Crispy on the outside, tender & flaky on the inside. Our low-carb Air Fryer Frozen Tilapia is the world’s easiest dinner that even the pickiest fish eaters will love. You don’t have to bother thawing out your fish and it’s ready in under 15 minutes.
Try our Old Bay seasoned whitefish in tacos, salads, or with a drizzle of lemon butter sauce. Just like our Crab Stuffed Whitefish, it will soon become your family’s favorite fish dinner.
Whether you plan on cooking fresh or frozen tilapia, or don’t even have an air fryer, we’ve got you covered. We’ve included oven baked directions in the recipe card for your convenience. So, let’s get started!
What’s to Love
- If your fish is frozen when you get home from work, you can still get a healthy dinner on the table in a jiffy. (Hey, we’ve all been there.)
- Huge time saver! Cooks in around 14 minutes from frozen or 7 minutes for fresh fish, depending on the thickness of the fillet.
- Low carb, keto and diabetic friendly with only 2 grams of carbohydrates per serving. These tilapia fillets are made without flour or breading. Serve these air fried tilapia fillets with a refreshing Heirloom Tomato Cucumber Salad or tossed greens for a healthy dinner idea.
- Seafood recipe only uses a handful of pantry ingredients and cleanup is a snap.
- Cooking tilapia in the air fryer makes them extra crispy on the outside but tender and flaky inside. Seriously, if all you ever make in your air fryer is fish, it’s worth its weight in gold. The air fryer is our secret tool for making the Best Tasting Fish and Seafood Recipes for Picky Eaters.
- Uses less oil and fat than traditional cooking methods. After all, who wants to clean the kitchen disaster after deep or pan-frying fish on the stove.
Ingredients for Fish
Tilapia – is a very mild flaky fish with a delicate flavor so it’s perfect for those weary fish eaters. You can use either fresh or frozen fish fillets. We prefer ours with the skin off.
Tilapia is a budget friendly option in the US and is also a delicious choice for our Baked Tilapia with Caramelized Onion Lentils. You can also use your favorite mild sustainable white fish of choice. A thin white fish like flounder, halibut, sole or maybe fish local to your region are all good choices. Wild caught fish is best but can be hard to come by.
If you do purchase farmed tilapia, it is best to purchase from aquaculture farmers who use a controlled closed system with recirculation tanks and a form of wastewater treatment management. In addition, you want to confirm that they do not use antibiotics or hormones.
According to Seafood Watch, Blue Tilapia from Peru, Hybrid Red Tilapia from US and Ecuador are listed as the top 3 best choices for sustainable tilapia. Be sure to check out the package to find out “where” your fish originated before you make a purchase.
Old Bay Seasoning – is a spice blend that makes seafood taste extra delicious with a punch of spice and flavor. The primary ingredients are celery salt and paprika with a pinch of cayenne pepper and other spices.
To keep it lower sodium, you can make a homemade mixture of paprika, black pepper, cayenne pepper without adding the celery salt. Other close substitutions to Old Bay Seasoning are Cajun Seasoning or Creole seasonings. We are all about using what you have on hand.
Garlic Powder – dried ground. You can substitute fresh minced garlic for dried.
Parsley – we used dried as that was in the pantry. This garnish can be omitted. Alternatively, you can use fresh, if desired.
Fresh Lemon Slices – this is not a mandatory ingredient, but it prevents the fish from sticking and gives the fish a bright flavor.
Garlic Butter Sauce for Seafood
A little bright buttery drizzle on top of the fish upon serving is optional but it’s just too good to pass up.
Butter – If you are lactose intolerant, you can try ghee or a plant-based butter.
Lemon Juice – Fresh is best but you can swap with a splash of lemon juice concentrate. Fresh lime juice is also quite nice.
Garlic powder – just a pinch for good measure
Parsley – dried or fresh. It’s an optional ingredient.
Step by Step
The full seafood recipe with all the recipe tips is in the recipe card below. Here are the basic steps for how to cook frozen tilapia in the air fryer with a garlic butter sauce.
- Preheat the air fryer to 400° F (204° C)
- Slice fresh lemons for fish to air fry on-approximately 2 slices per fish. This provides 2 functions. First it prevents the tilapia from sticking to the air fryer basket. Secondly, it seasons the fish with a bright lemon flavor.
- Remove the frozen fish from the plastic.
- Spray fish with a light oil on each side and sprinkle Old Bay Seasoning, garlic powder, parsley and salt and pepper to taste.
- Place the lemon slices in the air fryer basket and place the seasoned frozen or tilapia on top of the lemons. We like to line our Cosori toaster oven style air fryer tray with parchment paper for easy cleanup.
- Melt butter in microwave for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Then, add the lemon juice, garlic powder and parsley and stir to mix.
- Air fry frozen tilapia at 400° F (204°C) for 12 to 15 minutes or the fish flakes easily with a fork or registers 145° F (62°C) with a meat thermometer. Fresh tilapia, depending on the size may cook in half of the time.
- Drizzle the lemon butter sauce over the fish and enjoy!
You are going to love this easy fool proof fish recipe. Try these helpful hints for a perfectly air fried fish every time.
- If your make and model of air fryer allows you to line the basket or tray with parchment paper or aluminum foil, do it. It makes cleanup a snap.
- Placing the prepared frozen fish fillets on top of fresh lemon slices is not required. However, it makes it for easier clean up and adds a lovely bright flavor.
