Baked Tilapia and White Asparagus

You don’t need much to take your taste buds for a ride.

Vertical image of a white plate with asparagus and fish next to roasted potatoes, with text on the top and bottom of the image.

Sometimes, simplicity is best, and this recipe is the epitome of that concept. We all know that butter makes everything better. Right?

If that’s news to you, now would be a good time to summon the spirit of Julia Child.

You could also just stream Nora Ephron’s brilliant biographical comedy-drama Julie & Julia if you can’t find your Ouija board. Towards the beginning of the film, there’s a great scene that depicts the iconic sole meunière that ignited Julia’s love of French cuisine.

And although today’s recipe is a well-rounded illustration of baked tilapia and white asparagus (not actual sole meunière), I can’t deny that there’s a parallel between the two dishes.

Vertical image of a platter full of white asparagus, fish fillets, and lemon slices next to a metal spoon.

Fresh white fish, butter, lemon, and parsley. That was all Julia needed as inspiration to dive headfirst into her legendary culinary career, and those humble ingredients are all you need to produce an epic meal in under thirty minutes.

That’s right. Under thirty minutes. How ya like them apples, Rach?

Another huge draw of this dish is the fact that everything cooks in one pan. As for the vessel, I turned straight to my cast iron. Any heavy-bottomed oven-proof skillet would work, but it’s hard to beat that consistent, even heat.

Every fish needs a crunchy companion, and I called upon white asparagus to add their own unique spin to this spread. It’s true that the green variety is readily available year-round, and you’re welcome to sub it in if you’re reading this outside of your local asparagus season from roughly April through June.

The pale stalks peak in the springtime, so I wanted to take full advantage of their freshness before the short-lived season was through.

Vertical close-up image of white asparagus, roasted potatoes, fish fillets, and lemon slices on a white plate next to silverware and a red napkin.

Instead of roasting the asparagus on a sheet pan, they get a head start on the stove. From there, they make some room for the fish and everyone bakes happily ever after. This recipe is like a fairy tale as old as time.

Flavor-wise, white asparagus are delicate and sweet with a touch of bitterness whereas their green counterparts are more earthy, vegetal, and grassy.

The mild flavor of the white stalks makes them a perfect partner to the mild, flaky fish. They’re also a tad thicker and more fibrous so they’ll hold up like little pros in the oven.

No wilted spears here! There’s a Britney joke in there somewhere, but I can’t find it… So let’s just move on!

Tilapia and white asparagus don’t have overwhelming flavor profiles, which means they can easily adapt and take on the personality of other ingredients. And if I were a fish or a vegetable, lemon butter would certainly be my first choice for playing dress-up.

Vertical top-down image of a seafood dinner on a white plate next to herbs, lemon wedges, a fork, and a red napkin.

Well, or a nice pair of parmesan pants like this recipe requires.

Using plenty of bright citrus zest (instead of just the juice) cuts through the butter’s richness even more and wakes up all the flavors in the pan sauce, which essentially makes itself.

I love when my dinner gives me a hand.

I opted for roasted potatoes as the carb to complete my meal, but noodles or even polenta would accomplish the same goal.

In the end, no lemon butter is left behind and your taste buds get one tasty trip. Julia would be proud.

Print
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Horizontal image of baked fish fillets and white vegetables in a cast iron skillet.

Baked Tilapia and White Asparagus


  • Author: Fanny Slater
  • Total Time: 25 minutes
  • Yield: 4 servings 1x

Description

Dinner is on the table in half an hour with this quick dish where flaky tilapia and sweet white asparagus bake in zesty lemon butter.


Ingredients

Scale
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided 
  • 1 pound white asparagus, tough ends trimmed (or a mix of white and purple)
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons coarse salt, divided
  • 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
  • Zest of 1 large lemon (about 1 tablespoon), divided
  • 4 6- to 8-ounce tilapia fillets
  • Juice of 1 large lemon (about 3 tablespoons)
  • Lemon wedges, for serving
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley, for garnish

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
  2. Place a large oven-safe pan over medium-high heat and give it time to fully heat up. When it comes to temperature, add 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter. Allow the butter to melt.
  3. Add the asparagus and season with 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper. Saute, tossing occasionally, until the asparagus are lightly charred, about 3-5 minutes. 
  4. Remove the pan from heat, sprinkle the asparagus with half of the lemon zest, and toss to coat. Move the asparagus aside, or around the edges of the pan.
  5. Coat the center of the pan with the remaining oil, and season each side of the tilapia with the remaining salt, pepper, and lemon zest. Arrange the fish in a single layer in the pan and top each piece with 1 tablespoon butter.
  6. Place the pan in the oven and bake until the fish is opaque and you’re able to easily flake the thickest part of the meat with a fork, about 8-12 minutes. Spoon the butter in the pan over the top of each fish fillet to baste it, and then drizzle the lemon juice on top.
  7. Arrange the fish and asparagus on a platter and drizzle the lemon butter over the top. Garnish with the lemon wedges and parsley and serve with roasted potatoes.
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 15 minutes
  • Category: Fish
  • Method: Baking
  • Cuisine: Seafood

Keywords: tilapia, asparagus

Cooking By the Numbers…

Step 1 – Gather and Measure Ingredients

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Horizontal image of assorted ingredients, fish fillets, and vegetables.

