Tilapia is a freshwater fish known for its sweet and mild flavor and its irresistibly delicate texture.
Cooking fish can be quite intimidating and there is nothing worse than undercooked or overcooked fish, especially when working with something as delicious as Tilapia.
Since the air fryer hit the markets, a ton of people have started to experiment cooking these difficult items like fish, and to our surprise, air fryers can actually cook your fish to perfection!
It gives it a super soft and flaky texture and doesn’t add any flavor or burnt bits.
So, how do you cook Tilapia fillets in an air fryer? Simply season your Tilapia fillets with salt, pepper, and any other additional seasonings you want, and place them inside your preheated air fryer at 400°F. Then, set the timer to 8 minutes. After the 8 minutes, remove your tilapia fillets, let them cool, and enjoy!
In today’s article, we will be looking at what Tilapia is, how to cook it either using fresh, thawed, or frozen fillets, and finally, how the air-fried versions stack up to other more traditional cooking methods.
What Is Tilapia
Tilapia is a very commonly found and affordable type of fish that can be found all over the world. It’s known for its delicate texture and mild sweet flavors, which means it doesn’t have that ultra-fishy flavor!
This makes it especially good for those looking to boost their omega 3 intakes without having to drink fish oils!
In the US, Tilapia is the 4th most consumed type of seafood. The most common type of wild tilapia (or line-caught tilapia) is found in African countries.
There is however a massive industry of farmed tilapia that expands to over 135 countries!
A lot of fish species are very tricky to farm, but Tilapia on the other hand is one of the easiest, again contributing to its popularity.
The fish lives off of a vegetarian diet, doesn’t mind being overcrowded, and grows very fast! In terms of money, this means that you can grow a ton of fish with very little (and cheap) resources.
However, recent discoveries have shown that not all Tilapia farming practices deliver the ideal product. China supplies the United States with the majority of Tilapia fish. They produce over 1.6 million metric tons yearly!
Unfortunately, a few flags have been raised regarding the farming practices used in China. Reports have shown that some farms commonly feed the Tilapia fish animal feces which can lead to contamination like Salmonella bacteria.
Between 2007 and 2012, over 800 shipments of Tilapia have been rejected from China because of potential risks. Some of these included possible contamination with harmful chemicals like veterinary drug residues and other unsafe additives.
Luckily for us, knowing the shipments got rejected means that the quality of fish we are buying is being monitored carefully!
So, where can we get our hands on this incredible fish? Your local supermarket or fish supplier will be able to help you out with either selling the fish or know where you can find healthy, high-quality fish!
Tilapia Fish Buying Guide
When buying any type of fish there are a few things to look out for to make sure your fish is super fresh and has been handled properly.
- Make sure the eyes are bright and bulging. They shouldn’t be cloudy, bruised, sunken in, or bloody.
- Check that the fish is not slimy or smelly. It should smell fresh and not fishy. If it smells like fish, it isn’t fresh anymore.
- The gills should be bright red or pink. They shouldn’t be bruised in any way.
- If the fish is frozen it should be sealed correctly and have no trace of ice or blood inside the packaging. Excess moisture contributes to decay.
When you buy Tilapia fish make sure it’s fresh by first checking the list above for the more obvious signs. Try to avoid Tilapia from China since we now know a few farming practices are not up to standard and why risk it?
Rather look for Tilapia from other parts of the world such as Canada, Ecuador, Peru, Netherlands, or the United States.
Wild-caught Tilapia fish is like a dream come true, but unfortunately, it’s not so easy to get your hands on! So if you do get the opportunity, do yourself a favor and at least experience it once! It is incomparable!
When buying fresh fish it’s always important to store it properly to make sure it stays fresh until you prepare it. Always rinse fresh fish under cold water and dry it with paper towels or a clean cloth.
We prefer using paper towels because your cloth or kitchen towels will end up smelling like fish!
Wrap the washed and dried fish in wax paper or plastic wrap and store them in the refrigerator on ice until you plan on using them.
If you’re not planning on cooking the fish right away, make sure to replace the ice regularly to prevent it from melting.
If you don’t have access to that much ice, you can also just store it in the freezer, but make sure to use your fish as quickly as possible then.
