Pan-seared tilapia with tomato caper sauce

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Pan-seared tilapia
Pan-seared tilapia with tomato caper sauce (Jessica Grann)

By Jessica Grann

I love to cook with fresh herbs and in-season produce to get the most flavorful outcome. This recipe is full of Mediterranean flavors, which come mostly from fresh tomatoes, salty capers and olives. Fresh lemon juice, parsley and sea salt round out this dish that is sure to brighten up your day.


I chose to make this recipe with tilapia, which is an affordable white fish that is easy for most shoppers to find. The sauce will taste great on any white fish and, for special dinners, I suggest substituting branzino fillets.

This recipe creates a healthy dish to serve as a fish course or as a main course that can be made dairy or pareve. Total prep and cooking time is just 15 minutes, which is something that we all appreciate.

This recipe serves 4 and can easily be doubled for a larger crowd.

  • 4 tilapia fillets
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter or olive oil, divided
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
  • ½ cup pitted kalamata or niçoise olives, halved
  • 2 tablespoons small capers
  • 2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
  • 2-3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Kosher or sea salt to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper or a pinch of Aleppo pepper

Rinse and pat dry your fish fillets, then lightly sprinkle with salt on both sides.

Prepare and measure the rest of the ingredients: Chop the olives and tomatoes in half; chop the parsley; and juice a large lemon. I chose to use multicolored heirloom cherry tomatoes for added color, but plain red cherry tomatoes are lovely as well.

Place a saute pan over medium heat to warm for a few minutes before adding 3 tablespoons of butter or olive oil. It’s best to use a pan large enough to fit all 4 fillets at once. If you have a smaller pan that only fits 2 fillets, you may need to add another tablespoon of butter or olive oil before pan-frying the second batch. (If you are using butter, make sure it is unsalted. Salted butter browns too quickly and can ruin the sauce.)

Gently place the fillets into the pan and cook for exactly 3 minutes. During those 3 minutes, gently press down each part of the fillet with the back of a spatula — this will help to create a crust on the fish without needing to add any kind of flour or breading.

At the 3-minute mark, flip the fish and cook for another 30-45 seconds.

Remove the fish to a platter with a spatula.

Using the same pan and oil with the heat still set to medium, stir in the tomatoes, capers and olives.

Cook for about 90 seconds, stirring regularly, until the tomatoes soften, but not so much that they lose their skins.

Add an extra tablespoon of butter or oil, the chopped parsley and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. Stir gently for about 30 seconds, turn off the heat and ladle the sauce directly over the fish. Since the olives and capers are salty, taste-test before adding any more salt. You may want to add another pinch, a little more lemon juice and some freshly ground pepper.

You can serve this dish immediately.

Jessica Grann is a home chef living in Pittsburgh.

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