Usually when I go out to eat, I love sharing. It makes the meal delightfully communal and also means that I get to try a variety of different dishes. But every once in a while, I encounter a dish so spectacularly tasty that I need to have it all to myself. The crispy tilapia with spicy basil sauce at my neighborhood Thai restaurant, Beau Thai, is one such dish. When it first showed up on their rotating specials, my boyfriend and I thought we’d give it a try. We were amazed by the perfectly cooked fish, crunchy fried crust, and fragrant and flavorful sauce. Luckily, it has since been moved onto their regular menu. These days, we’ll stop by for dinner, take a look at their menu (as though we might order something else), and then each get an order of this. So finally I decided I had to try my hand at recreating the dish. I did a simple panko-crusted and fried preparation for the fish itself and modeled the sauce off of my Thai basil stir fry. The end result was like hitting jackpot – now I can get my fill of this dish at home! And maybe I’ll finally try some new dishes the next time I’m at Beau Thai.
Crispy Tilapia with Spicy Thai Basil Sauce
Yield: 4 – 6 servings
- 1 1/2 lbs tilapia fillets
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1 egg, beaten with 1 Tbsp water
- 1 cup panko bread crumbs
- 1 Tbsp + 3 Tbsp coconut oil
- 6 – 8 shallots, minced
- 4 – 5 cloves garlic, minced
- 6 – 8 chile peppers, sliced*
- 1 bell pepper, chopped
- 1/4 cup stock
- 1/4 cup fish sauce
- 2 Tbsp soy sauce**
- 2 Tbsp palm sugar***
- juice of 1/2 lime
- 1 tsp cornstarch, mixed with 1 tsp cold water (optional)****
- 1 cup Thai basil leaves
*Adjust quantity based on your spice tolerance. Use bird’s eye chiles for authenticity and extra heat.
**As always, using a good-quality soy sauce is best – personally, I like Kimlan “Super Special” soy sauce – but you can also do okay with the low-sodium version of a more ubiquitous brand, such as Kikkoman.
***Brown sugar is an acceptable substitute.
****Use if you like a thicker sauce, more like a glaze.
- Pat dry 1 1/2 lbs tilapia fillets with a paper towel.
- Set up a plate with 1/2 cup flour, a bowl with 1 egg, beaten with 1 Tbsp water, and a plate with 1 cup panko breadcrumbs. Dredge each fillet in the flour, followed by the egg wash, followed by the panko breadcrumbs, and set aside.
- In a sautee pan or medium pot, heat 1 Tbsp coconut oil over medium-high heat, then sautee 6 – 8 shallots, minced, 4 – 5 cloves garlic, minced, 6 – 8 chile peppers, sliced, and 1 bell pepper, chopped until the shallots start to darken and the bell pepper is softened, about 5 minutes.
- Add 1/4 cup stock, 1/4 cup fish sauce, 2 Tbsp soy sauce, 2 Tbsp palm sugar, and juice of 1/2 lime, and stir together thoroughly. Bring to a boil, and let simmer until slightly reduced, about 3 – 5 minutes.
- Stir in 1 tsp cornstarch, mixed with 1 tsp cold water, if using, and let simmer until thickened, about 1 – 2 minutes.
- Stir in 1 cup Thai basil leaves, and cook until fragrant, about 1 – 2 minutes, then lower heat to lowest setting to keep warm until ready to serve.
- In a large sautee pan, heat 3 Tbsp coconut oil over high heat, then add the coated fish fillets, being careful not to crowd the pan (you will probably need to do a couple of batches).
- Cook the fish until the bottom is crispy and browned, about 3 – 5 minutes.
- Flip the fish, and continue cooking until the other side is crispy and browned, and the fish can be easily flaked with a fork, another 3 – 5 minutes. Remove to a plate lined with paper towels.
- Serve the crispy fish fillets topped with the Thai basil sauce.