Tilapia fish tacos can be extremely fast to prepare, but a few steps you can take will make cooking them even easier.
You’ll notice that a tilapia fish fillet has a thicker part and a skinnier part. This can lead to uneven cooking.
The simple solution is to separate the thicker belly section from the thinner top portion of the tilapia fillet ( the top portion is on the bottom in the picture above) along the seam in the middle.
This gives you two distinct pieces of tilapia that you can cook separately to achieve the best results. The thicker belly portion will cook for around two minutes a side over medium-high heat.
The thinner top portions of tilapia will cook for just one minute a side over medium-high heat.
You will check your tilapia’s internal temperature with an instant-read thermometer. Pull your tilapia off the heat when it reaches 140 degrees Fahrenheit, carryover cooking will raise it past 145°F while it’s resting.
Not only does cutting the tilapia fillets into two pieces make cooking easier, but it also makes serving them in tacos easier.
The two smaller tilapia pieces happen to be the perfect size for fish tacos.
Follow those steps and you’re on your way.
Chipotle mayo or chipotle crema, pico de gallo, cilantro lime slaw, sour cream, and mango salsa are all great toppings with a tilapia fish taco.
As far as tortillas, many people prefer corn tortillas but they can taste just as good in a flour tortilla.
Here’s a Tilapia Fish Taco recipe.
Tilapia Fish Tacos
- Cutting Board
- Meat Thermometer
- 454 grams Tilapia 4- 4 ounce fillets (each fillet makes 2 tacos)
- 1 tbsp olive oil for frying tilapia in skillet
- 1 tbsp Chili powder
- 1/2 tbsp Cumin
- 1 tbsp Kosher Salt
- 1 tsp Garlic Powder
- 1 tsp Black Pepper
Topping Option 1: Mango Salsa
- 1 medium Mango You can also substitute pineapple to make it pineapple salsa.
- 1/4 medium Red Pepper small dice
- 1 small Shallot you can substitute green, red, or yellow onion
- 1/4 cup Cilantro chopped
- 1 small lime juice of 1 lime
- Salt and pepper to taste
Topping Option 2: Chipotle Lime Fish Taco Sauce
- 1/2 cup Mayonnaise You can substitute greek yogurt or sour cream
- 2 tbsp Chipotle Sauce Chipotles in adobo sauce work as well
- 1 tbsp Lime juice
- 1 tbsp Fresh cilantro finely chopped
Additional Garnishments (optional)
- Cabbage slaw or shredded cabbage Prepackaged coleslaw works great
- Sour cream mix with lime juice to make a lime crema
- Sriracha sauce
- Extra Fresh Cilantro
- Flour tortillas If you're not a fan of corn tortillas
- Sliced Jalapeno
- Thaw the frozen tilapia fillets in a bowl of cold water. It should take them 20 minutes to thaw. Combine all of the ingredients for the mango salsa and set aside.
- When the tilapia is thawed, place them on a plate with paper towels and thoroughly pat dry. Cut the tilapia fillets in half along the seam in the middle. Sprinkle the spice rub over fillets on both sides. Set a large skillet over medium heat on the stovetop and heat for 4 to 5 minutes.
- When the skillet is hot, add a tablespoon of olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan and add the thicker belly portion tilapia fillets. Leave them alone for 2 minutes.
- After 2 minutes, flip the tilapia pieces over and continue to cook for another 2 minutes. Check the tilapia's internal temperature with an instant-read thermometer, you're looking for an internal temperature above 140 degrees Fahrenheit. If the tilapia is not to temp, flip over and continue cooking till it is. Set tilapia pieces aside when done.
- Add a little more oil to the pan and then add the thinner portions of tilapia fillets and cook for a minute on each side. Check the internal temperature and pull the fillets after they're above 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Place each portion in a warmed corn tortilla, or cut the tilapia into smaller pieces and top it with the mango salsa. Serve.
How Long to Cook Tilapia
An average four to six-ounce tilapia filet will take 4 to 5 minutes total to cook in a pan set over medium-high heat on the stovetop.
The same size tilapia fillet will take 10 minutes to cook in a 350 degrees Fahrenheit oven.
You can also grill tilapia for grilled fish tilapia tacos you’ll just need to be careful that they won’t fall apart when grilling.
I suggest grilling tilapia on a piece of oiled aluminum foil.
Grilling a tilapia fillet will take the same amount of time to cook as on the stovetop, around 5 minutes total cooking time.
Baking Versus Pan Frying Tilapia for Fish Tacos
Although baking a lot of tilapia fillets instead of using a pan might seem like a time-saver, it isn’t when you account for the amount of time needed to preheat your oven.
Not only that, because tilapia fillets have both thick and thin sections, the thinner section will always overcook in an oven while the thicker portion reaches a proper serving temperature.
Tilapia fillets will cook to an internal temperature of 145°F in 10 to 12 minutes in a 350°F oven.
You can pan fry four to five, 5-ounce tilapia fillets in just a tablespoon of olive oil in just five minutes.
Baking tilapia also gives it a softer, almost mushy, texture that is less desirable for a fish taco than if it were pan-fried.
You can easily pan fry eight to ten tilapia fillets in ten minutes working in batches. This negates the theory that baking tilapia saves you time.
I will admit that the one drawback to frying tilapia is the inevitable smoke and fish smell associated with pan-frying seafood.
Working quickly and opening a few windows will help combat any ventilation issues.
If you have to use your oven, I suggest baking them at 350°F and checking their internal temperature around the nine-minute mark.
What’s the Average Size of a Tilapia Fillet?
The average size of a tilapia fillet is between 4 to 6 ounces.
The majority of the tilapia sold is farmed and sold in individual vacuum-sealed portions weighing between 4 to 6 ounces.
The serving size and its associated nutritional facts are based on a 4-ounce tilapia fillet.
Is Tilapia Bad For You?
There’s been a lot of controversy over the practices of some aquaculture farms around the world. Can certain types of tilapia be bad for you as well as the environment?
Yes. But this answer simplifies a larger, more complex issue, which is larger than the scope of this recipe post on the internet.
The best way to protect your family and the environment is to do some research and find out what the labels on your frozen fish actually mean.
Many labels will be vague and misleading, stating things such as “responsible choice” or something similar.
That’s not good enough.
Look for any label that is BAP certified or MSC certified. Here’s a list of recommended and not recommended tilapia producers from the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium is recognized as a global leader in marine research and conservation.
Their seafood watch website shows many tilapia options under their best choice for buying heading.