Baked Tilapia in Lemon Butter Sauce

This lemon butter baked tilapia is ready in 20 minutes! Make this easy weeknight meal with tilapia, or your favorite flaky white fish.

Side view of Garlicky Lemon Baked Tilapia with a side of green beans and a slice of lemon.
Lori Rice

Simple baked fish gets none of the glory, but always gets a thumbs-up from those who are otherwise wary of seafood.

It’s quick and easy; my mother would make it when I was growing up for that very reason. Now that I’m a parent, I like knowing I can count on my daughter asking for seconds of this dish.

As the fish bakes it makes its own buttery sauce, which compliments any of the vegetables and starchy sides you serve with it. The biggest task for this weeknight meal is remembering to thaw your fish.

The Best Way to Thaw Frozen Fish Fillets

Fish thaws quicker than other animal proteins like chicken or beef so it’s especially good for those of us who forget to plan dinner from time to time. Here are some tips for how to thaw tilapia.

  • To Thaw Quickly: Place the frozen fish in a bowl or pot of cool water (under 40° F). Change the water out every 30 minutes. Your fish should be thawed in 1 to 2 hours. Once the fish is thawed, don’t refreeze it.
  • To thaw in 24 hours: Remove frozen fish fillets from its packaging. Place it on a plate or dish to contain moisture. Cover with lid or plastic wrap and thaw in the fridge. It should be ready within 24 hours. If you’re fish is particularly thick, it could take a little more than 24 hours. Use within 2 days.
Lemon Butter Baked Tilapia in a casserole dish with a serving being lifted out.
Lori Rice

How Do You Know When Tilapia Is Cooked Through?

The fish will be opaque, and the flesh will flake apart when you prod it gently. The flaking is a sure sign of doneness; fish like this won’t flake until it’s cooked through.

When in doubt, use a thermometer— it should read 145°F when inserted in the thickest part of the fillet. Though sometimes the fillets are so thin, it’s challenging to get an accurate reading on a thermometer.

How Long Does It Take to Bake Tilapia? 

If cooking fish brings out your cooking insecurities, breathe easy. Sure, you can sauté or grill fish, but it’s prone to breaking that way. Baking it in the oven means minimal handling and creates less mess. Even better, as the fish bakes, you get about 10 minutes to cook some veggies and set the table.

Tilapia fillets cook quickly. This recipe calls for a 450°F oven and the fish should be ready in about 10 minutes. You can prep all your meal components as the oven preheats and dinner will be on the table before you know it.

Garlic Lemon Butter Baked Tilapia on a plate with a side of green beans.
Lori Rice

Swaps and Substitutions for Lemon Garlic Butter Tilapia

  • Use any flaky white fish: swai, cod, orange roughy, pollock, or flounder.
  • Add 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme into the sauce before pouring it over the fish.
  • Sprinkle 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill or parsley over the fish right after it comes out of the oven.
  • Rinse and pat dry 2 teaspoons of capers and add them to the butter when you add the garlic.
  • Add up to 1/2 teaspoon dried red chile flakes to the butter 1 minute after adding the garlic.

What to Serve with Tilapia

Couscous is ready in a flash and it soaks up all that lemony butter sauce. Rice or mashed potatoes are nice with this dish, too.

You can also plate the fish over hot pasta—reserve 1/2 cup pasta cooking liquid and toss with pasta, and butter sauce to create a creamy and vibrant pasta side dish. Simple green vegetables like steamed broccoli, sauteed spinach, or asparagus can round out this meal.

Lemon Butter Oven Baked Tilapia on a plate with a fork and green beans.
Lori Rice

More Tasty Tilapia Recipes

Baked Tilapia in Lemon Butter Sauce

Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 10 mins
Total Time 20 mins
Servings 4 servings

Tilapia loins come from the thickest part of the fillet and tend to be a little firmer; they’re what I prefer in this recipe. They usually cost a little more than thin tilapia fillets. The baking time should be about the same, though.


This recipe will work with most boneless, flaky white fish fillets.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pounds tilapia fillets
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt 
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon garlic, minced
  • 4 teaspoons lemon juice

Method

  1. Preheat the oven and position rack:

    Position a rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 450°F.

  2. Pat fish dry and season:

    Pat the fish dry using a paper towel. In a large baking dish, arrange the fillets in a single layer, making sure they do not overlap. Season the fillets with salt and pepper. Set aside.

    Tilapia fillets in a casserole dish to make Lemon Garlic Tilapia.
    Lori Rice
  3. Make the butter sauce:

    In a small skillet over medium heat add the butter. Once the butter has melted add the garlic and cook until aromatic, about 2 minutes. Add the lemon juice and remove from the heat. Pour the sauce over the fish, trying to get the garlic bits on top of the fillets rather than the pan.

    Minced garlic in a skillet with melted butter to make Tilapia fillets in a casserole dish to make Lemon Garlic Tilapia..
    Lori Rice
    Garlic butter poured of tilapia fillets to make Tilapia fillets in a casserole dish to make Lemon Garlic Tilapia..
    Lori Rice
  4. Bake the fish:

    Bake the fish, until it is opaque and easily flakes apart when gently prodded, about 10 minutes. Serve immediately, spooning the sauce over the fish.

    Lemon Butter Baked Tilapia in a casserole dish and cooling on a rack.
    Lori Rice