Spiced Up, Steamed, and Broiled Tilapia

Seafood Recipes

Super delicious Tilapia!  This spiced-up Tilapia dish offers this wonderful lemony aroma. The presence of tomatoes and shallots provide a little sweetness while the thick chilies gives a wonderful punch to the dish.

Harini’s Version of Pepes Ikan, Origin: Java Island, Indonesia

I love seafood. As a big fan, I enjoy trying and learning about the different cooking methods that enhance seafood’s delicious taste.

The other day I felt like preparing something light. I grabbed a bag of frozen Tilapia fillets from the market and started to think about ways to prepare them. Tired of grilling and pan-searing, which I often do, I decided to do something different with the fillets. I covered the Tilapia fillets with chilies and spices, wrapped them in foils, steamed, and then broiled them. In Indonesia, this cooking method is simply called Pepes (while Ikan means fish). Traditionally though the method calls for wrapping a spiced-up whole fish in the aromatic banana leaf, steaming, and then grilling it on top of a charcoal grill. (Aside from serving as a wrap to let the fish cook well with the spices without falling apart, banana leaf also adds its sweet aroma to the fish.) Then to serve, simply unwrap and discard the banana leaf and enjoy the fish.

My sister and I made this dish for the first time when she visited a while back. I remembered her copying a recipe she found online and walking me through it while I cooked. The rest of the family was arriving that night so we wanted to welcome them with several of our favorite native cuisines. We successfully filled the apartment with an amazing cooking aroma and the dining table with delicious food. Everyone was delighted.

This time I went with a few tweaks to simplify the method: I used fillets instead of a whole fish, I went with aluminum foil (since I already have this available) instead of banana leaves to wrap the fillets, and instead of grilling the fish on a charcoal grill out in the snow, I simply unwrapped the fillets and broiled them.

I adapted my version below from two recipes I found at Merry’s Kitchen of Indonesian Cuisines: Pepes Ikan Mas (In Bahasa Indonesia, not available in English. Use translate.google.com to see translation.) and Steamed Fish Wrap in Kemiri Nut Sauce.

Here’s how I do mine.


  • 4 Tilapia fillets (I am sure light and fluffy white fish like Halibut, Sea Bass, and Red Snapper would work great too. But those could get very expensive if you cook fish as often as I do. So Tilapia gets to be a great and an economical alternative for me.)
  • 1 lemon

Prepare the chilies in a food processor:

  • 1 teaspoon of turmeric powder
  • 7 shallots
  • 2 tablespoon of minced garlic
  • 10 hot finger peppers (I actually used 15 and it was very spicy! So please adjust accordingly.)
  • 1 inch of ginger (peeled)
  • 6 Candlenuts (they make a wonderful thickening agent for chilies or sauces)
  • Salt

For the aroma, cut and halve

  • 1 Lemongrass (I cut into two sections and then halved. I also threw away the very top and bottom part of it.)
  • 4 Bay leaves
  • 1 inch of Galangal root (peeled and halved)


  • A cup of grape tomatoes (halved) or 1 medium size tomato (diced)


  • Place your steamer on top of a pot of boiling water.
  • Prepare two sheets of aluminum foil (maybe like 12 X 17)
  • Place two fillets on each foil. Drizzle and coat with lemon juice.
  • Cover the top of the fillets with the chilies from the food processor. Add the cut up tomatoes.
  • Divide Lemongrass, Galangal root, and Bay leaves into equal amount for each sheet and place them on the fillets
  • Wrap them up (chili-covered side facing up), place the two packages in the steamer, cover with a lid, and let them steam for 20 minutes.
  • After 20 minutes, set the oven to broil and unwrap the packages (don’t remove the fillets).
  • Put the opened packages on a larger tray (to make it easier to handle) and then place it into the oven to broil for about 5-10 minutes.
  • Leave the oven door slightly ajar (a couple of inches) to allow moisture from steaming to escape and also to avoid burning the spiced up fish.
  • Take the tray out once the spices on the top of the fish and the edges of the fillets get dry and turn brown.
  • Let the fillets cool down a bit before serving.
  • Best served with white jasmine rice.

Serve 2-4 people

2 thoughts on “Spiced Up, Steamed, and Broiled Tilapia

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