Baked Tilapia and White Asparagus

When it comes to food magazine writing styles, people differ. Think piece or recipe?

A plate of baked tilapia with white asparagus and baby potatoes.

Mini memoir or service article? Different people see things differently.

A bowl with baked tilapia, baby potatoes, and asparagus with a fork at the side.

So, if we hold different opinions on blog posts or food magazine writing styles, it’s no surprise we disagree about more than that, too. There is a school of thought, for example, that says we cannot change our basic selves.

Tilapia fillets in a pan and baby potatoes in a foil inside an oven.

People in this camp say that who we are intrinsically is who we have to be, give or take a few small choices. They feel someone like me will always be someone like me, maybe with different circumstances or friends or hairstyles, but always the same me deep down.

Baby potatoes in a pot filled with water cooking over a stove.

Do you think that? I’m not sure. There’s another camp that disagrees — make your own destiny! carpe diem!

Baked smashed potatoes in a foil.

To be totally honest with you, I like them better. I want to believe I can change —or rather, that I can be changed — and I want to believe that about you.

A baking tray lined with foil and full of white asparagus.

Thing is, change is hard to measure. Take asparagus.

A close up view of baked white asparagus.

When you trim a bunch of fresh white asparagus and lay it on a baking sheet, rolling the stalks in lemon olive oil and sprinkling them with salt and pepper before you roast it all in the white-hot oven, you can watch it transform before you from hard and cold to bruised and limp, with spots of darkness from the heat all over its thin stalks, and you can know there’s change there, no question.

But would some say it’s not much of a change? Though softened and broken, it is, after all, still asparagus?

Baby potatoes in a pot filled with water cooking over a stove.

Or take potatoes. You can boil baby golds, the way you’ve done before, cooking them until they’re soft, then smashing them and coating their soft skins with olive oil and salt and pepper like you did the asparagus, and you can roast them, too, until they’re crispy and golden, wonderful to pop in your mouth one by one but, at the end, bettered by heat and seasoning and time.

Baked smashed potatoes in a foil.

Are they changed? Are they essentially the same?

And then there’s fish. Tilapia.

Tilapia fillets on a chopping board.

And while making the tilapia we had for lunch on Superbowl Sunday was fairly simple, just a few minutes of covering the fillets with lemon zest and fresh-ground black pepper:

Seasoned tilapia fillets on a wooden chopping board and a sliced lemon on the side.

placing them in a cast-iron skillet, covering with lemon juice and topping with hunks of butter:

A hand seasoning tilapia fillets in a pan over a stove.

and baking until golden and covered with a pool of buttery juices.

Baked Tilapia fillets in a pan over a stove.

The very fact that we were making fish starkly contrasts a former me who hated, hated, hated fish for at least 20 years of my life, with occasional exception for those frozen and breaded sticks made of cod, and yet now here I am, genuinely liking how light and not-heavy fish feels on my stomach (as well as healthy). Is that not change?

So here is what I think: we are always us, but we are always being changed, so who we are is changing, too. It’s like how the New Testament Saul who persecuted Christians could become the apostle who wrote more than a dozen books of the Bible.

A pair of hands slicing a lemon in a kitchen counter.

Or how the me who was deathly afraid of dogs became someone who loves one. Or how you, who used to do or think or love something in one way, now do it differently. You know?

From food magazine writing styles to perspectives on change, we all see things differently. But whatever your perspective on change, the truth is, it’s happening.

Sometimes it’s imperceptible; sometimes it’s obvious. But it’s real, in our lives, in our kitchens, in us. For this I am glad.

Baked Tilapia

Adapted from Bobby Deen


  • Butter cooking spray
  • 2 (6 to 8-ounce) tilapia fillets
  • Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1 lemon finely grated zest and juice
  • 3 Tablespoons butter


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Coat a large cast iron pan with a nonstick butter spray (or with butter).
  2. Rinse fish and pat dry; place on the prepared pan.
  3. Season each fillet with salt, cracked pepper and the zest and juice of a lemon.
  4. Add fish to the pan. Place a generous pat of butter on each fillet and cook in the oven for 8 to 12 minutes.


About Shanna Mallon

Shanna Mallon is a freelance writer who holds an MA in writing from DePaul University. Her work has been featured in a variety of media outlets, including The Kitchn, Better Homes & Gardens, Taste of Home,, Foodista, Entrepreneur, and Ragan PR. In 2014, she co-authored The Einkorn Cookbook with her husband, Tim. Today, you can find her digging into food topics and celebrating the everyday grace of eating on her blog, Go Eat Your Bread with Joy. Shanna lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with Tim and their two small kids.

22 thoughts on “Baked Tilapia and White Asparagus”

  1. I don’t eat fish. But this recipe might be just the thing I need for my v-day present to my husband. He LOVES tilapia . . . and asparagus . . . and potatoes. In all my vegetarian/vegan cooking, I haven’t made fish for him more than once. Thanks for such a tasty dish.

    PS: I’ve made a lot with “regular” asparagus. Is there much of a different in flavor with the white variety?


  2. I love this posting Shannalee.
    I really appreciate the honesty in your thoughts and the ability to put them down on paper.
    I believe that yes, I can change. And, if I might be as so bold to state, I have and in many areas.

    Your asparagus dish reminds me of how my grannie grew it in her garden. Amazing plant.

  3. I’m so glad you wrote this because one of my new years resolutions was to learn to cook and eat fish (you can read about it here if you like I’ve been hiding from this resolution and have yet to try cooking even one piece of fish but this looks delicious and I’ve found that my cast iron skillet really makes everyhting taste better.

    On another note I think that people can change even if they are not open to it. Change is inevitable but those that change for the better are willing to accept it and go with the flow. To fight it just ensures that you will be unhappy. I also agree with you in that I like to think people (I) can change. maybe thats just the glass half full in me.

