Meet the simplest, yet finest way to cook tilapia. This pan-fried fish is covered in a flavorful 4-spice dry rub and fried to perfection. It’s simply ah-mazing!

Pan Fried Tilapia fried in a pan.

What is Pan Fried Tilapia?

Pan fried tilapia is a seafood dish that consists of crunchy fried tilapia fillets that are individually seasoned in a flour rub. This recipe transforms bland, raw tilapia fillets into a deliciously juicy, and crispy fish in less than half an hour.

Tilapia is one of the healthiest freshwater fish options readily available in almost any grocery store. It’s low in fiber, carbohydrates, and cholesterol, but high in protein. It has such a mild flavor that even those who don’t usually like fish or seafood love tilapia.

If you can’t think of what to make for dinner or you’re running low on time, this pan fried tilapia recipe is the answer. Use fresh or frozen tilapia (you know — that stash in your freezer) and you’ve got yourself a quick dinner and lunch the next day.

Want baked tilapia instead? Try our lemon butter baked tilapia!

How to Pan-Fry Tilapia

Pan frying tilapia might sound intimidating, but with these four simple steps, you have nothing to fear.

  • Combine the dry seasonings: In a shallow dish, combine the dry seasonings and flour.
  • Preheat the pan: Preheat a large skillet on medium-high heat. Add enough oil to the pan.
  • Season the tilapia: Pat the fish dry with a paper towel. Dip both sides of the fish into the shallow dish with seasonings, making sure to coat the fish well.
  • Fry the fish: Fry the tilapia on each side until crispy and golden-brown, about 2-3 minutes per side. Tilapia will be done when it easily flakes with a fork, is opaque, and temperature reads 145°F when a thermometer is placed in the thickest part of the fish. Add more oil between each set of fish. Enjoy!

Want to use frozen tilapia? Quickly thaw frozen fillets by submerging them in cold water. When fully thawed, remove any excess moisture by patting the fillets dry with a paper towel. This helps the coating stick better.

Tips From the Kitchen

Pan-fried tilapia is crazy easy to make, but to ensure that your tilapia consistently stands out, follow these six basic tips.

  • Fry in a non-stick pan: Tilapia fillets are thin, so they can easily stick to the pan. To prevent sticking, use a good quality nonstick pan. Also, a fish spatula is great for flipping the entire fillet in one go.
  • Preheat the oil: Preheat both the pan and the oil before adding the tilapia. This will help the fillets cook and crisp up evenly.
  • Watch the heat: Every skillet cooks slightly differently, so be aware and adjust the heat and cooking time as needed. If the fish is burning, lower the heat. Alternatively, if the golden crust isn’t forming, increase the heat (making sure there is also enough oil in the pan).
  • Use tilapia fillets: This recipe is best when using tilapia fillets, but you can substitute fillets with the whole fish, too!
  • Switch up the flavor: Smoked paprika, garlic powder, salt, and pepper are the classic seasonings, but make this dish your own with your favorites, too! A popular addition is lemon juice, which brightens all the flavors.
  • Garnish: Garnish the pan-fried tilapia with lemon slices and parsley. This will also add a hint of additional citrus and herb flavor!
Pan Fried Tilapia on a pan with herbs.

How to Serve Fried Tilapia

Fried tilapia is incredibly versatile and can be served with anything you have on hand. For an easy and simple vegetable side that takes minimal time, try air fryer broccoli or marinated cucumbers. To round out your meal, make some herb baby potatoes, basmati rice, or orzo pasta. Or serve a top a salad like Israeli couscous salad. On the other hand, flake the tilapia and place it into tortillas to make fish tacos. Top it with your favorite sauce and ingredients like cilantro, corn, avocado, pickled jalapeños, or tomatoes.

If you love sauces, add tzatziki sauce to the side or a dollop on top of your fish. You can even make an open-faced fish sandwich with a slice of almost whole wheat sourdough bread, a layer of tzatziki, mayo, or tartar sauce, and a fillet of fried tilapia.

Storing and Reheating Pan Fried Tilapia

For the maximum amount of tenderness, crisp, and best taste, enjoy pan fried tilapia right away. In case of leftovers, here are some tips to store and reheat the remaining tilapia.

  • Refrigerating: To keep for two to three days, store cooled leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge.
  • Freezing: To keep for up to two months, store leftovers in an airtight container in the freezer. Thaw in the refrigerator before reheating.
  • Reheating: To reheat from the refrigerator, reheat on the stovetop with a teaspoon of olive oil on a hot nonstick pan. Reheating with olive oil will make the fish crispy again. Alternatively, reheat in the air fryer at 350°F until warm.


How long do I pan fry tilapia?

Cooking time may range when pan-frying tilapia, depending on the thickness of the fillet. Fry each side about 2-3 minutes until the fish becomes opaque, flaky, and crispy on the outside. The internal temperature should be 145°F.

What kind of pan should I use to pan fry tilapia?

The best type of pan for frying tilapia or any fish is a non-stick pan. Tilapia and other fish tend to become very flaky when cooked. A nonstick pan will pan fry the fish without it sticking too much and falling apart.

How do I keep my tilapia from falling apart when I fry it?

To keep your fish from falling apart, use a large enough nonstick spatula for flipping and a nonstick pan to avoid the fish from sticking to the pan. Avoid overcooking fish or steaming fish on low heat, but rather pan-fry on medium-high heat until just cooked through.

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About Author

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Natalya Drozhzhin

Natalya founded Momsdish to demonstrate that placing a homemade meal on the table is not hard at all. Natalya makes cooking easier and approachable, by simplifying the ingredients, while still producing the same great taste.