This air fryer tilapia is the perfect weeknight dinner because you can cook a healthy meal and have it on the table in about 15 minutes! The air fryer cooks the tilapia quickly and evenly resulting in a tender and flaky fish dinner, seasoned with garlic and lemon.
And the entire family will enjoy this easy and delicious dinner. You won’t believe how tender and flaky the fillets turn out! You can feel good serving it, since seafood is a great source of protein without extra fat.
The high heat of the air fryer cooks it quickly without adding much extra oil or butter. Sometimes I add a breading to air fried fish, like my fish fry recipe, but for cooking tilapia in air fryer I prefer no breading, which makes it both better for you and simple to make.
Use lemon juice and spices to season it and keep it moist and flaky. This is a low effort and low mess dinner with just a few ingredients. The simplicity of this recipe means it is naturally gluten free, dairy free, low carb, keto friendly and generally compatible with a wide variety of diets.
There are just a few ingredients in this easy air fryer tilapia recipe:
- Tilapia filets – For best results I thaw the fillets before cooking. But you can cook frozen fillets, which I discuss in this section below.
- Lemon or lemon juice – If I have a lemon I will juice it for fresh lemon juice. But bottled juice works too!
- Olive oil
- Garlic or garlic scapes or green onions – I used garlic scapes in the pictures for this post, which are the stalks cut from young garlic bulbs in the spring. But a garlic clove or green onions would work just as well to give it a subtle flavor that contrasts nicely with the lemon.
- Salt and black pepper or your favorite seasonings
How to Cook Tilapia in Air Fryer
Preheating the air fryer helps ensure the tilapia cooks evenly and quickly. So preheat it at 400 F for 2 minutes while you season the tilapia fillets.
Before seasoning the tilapia fillets pat them dry with paper towels. This will help the seasoning stick to the fillets.
If you are using a fresh lemon juice it, you will get about 2 Tablespoons of fresh juice. Combine the lemon juice with the olive oil in a small bowl and add the minced garlic.
Brush the olive oil, lemon juice and garlic mixture on the fillets. Coat both sides of the tilapia, so that it doesn’t stick to the air fryer basket.
Then sprinkle salt and pepper to taste on top. I use about 1/4 teaspoon of each salt and pepper per fillet.
3. Air Fry
Put the fillets in the air fryer basket in a single layer. My air fryer will fit 2-3 tilapia fillets without crowding, depending on their size and shape.
Don’t overcrowd the basket or stack the fish. If you want to cook more fillets just do it in batches. It cooks quickly anyway, so making a couple batches is no big deal. Air fry at 400 F for 8 minutes. Then pull the basket out and check the fish. It is done when it flakes easily with a fork.
When it is done it will be a little bit brown at the edges and maybe a little brown on the top. But it will mostly be white – this is not a recipe that will get crispy on top. You can also use an instant read thermometer to make sure the tilapia has reached 145 F.
Yes, although it probably won’t be quite as tasty. Spray the frozen fish fillets with olive oil spray and put them in a single layer in the air fryer at a cooking temperature of 360 degrees F for 8 minutes.
Then take out the basket and add seasoning like lemon juice, salt and black pepper to the fish. Increase the heat to 400 F and air fry for another 5-8 minutes until it is cooked through and flakes easily.
Another easy option is to thaw the frozen fillets before cooking in the air fryer. It can be thawed overnight in the refrigerator or in a sink with running water in only about 30 minutes.
I prefer not to flip the tilapia when cooking it in this recipe because it is fragile and might break apart when you try to flip it. For most air fryer recipes you get better browning if you flip the ingredients halfway through. But in this case you aren’t really going to get anything more than light brown exterior anyway.
Tilapia is a mild fish that is light and slightly sweet. It doesn’t have a classic “fishy” taste, making it popular with people who don’t love fish. This also makes it excellent for dishes like fish tacos.
How to Serve
I always like to serve fish with lemon wedges. Lemon and fish go together amazingly well, and an extra squeeze of lemon on the tilapia accentuates the flavors. Fresh herbs like basil, parsley or chives are perfect for sprinkling on top.
This is a quick healthy dinner, so I generally serve it with a green salad or a simple vegetable like zucchini or asparagus that I can cook fast.. Microwavable rice also makes a good side dish for this air fryer tilapia and lets you make a quick and easy side dish.
How to Store
Leftover tilapia can be stored in an airtight bag or container in the refrigerator for 2-3 days. It is great served cold, on a salad, in a quick fish taco or on fish sandwiches.
Benefits of Tilapia
Tilapia is common in grocery stores in the U.S. and is fairly inexpensive. It is a generic freshwater fish that has a mild taste. I use it in this recipe because it is:
- Not very “fishy” tasting
- fillets are well sized for my air fryer
- easy to find
Alternatives to Tilapia
Some people prefer not to use tilapia because it is raised in fish farms and is not wild caught. Also some people enjoy fish that has a stronger, more distinctive taste.
This simple recipe would work well with another type of healthy fish, especially white, lean and flaky white fish. This would include species like:
- red snapper
- mahi mahi
- rainbow trout
The cooking time will vary depending on the thickness of fish.
Find More Easy Air Fryer Dinners
- 2 tilapia fillets
- 1 lemon or 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- 1 garlic clove or 1 garlic scapes or green onion, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper or to taste
- Preheat the air fryer to 400 F for 2-3 minutes.
- Pat each piece of fish dry with paper towels.
- If using a fresh lemon juice it to obtain about 2 Tablespoons of lemon juice
- Mix the lemon juice, oil, garlic in a small bowl and stir.
- Brush both sides of the fish fillets with the lemon juice and oil mixture. Then sprinkle salt and pepper to taste on the fish fillet. I use about 1/4 teaspoon of each per fillet.
- Place the fillets in the air fryer basket, in a single layer, making sure there is space for the air to circulate.
- Cook at 400 F for 8-12 minutes, until the fish has reached an internal temperature of 145 F. When it is done the fish will be lightly brown at the edges but not crispy. It should flake easily with a fork.
- Serve with lemon wedges and fresh herbs like basil, parsley or chives.
Frozen Tilapia Cooking Process
You can cook frozen tilapia fillets. Spray the frozen fish fillets with olive oil spray and put them in a single layer in the air fryer at a cooking temperature of 360 degrees F for 8 minutes.
Then take out the basket and add seasoning like lemon juice, salt and black pepper to the fish. Increase the heat to 400 F an air fry for another 5-8 minutes until it is cooked through and flakes easily.
This recipe will work with other white fish like flounder, rainbow trout or catfish.
You don't need to flip the fillets as they cook.
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Amount Per Serving: Calories: 343Total Fat: 18gSaturated Fat: 3gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 14gCholesterol: 97mgSodium: 628mgCarbohydrates: 2gFiber: 0gSugar: 0gProtein: 45g
Nutrition facts are estimates.