    I’m totally making that talapia…eventually.

  4. Nice! And of course I chuckle at the Change theme that we’ve both now written about. Somehow i get the sense we are seeing the same piece of art from different sides of the room.

  5. I used to hate fish too when I was young. I even hated those fried fish sticks that were forced down my throat on Fridays during Lent. But I’ve started eating it more and more now because of the omega-3 fatty acids that are supposedly good for inflammation and immune support, and now I’d say I eat it once or twice a week. Usually salmon, sometimes tilapia or tuna. It is crazy how tastes change! That’s why I’ll try anything. Even Kombucha 🙂

  6. Interesting subject. I too believe that people can change. But no matter how much we want to change or have no choice but to change, there are certain things about ourselves that will always be there. For example, in Grease when Sandy gets a perm and dons leather clothes to be “cool” there is one moment where she isn’t sure what to do with her cigarette. One of the Pink Ladies demonstrates what Sandy should do, and she does it. The moral is that she might not look like Sandra Dee but deep down is the sweet girl Danny fell in love with at the beach.

  7. Beautiful, moving, wonderful writing. As always.

    I do have a question, since I will be trying this recipe soon! When you say to place the fish on a prepared baking sheet, are you referring to the cast iron pan? If you don’t have a cast iron pan, can this be made on a baking sheet? Is there a benefit to using cast iron (speaking of which, I need to season the cast iron griddle pan I’ve had sitting around for years…whoops)?

  8. Ashley, Happy to help! As far as the asparagus – the funny thing is I totally Googled white asparagus vs. green asparagus when we got back to Adam’s apartment Sunday, in an effort to find that same answer. Apparently the white was grown without light so the chlorophyll (forgive me if I’m saying this wrong) doesn’t occur and it stays white. They’re very similar in taste… I thought the white was a little tougher, if that’s any help.

    Celeste, I am so jealous that your grannie grew asparagus in her garden! I’d love to have a huge garden with all kinds of vegetables someday. And thanks, as always, for your sweet comment.

    Lisa, I agree. I think change happens to us a lot of times, even when we don’t realize it.

    Montague, Me too (now!)

    kendall, Like I e-mailed you, your change post did help inspire this one. Thanks for your always provoking posts and also for your gracious responses. Love the way you added an addendum to it.

    Alicia, Right? I love that our tastes can change. And I love that you’ve tried kombucha now.

    Vicki, Maybe… but maybe Sandy wasn’t supposed to change dramatically… You could say Danny changed in order to see her for who she was and like her?

    Kim, You are way too kind, but thank you so much. I appreciate the encouragement. AND GOOD CALL about the prepared baking sheet. That was my bad, and I have fixed the recipe accordingly. If you did want to use a big pan or a baking sheet instead, I don’t see why you couldn’t – let me know how it turns out!

  9. Ah, your posts always make me think. Quite a good thing, since thinking and introspection are definitely vehicles for change. Looking outward too, but currently I’m in the introspective stage 🙂 And I’m glad you like fish finally – if I could live on fish, vegetables, and potatoes or bread (basically your dinner!), I would!

  10. Excellent thoughts and excellent theology, if you’re headed in the direction I think you are with “be changed.” Paul is one of the greatest examples of a changed heart and I’m so glad you included the reference here.

  11. I don’t eat a lot of fish or really cook with it. It doesn’t last as long as chicken or beef which I prefer, but I just cooked with green asparagus and it was AWESOME!

  12. I’m going to send you an email because you made me think and my comments got too personal to share. Great provocative post.

  13. I didn’t read through everyone else’s comments, so maybe I’m just repeating what someone else is saying here but…
    I think that even though you change places, preferences, political sides, religions, food tastes, jobs, whatever you want, you are still the same person. I know I’ve done a lot of growing up in my life, but I am the same person I discovered myself to be when I was in high school and figured it all out. I am someone who cares more about the people I love than myself, someone who unquestioningly believes in God and practices the Orthodox faith. I’m someone’s youngest daughter, someone’s sister, someone’s best friend. I am my boyfriend’s love. I am a person who can say all of this and not worry about what you think of me, but know that I am who I am, whether someone likes it or not.
    You have the same core parts of yourself that no one can change but yourself. And they are pretty big changes. I will always the person I am, not matter if I eat bacon now and didn’t before. Or if my favorite color changes from pink to green. Or if I change jobs and have different responsibilities. I am still the same person.

    Btw, I’ve never had white asparagus. Is it similar to green? I love roasted green asparagus but have always been intrigued. What’s the difference?

  14. Caitlin, I like how you put that, that introspection is a vehicle for change. Also – you will have to fill me in on how you make your fish! There is a whole world out there that I’ve yet to delve into.

    postcollegecook, the fact that you got the theology behind what I was saying totally made my night, so thank you.

    Jessica, Ha! I def understand, but listen: fish has its benefits. Meanwhile, glad you’re enjoying asparagus. Yummm.

    Angela, I loved your e-mail and am more convinced than ever that we will need to sit down and chat sometime.

    Niki, I think you’ve struck at the key issue here: what is the essence of someone? There seems to be some disagreement on what it means to change attitudes/opinions/responses/habits and whether or not those changes signal a bigger change. My friend Kendall said something about how he believes the change we encounter is change moving us towards who we were meant to be. And I liked that.

    Oh and on the asparagus – they’re very similar, just grown differently, and truthfully I think I prefer green. But try the white sometime! It is pretty, that’s for sure.

    TJ, Yes, I agree. And thank you!

  15. i love that we change, just as food does when we transform it into better, delicious, awe-inspiring dishes (like your dinner)…YUM!


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