish to dripped out. At the mean time, this will allow the temperature of the fish to be brought down to room temperature so it will be cooked evenly.

  2. When you are about to cook the fish, tap the surface of the fish with kitchen towel and coat an extremely thin layer of corn starch. The corn starch helps to soak up any "leftover" water you missed out as well as giving the fish a pleasant crisp when fried.

  3. Heat your pan with your oil until you see mild smoke omitting from the pan. Please do not let the pan smoke till you could see grey colored smoke as this shows that the pan is way too hot to cook the fish as fish are often more delicate compared to meat. Alternatively, you can use a wooden chopstick and place it on top of the oil and once you see bubbles at the tip of the chopstick, the temperate of the oil is ready.

  4. Place your fish down and DO NOT FLIP IT. Flipping it would cause the meat to stick to the pan and fall apart. Flip it when you start seeing a brownish shade at the bottom of your fish and do it the same of the other side. Do sear the skin as fish skin are always nice when it's light and crispy.


The fish needs to be as dry as possible before going into the pan.
The flesh side could coated/dusted (potato starch, cornflour, wheat flour, polenta, oatmeal, etc)
Heat a hot pan, add a cooking oil with a high smoking temperature (eg canola/rapeseed oil), and place fish skin side down and lightly press the flesh down if it curls up. Leave to fry until the fish skin releases from the pan itself. You can check/peek at the level of crust on the skin before turning the fish over.

However if you meant to sear sushi grade Tuna, then you can coat this in something like peppercorns and/or other hard dried spices (chilli, coriander seeds, etc). Apply oil to the tuna and place in to a ridiculously hot and dry pan. Sear like a steak to your preference.

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