If you do plan on freezing the fish for long-term storage, which is a fantastic option if you can’t use it right away, repeat the same procedure by washing the fish and drying it, but instead of wrapping it, place the fish inside freezer bags.
Make sure to label the fish so you know how long you have frozen it. Fresh fish freezes well but loses its intense fresh flavor after about two weeks. Make sure to thaw the fish completely before cooking it.
How To Air Fry Tilapia
Air frying Tilapia fish is a great way to make sure your fish is cooked to perfection without watching it with a hawk eye constantly!
- 2 medium Tilapia fillets, cleaned
- 15 ml (1tbsp) cooking oil
- 5 ml (1 tsp) fish spice
- 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
- ½ small lemon
- 15 ml (1tbs) butter
- Preheat the air fryer to 400°F.
- Drizzle the Tilapia fillets with oil and fish spice and place a crushed clove of garlic on each.
- Set the timer on the air fryer to 8 minutes. Place the fillets in the preheated basket and fry them for 8 minutes.
- Squeeze a good amount of lemon over the fish and divide the butter between the two fillets. No need to spread the butter; simply place a dollop on top of each fillet. It will melt and spread on its own.
- Fry the fish for 2 more minutes and make sure the fish is cooked all the way through by checking the internal temperature of the fish. The temperature should be 145°F. If you don’t have a thermometer, use a fork to make sure the fish comes apart easily and that it has a flaky soft texture.
Can You Air Fry Frozen Tilapia?
It’s always recommended to thaw food safely before cooking it; however, sometimes there simply isn’t enough time!
Luckily, because of how air fryers have been designed and work, they can produce extremely high temperatures very rapidly as well as distribute them throughout the chamber evenly.
This basically means that some items can be cooked in an air-fryer from frozen, but does this include Tilapia?
It does! To air-fry Tilapia fillets from frozen, follow the same steps as you would using fresh Tilapia fillets. The only difference is that you have to cook them for 6 minutes longer.
Make sure the fillets reach an internal temperature (at the thickest part of the fillet) of 145°F to ensure it is safe and fully cooked.
Tips For Air Frying Breaded Vs Not Breaded Tilapia
Breading Tilapia fillets are a great way to add texture and crispness to Tilapia fillets as well as other spice flavors.
And if you have a picky eater amongst you (including kids who aren’t fans of fish), this is a great way to distract them from the fishy flavors!
When air frying regular Tilapia fillets (without any breading), make sure to add enough oil to the fillets to make sure they don’t stick to the pan or each other and that they become crispy.
The excess oil will drip into the basket so you don’t have to worry about that.
When air frying breaded Tilapia, make sure to not add too much oil to the fillets as this will prevent the crumbs from getting crisp.
Breading Tilapia fillets is very easy and can be done at home. Season some all-purpose flour with your favorite spice or dried herbs and simply coat the fish in the seasoned flour.
Then, dip the coated fish into a mixture of whisked eggs (egg wash) and finally, into some breadcrumbs.
You can also add some dried herbs or spices into the breadcrumbs for a visual effect. Add the crumbed fillets to the air fryer and follow the instructions as per usual.
Air Fryer Vs Other Methods
When it comes down to cooking fish there are so many ways you can do it. You can choose from deep-frying, pan-frying, grilling on an open fire, baking or roasting, and of course, air frying.
Air frying is by far our favorite when it comes down to convenience, but let’s take a look at how the air fryer weighs up against a few of the other common cooking methods!
First up, the aforementioned air fryer! This method is a super quick and easy way to whip up some delicious fried tilapia!
The air fryer can have your beautiful fresh Tilapia fillets completely cooked in between 8-12 minutes depending on the size, thickness, and if the fish was thawed correctly!
Frozen Tilapia fillets can be cooked using this method and will be done in about 14 minutes, again, depending on the size and thickness of the fillets.
Flavor and Texture
So, as we all know, air fryers are known to use less oil – that’s what makes them so special! So first of all, you will have perfectly cooked fish without that excessive oily taste.
The air fryers’ technology also helps to maintain moisture inside your food while it is cooking. Just be sure to not overcook the fish.
The air fryer doesn’t necessarily add any type of flavor, but it does help preserve it in a way. And when it comes to texture, especially when making breaded Tilapia, it definitely helps crisp up the fillets nicely.
