Butter-poached tilapia with parsley recipe

I’ve come to the conclusion that anything dressed in butter is damn good.

Steaks, potatoes, bread, you name it. Butter just makes everything taste that much better.

Better with butter. Isn’t that the saying?

I was puttering around the kitchen a few nights ago wondering how to cook some tilapia I had chilling in the fridge when I remembered a recipe in Melissa Clark’s In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite (stellar cookbook by the way, highly recommend!) that talked about poaching fish in butter. Turns out that while she reminisced about a prior recipe that did include butter, her re-invented take on it didn’t actually include it (she used olive oil). I decided to take the original route and go for the butter. What could be so bad, right?

I sliced the fish up into cubes and shucked them into the pan of glistening butter, added a handful of chopped parsley, pinches of salt and pepper and let it poach gently over low heat until the fish turned gorgeously luminous and opaque.

After I plated it (Lord knows how I got this far without eating it straight off the pan), I topped it off with a quickly dressed salad of arugula greens.

It took everything I could muster to not eat it straight away so I could snap some pictures for you guys. I know, I’m such a giver. Altruist, even.

Minutes later, I savored my first bite of the gilded fish, droplets of butter and fleshy tilapia coating the inside of my mouth. While my initial approach to eating it was refrained and stoic, each taste that came thereafter became much more ravenous and hurried. It was so delicious I couldn’t stop myself from taking it in forkful by forkful until the plate was emptied of food, the only remnant left behind a couple scatterings of parsley.

This is one of those meals where less is definitely more. I only used a handful of ingredients — tilapia, butter, parsley, arugula just to name some of the key players. Moreover, minimalist dishes like these call for really good and fresh ingredients since that’s what you’ll be tasting predominantly, so remember that.

I’m sure you could make a grand meal showcasing this fish dish (ha-ha, I made a funny!) decked out with starters and salads and fancy dessert do-hickies but I ended up just eating this by itself. Well, and a glass of wine of course. But, you do whatever you’re in the mood for. You’re the kitchen boss after all.

Butter-poached tilapia with parsley

Print the recipe

Serves 1-2; prep and cook 15 minutes

1 tilapia filet

4 tablespoons good quality butter*

Salt and pepper to taste

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

Handful of arugula

Salt and pepper to taste

Squeeze of lemon juice (about a wedges’ worth)

3-4 tablespoons  extra virgin olive oil

*For this specific dish I used Kerrygold Irish butter. I love the rich flavor and creaminess but if you don’t have it, any other good stick butter would do. I would stay away from margarine, though.

In a medium-sized saucepan start gently melting the butter over medium-low heat.

Meanwhile, slice the tilapia into bite-size chunks. When the butter has pretty much melted all the way, toss in the fish, parsley, and a pinch of both salt and pepper. Stir and let cook very slowly and gently in the butter until the fish has turned opaque; approximately 7-10 minutes. Don’t let the butter brown, you just want it to gently cook the fish. Adjust the stove accordingly.

As the fish cooks, prepare the quick arugula salad to dress on top. In a small bowl combine the lemon juice, salt and pepper, and extra virgin olive oil, whisking together. Add in the arugula leaves and tousle around with your hands. Set aside.

When the fish is done, put it on a plate (with or without the butter – but I highly recommend with!), add more parsley and then dress with arugula salad.




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  • Island VittlesJune 14, 2011 - 8:34 am

    That’s a pretty tasty lookin’ filet of fish you got there, Steph. And like you said, everything’s better with butter! TheresaReplyCancel

  • Lillian H.June 14, 2011 - 7:50 pm

    ooh i won Melissa Clark’s cookbook recently and thumbed through it – loving the stories behind each recipe.

    i don’t really eat or cook fish (like never) but i think i can get on board with this butter poaching thing… the dish looks absolutely heavenly! ReplyCancel

  • JunJune 15, 2011 - 7:06 am

    Extremely delicious and buttery! ReplyCancel

  • sarahJune 16, 2011 - 4:36 am

    Gorgeous! I love meals that only require a few fresh ingredients and, well, butter just makes everything better! I totally agree about Melissa Clark’s cookbook, by the way- its wonderful! ReplyCancel

  • FatpiginthemarketJune 17, 2011 - 4:59 pm

    You had me at butter but when you wrote gilded I swooned. I love the way you write!ReplyCancel

  • JessicaJune 18, 2011 - 8:23 am

    Yum!! Go butter! The colors of the arugula and butter are just gorgeous. I love these minimalist dishes, especially when you get your hands on extremely fresh seafood like the tilapia.ReplyCancel

  • Kate@Diethood.comJune 19, 2011 - 2:46 am

    This sounds so good! All that buttery goodness on there looks ammmmazing! ReplyCancel

  • Claire GallamJune 20, 2011 - 5:36 pm

    This sounds incredible!ReplyCancel

  • sippitysupJune 26, 2011 - 2:37 pm

    I have poached lobster in butter and fish in olive oil. But now thanks to you I think I’ll try this. GREGReplyCancel

  • AubreyJune 27, 2011 - 7:47 pm

    Absolutely delicious! This looks so elegant that I was surprised by how easy it was to make. ReplyCancel

  • Lemons and AnchoviesJune 28, 2011 - 2:27 pm

    I remember you posting about this recently and me being so intrigued by it. Boy, does this look wonderful.  The fish looks melt-in-your-mouth tender and look at that silky butter.  Kerrygold is awesome, I agree.  I normally use tilapia fillets in fish tacos but this is a much better use of them, for sure!ReplyCancel

  • shivaniJanuary 4, 2013 - 11:06 pm

    Just made this for dinner tonight and LOVED it. We didn’t have any arugula so I put thinly sliced shallots and grape tomatoes in the butter. Served with a side of brocollini. Delicious. Thanks for the recipe.ReplyCancel

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