Trim the asparagus spears by lining up a few on your cutting board facing the same direction with the ends lined up. With green asparagus, you’d typically trim where the color turns from white to green, but for these, just slice off one to two inches of the tough part of the stalk. Repeat with the remaining asparagus.

Zest and juice the lemon, slice some lemon wedges for serving, and chop the parsley.

Pat the tilapia dry with paper towels to ensure that it sears rather than steaming when it hits the pan. Season the fish on both sides with 1/2 teaspoon pepper, 1 teaspoon salt, and half of the lemon zest.

Step 2 – Start Cooking the Asparagus

Preheat a large oven-safe pan over medium-high heat. Cast iron works great for this. Make sure you give it plenty of time to fully come to temperature.

Horizontal image of cooking white stalk vegetables in a cast iron skillet.

Add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in the pan.

Immediately add the asparagus to the pan, season with 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper, and shake to make sure all of the stalks get coated in the fat.

Saute, tossing occasionally, until the asparagus are lightly charred on the outside, about 3-5 minutes. Getting them started on the stove ensures that they’ll be done in the oven at the same time as the fish.

Step 3 – Add the Fish

Remove the pan from the heat and season the asparagus with the remaining lemon zest, moving them around to make sure they’re well coated.

Horizontal image of cooking fish fillets and asparagus in a cast iron skillets with pats of butter.

Using tongs or a spatula, move the asparagus to the edges of the pan, to make room for the tilapia.

Drizzle the remaining oil in the open spots in the pan and then nestle the fish in a single layer alongside the asparagus. Top each piece of fish with 1 tablespoon butter.

Step 4 – Bake, Garnish, and Serve

Place the pan in the oven and bake until the fish is done, about 8 to 12 minutes, depending on the thickness. The flesh will be opaque and firm to the touch, and when you twist a fork into the thickest part of the meat, it should flake easily.

Horizontal image of pouring hot oil over fish and vegetables in a cast iron skillet.

Be sure to use an over mitt, since the pan will be very hot. Remove the pan from the oven, and carefully tilt it so you can spoon the buttery sauce over the top of each fillet to baste it.

Drizzle the fish and asparagus with the lemon juice.

Horizontal image of baked fish fillets and white vegetables in a cast iron skillet.

Arrange the fish and asparagus on a platter, then pour the lemon butter sauce left in the pan over the top. Garnish with the lemon wedges and parsley, and serve with roasted potatoes.

Slice or Snap?

When I was growing up, asparagus were the veg-of-choice at my family’s dinner table so often that we were on a first name basis. Thanks to Gus joining us for many meals, I got plenty of experience prepping the pretty stalks alongside my dad.

Horizontal top-down image of a seafood dinner on a white plate next to herbs, lemon wedges, a fork, and a red napkin.

That being said, here’s my take on the question above.

With the “snap” method, you hold one asparagus in the middle and at the end and bend until the stalk snaps at its natural breaking point. You can then use that stalk as a guideline for trimming the rest.

I find that you lose a little more asparagus with that method, so my vote goes to slicing, just a few inches from the cut end. Larger stalks can also be peeled at the ends with a vegetable peeler, if you like.

What’s your take on trimming asparagus? Share your thoughts in the comments below! And don’t forget to give this recipe a five-star rating if you loved it.

If you stocked up on white asparagus but don’t know where else to showcase the springtime stalks, don’t fret. You can swap them into any recipe that calls for the green variety. Here are some yummy ideas for where to spread those spears:

Photos by Fanny Slater, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published by Shanna Mallon on February 11, 2010. Last updated on May 12, 2022.

Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.

About Fanny Slater

Fanny Slater is a home-taught food enthusiast based in Wilmington, North Carolina who won the “Rachael Ray Show” Great American Cookbook Competition in 2014, and published her cookbook “Orange, Lavender & Figs” in 2016. Fanny is a food and beverage writer, recipe developer, and social media influencer. She was a co-host on the Food Network series “Kitchen Sink,” was featured on Cooking Channel’s longtime popular series “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” and continues to appear regularly on the “Rachael Ray Show.”

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?

    <3

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
  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 http://thesimplespatula.blogspot.com/2010/01/hello-jfk-i-missed-you.html). 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.

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
  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 🙂

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
  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)?

    Reply
  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!

    Reply
  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!

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
  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!

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
  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?

    Reply
  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!

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

    Reply

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