When it comes down to convenience, the air fryer is all about it! Because you are able to set a timer (after which the machine will shut off) you don’t have to constantly monitor the progress of your fillets.
You can simply set it, leave it for a minimal amount of time, check it once, and determine if it needs another minute or two.
The air fryer also heats much quicker compared to a lot of other cooking appliances, and it has a very stable temperature.
Pan-frying your tilapia is an incredible way to introduce an amazing crust on this fish, all while keeping the inside perfectly cooked and juicy!
Pan-frying Tilapia can take anywhere between 8-10 minutes, usually 4 minutes per side.
However, it’s necessary to take into consideration that you’re probably going to fry the fish in a skillet, which can take up to 3 minutes to pre-heat (an essential step).
Flavor and Texture
Pan-frying Tilapia fillet does help add flavor that air fryers don’t. This is mainly because of the Maillard reaction.
This is a chemical reaction that takes place and basically means that the fish browns when heat is applied, which produces its own unique flavors.
Caramelization (the Maillard reaction) definitely takes place in a pan more than it does in an air fryer.
Pan-frying might not seem like too much of an inconvenience, but there are a few things you should take into consideration.
A skillet is harder to clean, you need to constantly monitor the heat to make sure you don’t overcook the fish, and you still need to ensure the heat is high enough to help brown it.
Baking is a super convenient way to cook tilapia, albeit a bit of a longer process as compared to some other options. There are multiple ways to use this method when cooking tilapia, so feel free to get creative!
Baking Tilapia is much like air frying the fillets except that it takes a little longer. Bake the fillets for roughly 10-12 minutes or until the flesh is fork-tender.
It is necessary to preheat the oven for about 15 minutes, which obviously takes up more time.
In total, you will spend about 30 minutes from start to finish. And, if you are baking frozen Tilapia fillets, be sure to add another couple of minutes.
Flavor and Texture
The oven doesn’t change the natural flavor of the fish but also doesn’t add a ton of new flavors. While browning does occur and there are hints of sweet flavors, it still isn’t as intense compared to pan-frying.
When baking fish, it is very important to monitor it closely as ovens tend to overcook fish, This is mostly because people don’t pay attention, but can also be because of hotspots in the oven.
Hotspots cause some parts of the fillets to overcook while others aren’t fully cooked yet.
Using an oven to prepare Tilapia fish is quite convenient, but the biggest downfall it has (compared to an air fryer) is that you have to closely monitor the fillets.
You can however make deliciously crispy breaded Tilapia fillets and even cook the fillets from frozen.
The setup for deep frying may take a little bit of practice (especially if you’re battering the fish, which we do highly recommend), but the actual cooking process is super quick, easy, and it’ll leave you with some seriously tasty fish!
Just remember to be careful when cooking with hot oil!
When it comes down to only cooking time, this might be the fastest method to prepare Tilapia fillets (but only if you exclude the preheating time of the oil).
These fillets will only take about 2 minutes per side even when coated in a batter or breaded.
Flavor and Texture
Frying fish adds a ton of delicious flavors and textures even without a batter! The hot oil helps crisp up the outside while keeping the inside flaky and juicy. It also perfectly crisps up batters or crumbs.
Apart from making the batter and cleaning the fryer afterward, deep frying is pretty convenient! Once you have the right temperature for the oil simply fry the fish and wait until it’s nicely golden brown!
Now that we’ve gone over the best way to cook tilapia in an air fryer, let’s take a look at a few related questions on the subject!
Can you use aluminum foil in the air fryer when cooking Tilapia?
You can put foil in the air fryer; however, check your air fryer manual before placing anything inside! Not all models work in the same way and some even have specific warnings to avoid foil.
Always make sure to use the least amount of foil possible as it will limit the airflow in the fryer.
What can you do with the leftover air fryer Tilapia?
Leftover Tilapia can be used in so many ways! Use the leftover fillets and process them in a food processor to make a pate from the fillets. Shredded fillets can be used to make fish cakes or even fish tacos.
The options are endless!
What’s the best way to thaw fish?
The best way to thaw fish is to place the frozen fish in a container inside the fridge to thaw overnight or throughout the day. Make sure to take them out of the freezer in time as they might take a while to defrost.
Always place the frozen fish on a plate or in a container to make sure none of the fish juices spill in the fridge!
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