Recipe courtesy of Cathy Tshilombo

Smoked Tilapia with Pili Pili

  • Level: Intermediate
  • Total: 1 hr 20 min
  • Prep: 25 min
  • Cook: 55 min
  • Yield: 1 serving
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2 teaspoons fresh tarragon leaves, chopped

4 cloves garlic, chopped

4 scallions, chopped

1 large onion, chopped

Fresh bay leaves

Fresh parsley

Dried rosemary, for smoking

Dried thyme, for smoking

Apple and cherry wood chips, soaked in water for 2 days and drained  

Apple and cherry wood chips, soaked in water for 2 days and drained

Picked fresh rosemary leaves 

Picked fresh thyme leaves

2 teaspoons vegetable oil

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon Pili Pili, recipe follows

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 whole fresh tilapia, cleaned and scored on both sides 

1 whole fresh tilapia, cleaned and scored on both sides

Dried bay leaves, for smoking

Lemon pepper, for smoking

Pili Pili, for serving, recipe follows

Fried plantains, for serving


1 teaspoon vinegar

1/4 teaspoon salt

8 habanero chiles, stemmed but not seeded

6 cloves garlic

4 scallions, chopped

1 large tomato, chopped

2 teaspoons vegetable oil


  1. For the tilapia: Combine the tarragon, garlic, scallions, onions and some bay leaves, parsley, rosemary and thyme in a blender. Add the oil, lemon juice, Pili-Pili and salt and blend until it forms a paste, about 2 minutes. Put the fish in a deep dish and spread on the marinade, rubbing it all over. Cover and let marinate in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days, turning the fish about every 6 hours. Start a nice charcoal fire in your smoker to cook over indirect heat. Sprinkle some bay leaves, lemon pepper, rosemary and thyme over the fire. When the charcoal is red, add the soaked wood chips and get it smoking. Careful as the smoke will make you all cough. 
  2. Place the fish in the smoker and cook, checking the fish every 15 minutes until cooked through, about 45 minutes. Transfer the fish to plates and serve with Pili-Pili sauce and fried plantains. Bon appetit! 


  1. Combine the vinegar, salt, chiles, garlic, scallions, tomatoes and 1 tablespoon water in a blender and puree until smooth, about 3 minutes. Heat the oil in a pot, add the puree, and cook for about 10 minutes. Transfer to a jar or bowl. 
  2. You can eat it on anything, pizza, eggs, burgers, fish, meat, chicken, cassava, soup, spaghetti, tacos and more. It can also be used as a condiment, as a dip or a marinade.

Cook’s Note

Never breathe the aroma of the Pili-Pili when cooking; cook it outside for safety.