Crispy Tilapia with Spicy Thai Basil Sauce

25 Jul

crispy tilapia with spicy thai basil sauce

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.


  1. Pat dry 1 1/2 lbs tilapia fillets with a paper towel.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Stir in 1 tsp cornstarch, mixed with 1 tsp cold water, if using, and let simmer until thickened, about 1 – 2 minutes.
  6. 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.
  7. 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).
  8. Cook the fish until the bottom is crispy and browned, about 3 – 5 minutes.
  9. 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.
  10. Serve the crispy fish fillets topped with the Thai basil sauce.

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13 Responses to “Crispy Tilapia with Spicy Thai Basil Sauce”

  1. Frances August 29, 2012 at 12:40 pm #

    Just made this last night, and it tasted great, despite having to make a number of substitutions. (Oops, no Thai basil, regular instead! Oops, out of Panko, good thing we’ve got these other bread crumbs!)

    • Claire August 29, 2012 at 1:13 pm #

      I fully support substitutions/changes to recipes as needed (or wanted!) – glad to hear it turned out well!

  2. Alisha April 15, 2014 at 6:05 pm #

    What kind of stock did you use? This sounds delish!

    • Claire April 16, 2014 at 5:09 pm #

      Hm, I can’t remember now what kind I used – most likely vegetable stock, but any kind will do, or you could even substitute water in a pinch!

  3. Shuyee Tsang May 14, 2014 at 3:10 am #

    I made this last and was just so tasty! I had adapt the recipe as I am a pescatarian and there were few ingredients I couldn’t get hold off….I Also made the stock from the fish I deboned and it just made a big different in flavour! It was very delicious!

    Thank you for sharing this recipe!

  4. Keith Smith June 27, 2014 at 9:24 pm #

    Sounds great but I believe your ratio of fish sauce to stock is way off. Fish sauce is very strong and pungent seasoning agent. With nearly half of the sauce being made up of fish sauce it would be inedible. It should be more like a tsp or tbsp.

    • Claire June 27, 2014 at 9:35 pm #

      I certainly agree that fish sauce is quite pungent (a good word to describe it!), but the ratio in this recipe is not off, to my taste buds, at least. Keep in mind that this is a very flavorful sauce, intended to be served over the fish fillets, to taste, not eaten plain. I use similar proportions in my other Thai recipes (like the dressing for my Thai steak salad That said, others may choose to cut back on the fish sauce, but I definitely wouldn’t recommend going down to a tsp or Tbsp (2 Tbsp may be more reasonable) – especially not if you want something that tastes like what you would get in a Thai restaurant. It may be an acquired taste, as I (and many Thai people) have no hesitance with using Nam Pla Prik ( on my food, which is basically pure fish sauce with chilies.

  5. LuAnn February 6, 2015 at 7:49 pm #

    Really enjoyed this dish. Thank you much so the recipe.

    • Claire February 6, 2015 at 11:39 pm #

      Great! I’m so glad to hear you liked it!

  6. Hadia April 6, 2015 at 6:15 pm #

    Your Crispy Tilapia with Spicy Thai Basil Sauce sounds so delicious! I will have to make it so soon! Thank you for sharing!

  7. Geoff June 3, 2016 at 7:00 am #

    Reviving an old one…as I do, looked in fridge yesterday, saw some Thai basil on its way out, googled and found your recipe. Put this together in about 20 mins while the rice was cooking, and have to say it was REALLY great. Thanks! I don’t do measuring cups or spoons and this one fits that bill, the ingredients above are like a guide, work with the guide.

    Delicious and holy easy batman!

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