The most important etiquette rules on how to serve and eat tilapia. Tips to be the ideal host or the perfect guest at the dining table.
What tilapia etiquette is
Tilapia etiquette is the set of rules to properly serve and eat tilapia. Such rules help avoid behaviors that can disrespect your hosts or guests, or make you look unpolite.
If you are hosting, follow tilapia etiquette to serve it to your guests appropriately.
If you are a guest, respect tilapia etiquette rules to properly eat and enjoy it.
What you should know about tilapia
Tilapia is a freshwater fish. There are several varieties of tilapia. In general, their meat is white in color and mild-flavored.
Etiquette rules to serve and eat tilapia
1) How to store tilapia
It is best to eat tilapia right away. Do not leave tilapia outside, at room temperature, for over 2 hours.
You can store raw tilapia in your fridge for 1 or 2 days. Cooked tilapia can last 3 to 4 days in the fridge.
Alternatively, you can store raw tilapia in the freezer. It can last for up to 6-8 months. Cooked tilapia can last up to 4 months in the freezer.
2) How to clean tilapia
Do not rinse tilapia before cooking. According to the USDA, washing raw fish before cooking risks spreading bacteria.
Place tilapia on a flat surface such as a cutting board. Hold it by the tail with one hand. With your other hand, scrape the tilapia with a knife to remove the scales. Scrape from the tail toward the head.
3) How to cook tilapia
There are several ways to cook tilapia. Bake, fry, pan-sear, or grill. You can cook tilapia whole, or cook tilapia filets.
Cook tilapia thoroughly to avoid food poisoning. Fresh tilapia should cook at a temperature of at least 65°C (145°F).
4) How to serve & present tilapia
Serve tilapia whole or in filets. A whole tilapia can be an individual serving for one person.
If you serve the whole tilapia to more than one guest, you should clean it on the serving plate. Then, proceed to serve your guests, or pass the serving plate around.
To serve a whole tilapia, first cut it into two halves along its spine, from head to tail. Leave the head and the tail intact. Start from the head, hold the fish still with a fork, and cut the belly open from head to tail with a knife. Gently open the fish into two parts.
Plate and serve one piece at a time. Do not serve random pieces here and there. Follow an order, starting from the head and working your way down to the tail. Do not flip the tilapia over to reach the meat on the other side of the spine. Instead, gently lift the spine and remove the flesh from beneath.
5) Foods and beverages to pair tilapia with
Tilapia goes well with several vegetables. Potatoes, zucchini, brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, and asparagus. You can accompany tilapia with rice. Avoid pairing tilapia with pasta, meat, or dairy.
Pair tilapia with white wine. Sauvignon Blanc, Grüner Veltliner, Pinot Grigio, Albariño, or unoaked Chardonnay such as Chablis. Do not pair tilapia with red wine.
6) How to eat tilapia
If tilapia is served whole on a serving dish, serve yourself with a few whole pieces of flesh. Use the serving utensils to place the flesh on your plate.
If tilapia is served whole on an individual dish, clean it on your plate. First cut it into two halves along its spine, from head to tail. Leave the head and the tail intact. Start from the head, hold the fish still with a fork, and cut the belly open from head to tail with a knife. Gently open the fish into two parts.
Eat one piece at a time. Do not eat random pieces here and there. Follow an order, starting from the head and working your way down to the tail. Do not flip the tilapia over to reach the meat on the other side of the spine. Instead, gently lift the spine and remove the flesh from beneath.
Eat tilapia with a fish fork and a fish knife. Do not use the knife to cut the flesh. Instead, use it to part in small bite-sized pieces.
Look out for small bones, but do not make a mess or get obsessed with finding them. If you encounter a small bone in your mouth, discreetly remove it with your fingers. Place it on one side of your plate.
Tilapia etiquette: the worst mistakes
The Rude Index identifies and ranks negative behaviors.
A high score (8-10) means that the behavior has the potential to trigger a conflict with others. A medium score (4-7) means that the behavior risks making you look inelegant and unsophisticated. More about the Rude Index and its methodology here.
Avoid the worst tilapia etiquette mistakes.
- 9/10. Serving spoiled tilapia.
- 7/10. Serving and plating tilapia without an order.
- 6/10. Pairing tilapia with meat or dairy.
- 5/10. Pairing tilapia with red wine.
- 4/10. Using your knife to cut tilapia.
Additional information for properly serving tilapia
How many calories per serving?
Counting calories is important to stay healthy and to correctly plan a menu.
Tilapia contains about 129 calories per 100 grams. An individual serving is usually one tilapia, which weighs around 115 grams (4 oz). Thus, one serving contains around 150 calories per person.
How to buy the best tilapia
A crucial factor in tilapia etiquette is to serve the best product possible to your guests.
Season and availability
Tilapia is available all year round. The peak seasons for fishing tilapia are usually spring and fall.
Choose the best
To buy the best tilapia, choose whole fish with clear eyes and fresh shiny skin. If you buy a cut or a filet, choose tilapia with bright white skin.
Alternatives to tilapia
Cod or haddock are popular substitutes for tilapia.
Is it safe to eat tilapia? According to the USDA, tilapia is safe to eat. You should simply follow the recommendations for storing it and cooking it safely.
How do you clean tilapia before cooking? Do not rinse tilapia under running water. Just remove its scales with a knife or a spoon.
Is tilapia supposed to be washed? No, do not wash tilapia before cooking. Just remove its scales with a knife or a spoon.
Can you eat the skin of tilapia? Yes, you can eat the skin if you remove the scales and you cook tilapia properly, at a minimum temperature of 65°C (145°F).
Is undercooked tilapia bad for you? Undercooked tilapia has a high risk of bacteria. You should cook tilapia thoroughly to avoid food poisoning. Fresh tilapia should cook at a temperature of at least 65°C (145°F).