Air fryer blackened tilapia is a 15-minute dinner idea that requires just a few simple herbs and spices to make up the most flavorful blackened dry rub resulting in a spectacular fillet of fish without all of the deep-frying! It's a deliciously kid-friendly meal, especially when served with their favorite sides and dipping sauces!
If you have a hard time getting your kids to like fish that doesn't come in the form of a frozen fish stick, this Air fryer tilapia recipe is exactly what you've been waiting for. Your kids will love it! It's a tender-flaky fish coated in a smokey spice rub, air fried until perfectly browned on the outside and tender-flaky on the inside. As if that wasn't enough, it's all done without any oil splatter or mess in under 15 minutes!
This is a quick and easy dinner idea, but it also works for breakfast and brunch if you don't mind fish that early in the day. I know for those looking for a way to incorporate more protein at the start of their day, adding fish to a breakfast or lunch is a great way to go about doing that. This air fryer blackened tilapia doesn't use breadcrumbs so it's gluten-free, high in protein and omega 3's, and makes for a very healthy and completely delicious main dish idea!
Rivaling any pub or restaurant-style fish, this versatile dish that works in so many ways. Serve it with a side salad or air fryer broccoli for a low-carb meal. Kids will love it with a side of french fries or sweet potato fries as a twist on fish and chips or use any leftover tilapia fillets for a fish sandwich the following day.
However you decide to enjoy this flavorful fish, it will quickly become an easy way to enjoy fish just a little more often!
WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS
- It's a super simple, fast way to eat healthy on a budget.
- Loads of flavor, however, this recipe is versatile so you can really season it how you like.
- Tilapia is nice and light and mild so it works for any meal of the day.
- Using the air fryer means no turning on the oven on a hot day.
- A kid-friendly fish recipe that combines delicious flavors with crispy, flaky, and tender textures that everyone loves.
WHAT IS TILAPIA?
Tilapia isn't actually a specific type of fish, but actually a species of fish (who knew?!). It's a mild-tasting white fish that is very popular not only because it doesn't have a "fishy" smell, but because it's a budget-friendly fish that holds well when cooked. It flakes but doesn't fall apart so it can be cooked using different methods. As with most fish, it's high in protein and Omega 3s and has the benefit of other nutrients and minerals.
WHAT IS THE BEST TILAPIA TO BUY?
As you may or may not be aware, tilapia has become a farmed fish and is available worldwide. Because of its ability to be mass-produced, it comes at a cheaper cost. You want to look for fish that has firm and shiny flesh which can be fresh from the counter or frozen. It should appear to be fresh, this means the edges shouldn't be dry or mushy and the smell should be mild. The quality of the farmed fish depends on the country it comes from as recommended by seafood watch programs. Look for seals that say "best choice" whenever possible.
This recipe is so easy and so fast you'll be sitting down to eat in no time!
- Tilapia – This recipe is for approximately 4-6 tilapia fillets. Feel free to adjust as needed. There should be enough blackened seasoning for at least 6 fillets of tilapia. If you want to make more than 6, just double the recipe for the seasoning.
- High heat oil - Some recommendations are avocado oil, peanut oil, sesame, or olive oil. Canola oil will also work.
- Dry rub – Smoked paprika, onion, powder, garlic powder, cumin, dried thyme, dried oregano, salt & pepper, and cayenne. I like to make extra so that I can use it again. This blackened seasoning also goes well with salmon and chicken!
- Garnish – a squeeze of lemon and lemon wedges.
HOW TO MAKE TILAPIA IN THE AIR FRYER
(more detailed instructions in the recipe card)
Step 1: Preheat the air fryer to 400 degrees and rinse and pat dry tilapia fillets and set aside in a bowl.
Step 2: Combine all of the aromatic herbs and spices used for the dry rub in a medium bowl. Whisk together until evenly blended.
Step 3: Grab the bowl of tilapia and drizzle and coat each fillet with the oil. Drain any excess oil or the seasoning won't stick as well.
Step 4: Season both sides of each fillet with the dry rub blackened seasoning. Shake off excess and place it into the air fryer.
Step 5: Generously spray each tilapia fillet with oil and fry for 7-9 minutes or until the internal temperature of the fish is 145 degrees F. The flesh should flake easily when testing the meatiest part.
You definitely can, however, I suggest thawing it in the fridge overnight first. You'll want to make sure to pat it dry as best as you can, otherwise, the excess moisture will keep it from crisping up.
Technically you don't have to, it will cook all the way through no matter what. The idea of flipping though is to make sure it browns evenly on both sides so I always like to flip just once halfway through. If you try it and you notice it's starting to break, just leave it alone and don't worry about the flipping.
This customizable fish recipe is another favorite because no matter what seasonings I use, it comes out perfect every time. Although this recipe doesn't use breadcrumbs, you can always add in a coating for an extra crispy coating. Parmesan and fresh herbs or Italian seasoning, lemon pepper, even taco seasoning, would work.
You might wonder why we add more oil after we tell you to pat it dry and get rid of the excess oil! The reason for this is after the fillets are coated in the dry rub, spraying with oil helps to ensure a nice even brown crust happens throughout the cooking process.
TIPS FOR AIR FRYER BLACKENED TILAPIA
- Drying the fish with a paper towel will not only help the seasoning stick to it but will help it crisp up nicely.
- Finishing it off with a squirt of lemon will add a pop of citrus which is a nice balance to the deeper smoky flavors.
- Keep fillets from overlapping. If they are overcrowded it will leave for uneven cooking and not enough space in between doesn't allow for enough air to circulate.
- You know your air fryer best. Depending on the size, you'll know how many fillets you can fit at once.
This is a delicate fish so you don't want to overpower it by adding on sides that are too heavy. Below is a list of a few of my favorite sides to serve them with:
- French fries
- Sweet potato fries
- Air Fryer Broccoli
- Instant Pot Asparagus
- Instant Pot Mac and Cheese
- Tossed salad
- White, brown, or fried rice
- Roasted or mashed potatoes
- Tortillas (make it into fish tacos)
This fish is best served immediately. If you have any leftovers, keep in mind it will probably only last 1 or 2 days in the fridge in an airtight container, but even then it will be soggier than it started out. To reheat, you can use the air fryer again, or the oven, or in a skillet with a bit of melted butter or oil.
Air Fryer Tilapia (no breading)
- Air Fryer
- 4-6 fillets tilapia
- 3 tablespoon high heat oil
Blackened Seasoning Rub
- 3 tablespoon smoked paprika
- 1 tablespoon onion powder
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- ½ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
- 1 lemon, juiced
- Preheat the air fryer to 400°F for about 10 minutes.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together smoked paprika, onion powder, garlic powder, cumin, dried thyme, dried oregano, salt, ground pepper, and ground cayenne pepper.
- Rinse the tilapia fillets and pat dry with a paper towel. In another bowl, drizzle and coat the tilapia with oil. Then, drain the excess oil and season both sides of each fillet with the blackened seasoning (about 1 tablespoon for each fillet). Shake off any excess seasoning before placing it into the air fryer.
- Generously spray each tilapia fillet with oil. Air fry for 7-9 minutes. The fish is done when the internal temperature is 145°F and is easily flaked by a fork at the thickest part.