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Foil Packet Tilapia with Zucchini, Lemon, and Butter

June 20, 2019
baked tilapia with lemon and zucchini ribbons with angel hair pasta with olives and capers

If you haven’t made these before, let me introduce you to the foil packet meal, a super simple and healthy way to perfectly steam fish and vegetables with a minimum of mess. Once you learn the technique, you can easily change up your foil packet dinners with different ingredients depending on what’s in season or what you have on hand. (Read on for some of my suggestions.)

And foil pack recipes are great for camping trips as well because you can put them right on a grill or even on an open campfire. Best of all, clean-up is a snap. Just crumble up the foil and throw it away when you’re done! Now, if you want to invite friends over for an easy dinner but seem quite gourmet, you can call this dish “fish en papillote” as the French do. Traditional French recipes use parchment paper rather than foil but the concept is the same. You can use either, though I think foil is easier for a first-time foil pack maker, since parchment can be tricky to keep its folds.

What is a foil packet?

A foil packet is a way to cook seafood, meats, and vegetables by wrapping them in tin foil or parchment paper, which is tightly folded around the contents. The food then steams under high heat, either in an oven or on a grill or campfire. This is a healthy technique to have in your repertoire since it doesn’t require large amounts of butter or oil.

How do you make a foil packet meal?

To start, prepare your ingredients. Most seafood cooks quickly and so can be left whole, but meats should be cut in thin slices or small pieces so they will cook at the same rate as the vegetables. Similarly, some vegetables cook faster than others, so you should take care to include a combination of items that require similar cooking times. Chopping vegetables in similar sizes is a good start. I often julienne or shave my vegetables, such as the zucchini in this recipe, since they cook very quickly that way.

tilapia, zucchini strips, lemon, butter, white wine, basil

Once your ingredients are ready, prepare pieces of foil at least twice the size of your main protein. You’ll need one piece of foil for each serving. For this recipe, I lay out a piece of foil horizontally, and put a pile of zucchini ribbons in the middle. Top that with 1 tilapia fillet, 1 tablespoon of butter, 1 tablespoon of white wine, and 2-3 lemon slices. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and a bit of chopped basil.

filet of tilapia on zucchini ribbons on tin foil, covered with lemon slices, butter, salt and pepper, and basil

Now you’re ready to fold up your foil pack. Bring the bottom and top sides up to meet above the middle of the fish and fold over a couple of times. Then fold up each side.

tilapia foil packet folded up

To bake, heat the oven to 400 degrees, then place the foil packs onto a sheet pan. Put into the oven and bake for about 12-15 minutes. When you take the foil pack out of the oven, be very careful to avoid the hot steam when you unwrap it. The fish should be tender and flaky—if it needs more time, just rewrap it and put it back in the oven for a few minutes.

Can you make foil packets ahead of time? 

Yes! This is one of the reasons why foil packs are so perfect for camping trips. You can assemble them in advance, put them in a cooler, and take them to wherever you are going. If you’re cooking them at home, foil packs can be kept in the refrigerator for several hours. If you are traveling with your foil packs, double up on the foil or use heavy-duty foil, just to make sure there are no leaks in your cooler. 

Can you freeze foil packets?

You can try that, though I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it. One layer of foil is easily ripped in the freezer and also does not prevent freezer burn. Also, starting with fresh vegetables and protein, then freezing, then baking, may release more liquid than you’d like as it cooks. If you do want to try freezing them, use a double layer of foil or heavy duty foil. 

Other ingredient ideas for healthy foil packet meals

Here are just a few of my favorite combinations for foil pack recipes. Feel free to mix and match, or make up your own. The possibilities are endless. 

  • salmon + asparagus + olive oil + white wine + herbes de provence
  • chicken slices + bell peppers + onions + canola oil + chili powder
  • shrimp + andouille sausage + small red potatoes + butter + Old Bay Seasoning + lemon
  • chicken slices + corn cut off the cob or canned corn + salsa + black beans
  • shrimp + sliced cherry tomatoes + black olives + olive oil + lemon juice + basil
  • tilapia + sliced green beans + sliced mushrooms + minced ginger + minced garlic + olive oil + lime juice

What to serve with your seafood foil pack?

I usually choose a simple pasta side to go with this tilapia meal, but you can also serve with jasmine rice or brown rice. The rice or the pasta soaks up some of the delicious cooking liquid left in the foil pack and gives it great flavor.

If you are looking for other ideas for easy but elegant meals, check out my recipes for Creamy Orzo Chicken with Red Peppers and Mushrooms, Spinach Frittata with Mushrooms and Feta, and Greek Chicken Kabobs with Yogurt Sauce.

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