Lightly Breaded Air Fryer Tilapia

Looking for an easy way to get more fish into your diet? This tasty air fryer tilapia recipe has you covered. Even the fish skeptics in your life will love the mild flavor and crispy panko crust. I’ll teach you how to achieve a thin and even breading layer with a sneaky and simple trick.

Ready to make it? Let’s get cooking!

two breaded tilapia filets and a lemon wedge on a rectangular tray

Reasons to Love This Recipe

This is a fish recipe that even the fish-haters in your life can get down with. It’s mild (aka not fishy tasting), with a perfectly thin, flavorful, and crispy panko breading.

What’s the secret to such light, even breading? Oh, just a little trick I learned from Gordon Ramsay. (Don’t get too excited… he didn’t teach me personally or anything, but I did get an awesome trick from one of his YouTube videos.)

You’ll also love this recipe because it’s quick and simple to make. It comes together in less than 15 minutes, making it perfect for a weeknight meal or easy meal prep.

two breaded fish filets in an air fryer basket

Nutrition Tidbits

If fish isn’t a regular part of your diet, let’s change that!

Fish is a fantastic source of lean protein, meaning it is relatively low in fat compared to meat. The exact fat and nutrient content of fish can vary based on the type of fish you are eating. Fattier fish like salmon and mackerel are higher in heart disease and inflammation-fighting omega-3’s. Tilapia is lower in omega-3’s, but it can still be a good option if you need to get more fish into your diet due to its affordability and mild flavor.

Like other sources of protein, fish like tilapia also contain B-vitamins, which have numerous benefits for your energy levels and metabolism.

Generally, aim to eat fish twice per week and vary your sources of fish to maximize the health benefits.

tilapia filet and salad on a white plate with a checkered napkin in the background

Preparation Tips

For the full recipe with ingredient amounts, scroll down to the recipe card!

Breading Secrets

The first secret to crispy breading on any protein (especially fish) is to pat it dry. Excess moisture can prevent the breading from sticking and will lead to a mushy final product.

After you get your fish nice and dry, coat it in a thin layer of oil. I use avocado oil spray. This gives your breading something to stick to without having to use an egg wash or additional flour, making the breading layer ultra light. I also recommend adding a sprinkle of salt during this step.

Mix up your breading mix in a shallow dish, then dunk each fish filet into the mixture, being sure to coat every last bit!

This step is a game-changer. (I learned this watching Gordon Ramsay make chicken parmesan on YouTube.)

Place a piece of parchment paper on your counter, set the breaded filets on top, then place another piece of parchment paper on top. Use a rolling pin (or a bottle, if you don’t have a rolling pin) to gently roll over the top of the fish, pressing the breading into the filet. The result? Perfectly even breading that stays stuck to your food!

Cooking Fish to Perfection

Since it is such a delicate protein, cooking fish in the air fryer takes hardly any time. You’ll know the tilapia is done when it is opaque and reads 145°F.

Depending on the type of air fryer basket you have, you may have to take some steps to prevent your tilapia from sticking. Add a bit of oil to a paper towel and carefully wipe the air fryer basket with the oil to lightly coat it before adding your fish filets.

air fried tilapia preparation steps

Frequently Asked Questions

What temperature should tilapia be cooked to?

Fish (including tilapia) should be cooked to 145°F.

What goes with tilapia?

Since tilapia is a mild fish, it pairs well with almost any starch or veggie. Serve with potatoes or rice and steamed vegetables or a salad. You can also tear it into bite-sized pieces and use as a taco filling!

Can you air fry frozen tilapia?

You can, but for recipes that involve adding breading, it’s best to use fresh or thawed frozen fish. If you use frozen fish that hasn’t been thawed, it will be difficult to get your breading to stick.

closeup of breaded tilapia in an air fryer basket

Recipe Modifications

  • Use different fish – Not a tilapia fan? No problem. This recipe works for any type of thin fish filet. Salmon, trout, cod, mahi mahi, and perch would all taste great. Just keep in mind that thicker filets will require more cooking time to reach 145°F.
  • No panko? You can use any type of breadcrumbs for this recipe. If you use seasoned breadcrumbs, you won’t need to add the seasonings I recommend.
  • Gluten-free version – Use gluten-free breadcrumbs or almond flour in place of the panko.
  • Make it spicy – Add a pinch of cayenne and chili powder.
  • Thicker breading – If you prefer a thicker coat of breading, use the egg wash method. Coat each filet in flour, then dip in egg, followed by the breadcrumb mixture.
squeezing lemon on breaded fish
two breaded fish filets and a lemon wedge on a rectangular white platter
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Lightly Breaded Air Fryer Tilapia

The fastest and easiest breaded fish you'll ever make! So tasty, even picky eaters will enjoy it.
Prep Time5 minutes
Cook Time7 minutes
Total Time12 minutes
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Keyword: air fryer, breaded fish, fried fish
Servings: 2
Calories: 210kcal
Author: Chelsea Jackle, RDN


  • air fryer
  • Rolling Pin
  • parchment paper


  • ½ lb tilapia filets skinless (2 small filets)
  • ½ tsp avocado oil spray
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 3 tbsp panko breadcrumbs
  • 3 tbsp parmesan cheese
  • ¼ tsp Italian seasoning
  • ¼ tsp paprika
  • ¼ tsp pepper
  • ¼ tsp garlic powder
  • lemon juice (optional, to taste)


  • Preheat the air fryer to 400°F. Meanwhile, pat each tilapia filet dry with a paper towel, then spray with avocado oil spray and sprinkle with salt.
  • Mix panko breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese, Italian seasoning, paprika, pepper, and garlic powder in a shallow dish. Place each tilapia filet in the dish and coat with breading. (You most likely won't use up all of the breading.)
  • (This is where the magic happens.) Place the breaded filets on a sheet of parchment paper. Lay another piece of parchment paper on top. Use a rolling pin to gently roll over the filets and press the breading into the fish. This step helps the breading adhere to the fish for maximum crispiness!
  • Add the tilapia to the preheated air fryer and cook for 7 minutes (or until the fish reaches 145°F).
  • Serve immediately with your favorite side dishes and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice!


  • Please note that nutrition facts are an estimate and can vary widely based on amounts and specific types used. 
  • Although we love leftovers at Chelsea Dishes, this dish is best served fresh. (Crispy breading is much tastier than mushy breading.)


Calories: 210kcal | Carbohydrates: 12g | Protein: 28g | Fat: 6g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 2g | Cholesterol: 62mg | Sodium: 580mg | Potassium: 392mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 186IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 133mg | Iron: 2mg

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