After I have developed a recipe at my test kitchen, I often bring home what is left over. So my husband and daughter typically serve as secondary taste testers. (It's a nice perk that my job often entails making that night's dinner.)
Their reviews are typically positive, but after witnessing their reaction to this dish, I knew I had hit on something special. They each dug in with a pleased but matter-of-fact demeanor that told me they found it appealing, but as soon as they took a bite their eyes simultaneously widened with delight and I got an off-the-charts level, "Wow, that's good!"
The dish owes it surprising hit of flavor to the synergistic combination of pecans and Cajun spices that make up the crust. The nuts, which are blitzed in a food processor to a small pebbly consistency, lend a uniquely buttery taste. The healthful fat they contain carries and balances the punch of the seasonings: paprika, garlic, thyme and a touch of cayenne pepper. Using tilapia allows the coating's flavors to shine, because the fish is so neutral in flavor. That quality, along with its white, flaky texture, make it a good choice to serve to those who avoid fish because they think it tastes "fishy" and to picky eaters who are venturing into seafood. Sole or flounder would also work well here as an alternative.
The cooking technique compounds flavor: The fish is seared in a skillet, allowing the nuts in the crust to toast and the spices to release their essences, and then it is finished in the oven (in the same skillet) so the fillets are cooked properly. The reaction from my family was a big payoff for a recipe that takes little effort in the kitchen. I'll bet if you try it, you will reap the same reward.
• Ellie Krieger is a registered dietitian, nutritionist and author who hosts public television's "Ellie's Real Good Food." She blogs and offers a weekly newsletter at www.elliekrieger.com.