Thai-Inspired Coconut-Poached Tilapia Recipe

This recipe is the sort of dish that you can put together any night of the week but serves equally well for an elegant dinner party. Coconut milk infused with an array of Thai-inspired aromatics is used to gently poach tilapia filets and fresh spinach, making a dish that's delicate in flavor but deeply satisfying. Served over a bed of rice, you have a quick, simple dinner fit to impress even the most particular of guests.

Any meal that you can put on the table in under 30 minutes is an absolute win, and the layers of flavor in this dish will leave your dinner guests thinking that you spent hours in the kitchen. It begins with garlic, ginger, and shallots, which give a delightful base of flavor to the coconut milk. Fresh basil, a touch of fish sauce, a sprinkle of lime zest, and just a hint of brown sugar round out the coconut milk into a complete sauce. The tilapia and spinach, when poached, take on these amazing flavors, resulting in a tender, juicy fish that dances across the palate with every bite.

Whether you're looking for a new weeknight meal that you can throw together after a long day at work or you're searching for an elegant star for a dinner party, this recipe has you covered.

Gather the coconut-poached tilapia ingredients

For this recipe, you will need vegetable oil, garlic, ginger, shallots, coconut milk, fish sauce, brown sugar, tilapia filets, fresh basil, fresh spinach, lime, scallions, and salt. If you like a bit of heat with your meal, you will also need Thai chiles for the garnish. Once you have gathered those ingredients together, you're only 22 minutes away from a delicious meal.

Step 1: Heat the skillet

Bring a large skillet to medium heat and add the vegetable oil.

Step 2: Cook the aromatics

Add the shallot, garlic, and ginger, and cook for 2–3 minutes, or until fragrant and soft.

Step 3: Add the coconut milk

Pour in the coconut milk.

Step 4: Add fish sauce and sugar

Add the fish sauce and sugar, and stir until the sugar is dissolved.

Step 5: Poach the fish

Place the tilapia filets in the skillet, cover, and simmer for 8 minutes.

Step 6: Add the greens

Stir in the basil, lime zest, and spinach. Simmer, covered, for another 3 minutes, or until the spinach is wilted.

Step 7: Finish seasoning the dish

Remove from heat. Add the lime juice and salt, to taste.

Step 8: Garnish and serve

Garnish with scallions and serve over rice. Serve thinly sliced Thai chiles and lime wedges on the side, if you wish.

What is the difference between coconut milk and coconut cream?

Coconut milk and coconut cream are both traditional ingredients in many cuisines but are relative newcomers to the culinary scene in the US. When you're walking down the aisle of the grocery store and checking out your options, they look exactly the same, both typically being sold in cans of equal size. So, what is the real difference between coconut milk and coconut cream?

Coconut milk and coconut cream are both made by the same process, which is completely different from coconut water. To make coconut milk and cream, the coconut meat is extracted from the coconut, grated, and mixed with hot water to extract the fat from the meat. This mixture is then strained to remove the solids, leaving that familiar white liquid with a large amount of suspended coconut fat. This product is the base of both coconut milk and coconut cream.

The real difference between coconut milk and coconut cream is similar to the difference between whole milk and dairy cream — it's all about fat content. Coconut cream is simply coconut milk with a significantly higher fat content. Traditional coconut milk has a fat content of around 9–15%, while coconut cream boasts a fat percentage of around 19–22%. If you've ever opened a can of coconut milk that has separated into a liquid layer and a solid layer, that solid layer on top is the coconut cream.

What can I substitute for Thai chiles?

Thai chiles, also known as bird's eye chiles, are a small, potent pepper traditionally used in many Southeast Asian cuisines. They have an intense heat and a mild, fruity flavor, but they can be difficult to find, depending on your local grocery. Fortunately, if you need to find a substitute, there are options.

Our top choice to replace Thai chiles is serrano peppers. Serranos are widely available throughout the US because of their use in Mexican cuisine. Serranos are a milder chile, boasting only about ¼ as many Scoville heat units (the standard scale for spiciness in hot peppers), so they also serve to tame the heat of the dish.

If you want something that will still bring potent spice to a dish, habanero peppers are your best bet. Habaneros have a beautiful orange color that pops as a garnish, but they are around 2–3 times as spicy as Thai chiles, so use them sparingly. If you really want to bring down the heat, diced jalapeños might fit the bill. Jalapeños are much milder (around ⅒ as spicy), so they are well-suited to those who only want a mild tingle in their meal. Or, if even that is too much, simply forego the chiles entirely. They are used only as a garnish in this meal, so you're better off leaving them out if spicy foods aren't your cup of tea.

Thai-Inspired Coconut-Poached Tilapia Recipe
4.8 from 4 ratings
Using coconut milk, basil, lime, and hot chiles to recall characteristic Thai flavors, this quick and simple poached tilapia recipe is a novel weeknight meal.
Prep Time
7
minutes
Cook Time
15
minutes
Servings
6
servings
coconut-poached tilapia over rice
Total time: 22 minutes
Ingredients
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • ½ shallot, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 2 (14-ounce) cans coconut milk
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 6 tilapia filets
  • ¼ cup basil chiffonade
  • 1 lime, zested
  • 1 bunch fresh spinach
  • ½ lime, juiced
  • Salt, to taste
  • 4 scallions, thinly sliced
Optional Ingredients
  • Thinly sliced Thai chiles, for serving
  • Lime wedges, for serving
Directions
  1. Bring a large skillet to medium heat and add the vegetable oil.
  2. Add the shallot, garlic, and ginger, and cook for 2–3 minutes, or until fragrant and soft.
  3. Pour in the coconut milk.
  4. Add the fish sauce and sugar, and stir until the sugar is dissolved.
  5. Place the tilapia filets in the skillet, cover, and simmer for 8 minutes.
  6. Stir in the basil, lime zest, and spinach. Simmer, covered, for another 3 minutes, or until the spinach is wilted.
  7. Remove from heat. Add the lime juice and salt, to taste.
  8. Garnish with scallions and serve over rice. Serve thinly sliced Thai chiles and lime wedges on the side, if you wish.
Nutrition
Calories per Serving 423
Total Fat 32.8 g
Saturated Fat 25.9 g
Trans Fat 0.0 g
Cholesterol 58.0 mg
Total Carbohydrates 10.3 g
Dietary Fiber 2.2 g
Total Sugars 1.8 g
Sodium 802.6 mg
Protein 28.3 g
The information shown is Edamam’s estimate based on available ingredients and preparation. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.
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