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Salsa Verde Baked Tilapia

Tackle this tart and tangy salsa verde baked fish that features tomatillos and tilapia. Roast the veggies for your sauce, blitz in a blender, and then bake your fish.

Baked Tilapia with Tomatillo Salsa garnished with parsley and served on a bed of rice.
Lori Rice

Fish cooks quickly, making it perfect for weeknight dinners.

Some pan-seared fish can be on the table in the same amount of time it takes to set the table. But if you’re apprehensive about flipping fillets or being left with a lingering smell, baking fish is a great alternative.

High-quality fish won’t have a strong fishy odor, but it’s worth noting that the tilapia here is mild in both aroma and flavor. The fillets are easy to handle, and they bake in about 30 minutes.

The homemade tomatillo sauce is pretty much hands-off—just toss the ingredients in oil, roast and blitz them in the blender. A sauce like this is a bonus because it can be made up to two days ahead so that your prep time for the finished dinner is cut in half. 

What is Salsa Verde?

Salsa verde is summed up perfectly in its name: green sauce. The color—and signature flavor—comes from tomatillos, which are part of the nightshade vegetable family and come in a papery husk. They tend to be sticky when the husk is removed, so give them a rinse before using. 

They’re pleasantly tart, with a taste similar to green tomatoes. They contain a lot of pectin, so they bring a really nice texture to any dish. The rest of the ingredients in salsa verde are similar to tomato salsa: onion, jalapeño, and cilantro.

When making it from scratch you can customize that sauce to your liking. Make it as spicy as you like or skip the cilantro. However, if you're really pinched for time this recipe works well with store bought salsa verde too.

Salsa Verde Baked Tilapia in a casserole dish and topped with parsley.
Lori Rice

Find the Tilapia Fillet

This dish works well with firm, white fish. I used tilapia here, because it has a mild flavor and is generally easy to find frozen throughout the country. Many people like it because it doesn’t have a strong fishy smell. 

Tilapia takes on flavors well, especially when baked in a bold sauce. 

  • Buy skinless fillets – you won’t get crispy skin when baking in salsa. 
  • You can use frozen or fresh. If frozen, just thaw it first. 
  • Look for fillets that are similar in size so the fish will cook evenly.

Sauce Swaps and Fish Flops

This recipe is extremely adaptable. It only has two parts – sauce and fish – and you can swap both based on what you have on hand or what you prefer.

The quickest sub here is to trade the homemade salsa verde for a store-bought variety. Whether you want dinner on the table in half the time or you can’t find fresh tomatillos, it’s an easy solution that will deliver similar results. If you’re buying your salsa, make sure you’ll have the same amount of liquid to bake the fish. 

  • Buy enough jarred salsa verde to equal about 3 cups of sauce. 
  • If you’re unsure how hot your salsa brand is, consider mixing a mild with a medium or hot salsa verde to achieve a perfectly spiced sauce. 
  • You can also buy a jar of mild salsa and add sliced fresh chiles or a bit of cayenne if you want more heat.

If tilapia isn’t your favorite catch, substitute it with any skinless, white fish fillets of similar size and thickness. Cod fillet, catfish, and pollock are all great choices. If you choose a thicker cut, you may have to adjust the time.  

Tilapia with Salsa Verde on a plate and served with rice.
Lori Rice

Make It a Meal

White rice is a great side dish here, since it will soak up all that delicious sauce. Another great option is roasted potatoes—you’ve got the oven on, so toss them with some oil and salt, and cook to serve alongside your fish. You can also go the taco route and flake the fish to serve in warm corn or flour tortillas.

Leftovers

Reheated fish is notoriously maligned, and that’s generally with good reason—the texture can suffer greatly from a second cook. Since the fish is cooked in sauce here, it provides a decent buffer if you do have leftovers and want to reheat the fish. 

Spoon some salsa verde into a nonstick skillet and add your fish. Reheat, covered, over medium-low heat, only as long as needed to warm through. That said, consider just serving the fish at room temp. If you’ve got rice, warm it up and then create a lunch bowl with fish, sauce, and veggies. 

Baked Tilapia with Tomatillo Salsa garnished with parsley and served on a bed of rice.
Lori Rice

Quick and Easy Fish Recipes

Salsa Verde Baked Tilapia

Prep Time 20 mins
Cook Time 60 mins
Cool Time 15 mins
Total Time 95 mins
Servings 4 servings

Make the sauce a day or two ahead. Roast and blend, then store in an air-tight container in the fridge. This step makes prepping the final dish as easy as starting with jarred salsa.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pounds tomatillos, hulled and rinsed
  • 1 small white onion, peeled, trimmed, and cut into quarters 
  • 2 medium jalapeño peppers, trimmed, split and seeded
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup packed cilantro (tender stems and leaves), plus more for garnish
  • 1 teaspoon lime juice or more to taste
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 1 pound tilapia (4 to 6 fillets), thawed if frozen
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Crumbled queso fresco, optional

Method

  1. Preheat the oven prepare baking sheet:

    Preheat the oven to 450˚F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil. 

    Foil lined baking sheet to make Baked Fish with Salsa Verde.
    Lori Rice
  2. Roast the vegetables:

    On the baking sheet, toss the whole tomatillos, onion, jalapeño, and garlic with the oil. Roast until the tomatillos are soft and browned (some will burst, and that’s fine), 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from oven and let rest for 15 minutes.

    Tomatillos on a foil lined baking sheet to make Baked Fish with Salsa Verde.
    Lori Rice
    Roasted tomatillos and onions on a baking sheet to make Baked Fish with Salsa Verde.
    Lori Rice
  3. Reduce oven temperature and make salsa verde:

    Reduce the oven temperature to 350˚F. Transfer the vegetables and any collected juices to the blender. Add the cilantro, lime juice, and 1/2 teaspoon salt to the blender and blend until smooth. Taste and add additional lime juice or salt if needed. 

    Tip: After you blend the sauce, you can transfer it to an air-tight container and store in the fridge for up to 2 days.

    Salsa verde sauce in a blender to make Fish in Salsa Verde.
    Lori Rice
  4. Season the fish:

    Combine the remaining 3/4 teaspoon of salt with the cumin and cayenne. Pat both sides of the tilapia fillets dry using a paper towel and sprinkle both sides with the seasoning.

    Tilapia fillets on parchment for Fish in Salsa Verde.
    Lori Rice
  5. Bake the fish:

    Pour the salsa verde into a 9 by 13-inch baking dish. Add the fish over top and bake in the center rack of the oven, until the fish is opaque and reaches 145˚F, 25 to 30 minutes. If you made the sauce ahead of time and it’s still chilled, you may need an additional 5 minutes of bake time.

    A casserole dish with salsa verde and tilapia to make Salsa Verde Tilapia.
    Lori Rice
    Salsa Verde Tilapia in a casserole dish.
    Lori Rice
  6. Garnish and serve:

    Sprinkle with queso fresco and additional cilantro, if desired. Serve each fillet with some of the salsa verde.

    Salsa Verde Tilapia in a casserole dish and garnished with parsley.
    Lori Rice