The silky texture and mild, slightly sweet flavor of tilapia makes it one of the most versatile of white fish varieties and the fourth most consumed fish in the United States. Breading your fillets helps keep them moist while adding a thin layer of delicate crunchy texture that perfectly complements the soft and flaky fish.
Basic Breading Techniques
The secret to breading is that wet things stick best to dry things, and vice versa. The simplest tilapia breading method is to season flour with salt, pepper and your choice of spices, and then rinse the fillets with cool water, shake off the excess and dredge them in the seasoned flour while they're still damp.
A classic breading station has three steps: flour or cornstarch, egg wash and breading. An egg wash is simply an egg or two beaten with water or milk. Breading is seasoned flour, bread crumbs, panko bread crumbs, corn meal or fish fry mix -- usually very finely ground cornmeal. Get creative by adding crushed potato chips or crackers, grated Parmesan or finely shredded coconut to your breading.
Rinse your fillets in cool water and dredge them in the flour or cornstarch. Shake off the excess, and dip the fish in the egg wash, coating both sides. Let the excess egg wash drip off, and cover both sides of the dampened fillets with seasoned breading. Pat the breading gently onto the fish with your fingertips to help it adhere. Cook the coated fillets immediately, or let them rest in the refrigerator for 15 to 30 minutes. This dries the breading a bit, helping it stick to the fillets if you fry them.
Pan-Fried Tilapia Fillets
Fill the bottom of a skillet with 1/8 inch or so of oil. Canola oil, vegetable oil and peanut oil all work well for this. Heat the oil over medium-high heat until the top begins to shimmer. Toss a pinch of flour into the oil to test it. If the flour starts to pop and sizzle, the oil is hot enough. Do not toss water into the skillet, because it will splatter the oil and you could get burned.
Place two or three small filets into the hot oil. Don't crowd the pan or the oil will cool down, and you might end up with a soggy crust. Cook the fish for 2 minutes or so, or until the bottom is golden brown. Turn the fish with tongs and continue cooking for another 2 to 3 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and the fish has reached an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit. Drain the fillets on paper towels, and serve.
Deep Frying Your Tilapia
Deep frying simply refers to completely submerging the breaded fish in hot oil, rather than cooking it on one side and then the other. Cut the fillets into consistently sized pieces so they will all be cooked through at the same time. Do not overfill your deep fryer or pot. Heat the oil to 350 F, and cook your tilapia in small batches for 3 minutes or until they are golden brown.
Crisp Baked Tilapia Fillets
Panko bread crumbs and breading seasoned with parmesan or coconut work best for baking. Preheat your oven to 425 F. Place your breaded tilapia on a wire rack on a baking sheet to cook both sides without turning the fillets. Bake the fish for about 20 minutes; turn it halfway through if you did not use a wire rack.
- University of Arizona: Tilapia Information
- Foodsafety.gov: Safe Minimum Cooking Temperatures
- D'Artagnan: Breading Basics
- Detroit Eats: Technique 1 -- Standard Breading Procedure
- Black Hat Chefs: Deep-Fat Frying and Pan Frying
- Serious Eats: Cook the Book -- Perfect Pan-Fried Breaded Fish
- Dashing Dish: Crispy Baked Coconut Crusted Tilapia
- Photo Credit Elzbieta Sekowska/iStock/Getty Images
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