Tilapia is white fish with a mild flavor, making it ideal for a flavorful sauce. Air fryer tilapia is flavored with a simple garlic butter and parmesan sauce. This is a quick cooking recipe (less than 15 minutes including pre-heat time and prep) that can easily be made for one person or in batches for multiple people. The flexibility of using fresh or frozen tilapia also makes this recipe great for a planned dinner or quick from freezer meal.
Tips and Tricks
What do you serve with tilapia? Tilapia is a mild white fish and can be overpowered easily. I’d suggest serving with a roasted vegetable like roasted brussels or three minute corn on the cob. Another great option is an easy rice pilaf or even a light side salad. Pairing tilapia with a simple side dish really lets it shine.
How do you reheat leftover tilapia? I find that reheated fish isn’t as good as freshly cooked fish, so I recommend only cooking as much as you’ll eat in one meal.
However, if you find yourself with leftover tilapia, you can reheat it on the stove gently in melted butter until just warmed through. Another option is to eat it cold on a salad or on a sandwich.
- Filet of tilapia - use fresh or frozen filets
- Diamond Crystal Kosher salt (affiliate link) - season to taste
- Black pepper - season to taste
- Garlic powder - sticks better to the fish than fresh garlic
- Spray oil (affiliate link) - keeps the fish from sticking
- Unsalted butter - melted
- Parmesan - freshly shredded is preferred but any will do
- Dried Italian seasoning - flavoring in the sauce
- Lemon wedge - optional but the fresh lemon juice brightens up the fish
See recipe card for specific quantities.
How many pounds of fish per person? Six to eight ounces of tilapia is perfect with a side dish of roasted vegetables or rice for one person. Six to eight ounces converts to 0.38 to 0.50 pounds. Luckily, that’s usually the size of most filets that I’ve seen, so I usually order one filet per person.
I recommend asking your fishmonger or fish counter at the store. If you’re not sure, you can ask “I want to cook for this many people, how much should I get?”
Can frozen tilapia be cooked in the air fryer? Yes! You can cook frozen tilapia from frozen at the same temperature but add one to two minutes to the cooking time. Frozen tilapia filets are great to keep in the freezer for a fast meal on a busy or low energy night.
Frozen fish is usually flash frozen and therefore a good option if you’re not near the coast for the best quality fish.
How do you make tilapia in the air fryer? Preheat the air fryer to 400 F. Next, season tilapia on both sides well with kosher salt, black pepper and garlic powder. Make sure to evenly season the fish so it is flavorful.
Once the air fryer is preheated, lightly spray the air fryer basket with spray oil. Next lightly spray both sides of the filet and place tilapia into the air fryer.
Cook for four minutes (or five if your fish is frozen), flip and cook for another three to four minutes (or four to five minutes if your fish is frozen) or until the fish registers about 145 F internally and is flakey, opaque and firm to the touch.
While the fish is cooking; mix together the melted butter, parmesan, Italian seasoning and a pinch of salt. Once cooked, carefully remove fish with spatula. Drizzle butter mixture over tilapia and finish with fresh lemon juice if desired.
How do you know when tilapia is done cooking? The most accurate way to tell if tilapia is done is with a meat thermometer (affiliate link). The fish is done cooking when it reaches about 145 F internally.
If you don’t have a meat thermometer, cook until the fish is easily flaked with a fork in the thickest part. The fish should be opaque all the way through and firm to the touch.
How many portions can you make at once? This depends on the size of your air fryer. I have a smaller five quart one (affiliate link) and only one six ounce portion of fish fits at a time.
It is important in an air fryer to cook tilapia in a single layer, so if multiple pieces don’t fit in a single layer, don’t force it.
To make multiple portions, cook in batches and the result is definitely worth the extra time. If your air fryer is larger, you can definitely cook multiple pieces!
Do you need to flip tilapia in the air fryer? Yes, you need to flip the tilapia to ensure even cooking. Although tilapia is a thin filet, the heating element in an air fryer is only on the top.
This causes the bottom of the filet to cook slower. Flipping is especially important if you’re cooking frozen filets.
Hint: Cook tilapia in batches in a single layer if you’re feeding multiple people to ensure even cooking.
Can you use other fish for this method? You can use this base method and sauce for any white fish. However, depending on the size of the filet used, cooking time may vary. Haddock or cod filets tend to be thicker and may require longer cooking and a flip in the air to cook evenly.
I can also recommend an air fryer salmon recipe with vegetables cooked in foil packets for easy clean up.
What can you substitute for parmesan cheese? If you don’t have parmesan cheese, you can use another hard cheese like pecorino romano or grana padano. If you don’t like cheese you can use nutritional yeast.
Can you use non-dairy fat instead of butter? Yes, you can use any liquid fat that you like the flavor of. I recommend using something flavorful like a finishing olive oil since it is the base of the sauce. I would not recommend a neutral flavored oil in this situation.
What other sauces can you use? Once the tilapia is cooked, you can really use almost any flavoring you want! You could season the fish with homemade taco seasoning and then make fish tacos with cabbage, avocado and your other favorite toppings. A few other flavor profiles are chimichurri sauce, cajun seasoning or just freshly squeezed lemon with herbs is great.
Are air fryers good for fish? Yes! Cooking fish in the air fryer results in a tender and juicy piece of fish. Seasoned well and then slathered in sauce, this is an easier method than the oven and faster than pan frying fish. Because the air fryer is so quick, it is done in about 15 minutes start to finish!
If you’re looking for more tips and information for your air fryer, check out my Air Fryer FAQ page.
Mix your sauce while the fish is cooking to make sure it’s hot and ready for when the fish is done cooking.
Air Fryer Tilapia
- 6 -8 oz filet of tilapia fresh or frozen
- Kosher salt to taste
- Black pepper to taste
- ⅛ teaspoon garlic powder
- Spray oil
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter melted
- 1-2 tablespoons shredded parmesan cheese
- 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
- Lemon wedge optional
- Preheat the air fryer to 400 F.
- While the air fryer is preheating, season tilapia on both sides well with kosher salt, black pepper and garlic powder.
- Once preheated, lightly spray the air fryer basket. Also spray both sides of the fish filet lightly. Place tilapia into the air fryer and cook. If you’re using fresh fish: cook for 4 minutes and flip, cooking for another 3-4 minutes. If you’re using frozen filets then cook for 5 minutes and flip, cooking for another 4-5 minutes. The fish is done when it registers about 145 F internally, is firm to the touch, opaque and flakes easily with a fork.
- While the fish is cooking, mix together melted butter, parmesan, Italian seasoning and a pinch of salt in a small bowl.
- Remove fish carefully with spatula. Drizzle butter mixture over fish and finish with fresh lemon juice if desired. Enjoy immediately with your favorite sides.
- To cook multiple filets, make sure they are in a single layer otherwise do in batches. This will depend on the size of your air fryer.
- If you’re using frozen filets of tilapia, use the slightly longer cook time but keep the same temperature.
- If you use a smaller or larger piece of tilapia, adjust the cooking time not the temperature.
- If you have leftovers, it’s best to gently warm in butter or eat cold on a salad.
This post was previously published on December 17, 2020. It has been updated with clearer instructions and tips and tricks on June 19, 2022.
- Cook to a minimum temperature of 145 °F (63 °C)
- Do not use the same utensils on cooked food, that previously touched raw meat or seafood
- Wash hands after touching raw meat or seafood
- Don't leave food sitting out at room temperature for extended periods
- Never leave cooking food unattended
- Use oils with high smoking point to avoid harmful compounds
- Always have good ventilation when using a gas stove