- Leave space in between the tilapia fillets. If you overcrowd the air fryer, it can’t function as convection oven and circulate the air around the fish. Instead, you may end up with a steamed fish fillet instead of a crispy one.
- Lightly spray or brush fillets with a little oil before putting on the spices. It helps the spices stick to the frozen fish and makes the exterior of the fish crispy.
How Long to Cook Frozen Tilapia in the Air Fryer?
Every tilapia fillet can be a different size and thickness. They range in size from around 3 ounces per fillet to up to whopping 8 ounces per fillet depending on the species. For a 3.5-ounce frozen tilapia fillet, it takes between 12- 15 minutes of air fry time at 400° F (204°C)
If you are cooking a thawed or fresh fish 3.5-ounce fillet, it takes approximately 7 to 8 minutes to cook at 400° F. We recommend that you do not depend on time to know when the fish is done cooking.
Instead, we suggest you check the fish for doneness when it meets one of these 2 criteria...
- Fish fillet registers 145° F (62°C) on a meat thermometer.
- Tilapia is no longer translucent and flakes easily with a fork.
If you decide to cook a whole tilapia fish, it will require a much longer time to cook, especially if still frozen. In addition, it may not fit in your air fryer. You might prefer to try our recipe for Asian Steamed Fish, if space is an issue.
No Flour or Breading
To keep our fish keto diet friendly, we opted to not use any breading or flour on the tilapia. It’s super crispy without the added carbohydrates. Other low carb topping ideas for fish are ...
- grated parmesan cheese
- crushed pork rinds
- your favorite spices
- lemon pepper
If you do use a prepared spice mix, you will want to make sure there is not an added sugar.
What to Serve with Fish?
One our first choices are budget friendly rice dishes. Say hello to a side of Lemon Pepper Rice. Its bright and fresh and the perfect pairing with our air fryer frozen tilapia. Middle Eastern Rice and Lentils is another quick and easy recipe. We love using red lentils because they cook up quickly.
We may be going meatless but that does not mean you have to hold the potatoes too. Our Herbs de Provence Baby Potatoes and Tomatoes or garlic smashed potatoes are easy one pan side dishes that complement the delicate flavor of the fish well.
Fresh salads topped with a Lemon White Balsamic Vinaigrette is light and refreshing on all of your favorite greens.
Storage and Reheating
Leftover air fried tilapia can be stored in the refrigerator in a covered container for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2-3 months. Reheat and enjoy as a tilapia taco, add to soups, curries or just as is.
You can reheat the fish fillets in a pre-heated 325° F air fryer for about 2 minutes or until warm. Alternatively, you can bake at 275° F for 3 to 4 minutes covered or pan fry until warm and toasty. Avoid the microwave, if possible, as it can make your fish texture rubbery.
Frequent Asked Questions?
You can cook tilapia in the air fryer either frozen or thawed. If you cook frozen tilapia, it will take approximately 50% longer than cooking thawed or fresh tilapia. Either method is safe if you confirm that fillet has been cooked to 145° F (62°C) or is no longer translucent and flakes easily with a fork.
The decision to turn food in the air fryer depends on what you are cooking, whether you are using an air fryer basket or tray, how thick and how fragile the food is. Turning the food over in the air fryer helps promote even cooking on all sides of the food. However, if cooking a very thin and fragile tilapia fillet, you may opt to not turn it, so it does not apart. If the fish fillet is thicker, we like to turn it midway during the cooking process.
It is okay to eat the skin of a cooked tilapia fillet if it has been cleaned and the scales have been removed properly. However, some say that the skin can have a slightly bitter taste, so we prefer eating ours without.
More Air Fryer Recipes
If you have not quite got on the air fryer bandwagon, we have included oven baking directions in the recipe card below. We were late adopters of this tabletop convection oven but now can’t imagine cooking dinner without it. Everything from our Air Fryer Jalapeño Poppers appetizers to Banana Spring Rolls dessert is a testament that the air fryer appliance makes everything crispier, with less oil and in less time. You gotta love that!
Air Fryer Frozen Tilapia
- air fryer
Air Fryer Tilapia
- 4 small tilapia fillets or sustainable white mild fish of choice. Can be frozen or fresh with skin removed.
- 1 whole lemon sliced to air fry the fish on - optional
- oil spray just enough to lightly coat the fish and in the air fryer basket to prevent sticking.
- 1.5 teaspoons Old Bay Seasoning or to taste
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon parsley dried or 1 tablespoon fresh - optional
- ground black pepper to taste
Lemon Butter Garlic Sauce
- ¼ cup butter 4 tablespoons - ghee or plant based butter
- ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice or about ½ fresh lemon
- 1 teaspoon parsley dried or 1 tablespoon fresh
- sliced lemons as desired
- Slice fresh lemons for fish to air fry on. (optional)
- Spray frozen tilapia fillets with a light oil on each side. Sprinkle Old Bay Seasoning, dried garlic powder, parsley (optional) and black pepper to taste on both sides.
- Spray air fryer tray with oil or line with parchment paper (if your air fryer type permits this) to prevent sticking. Place the lemon slices in the air fryer basket and place the seasoned frozen or tilapia on top of the lemons.
- FROZEN TILAPIA: Air fry frozen tilapia fillets until the fish is no longer translucent and flakes easily with a fork OR registers 145° F (62° C) with a meat thermometer. Our 3.5 ounce frozen tilapia fillets usually take around 12 to 15 minutes to cook. As every tilapia or fish is a different thickness, it may take less or more time. If your fish is very thin, you do not need to flip it halfway during the cooking process, as it may fall apart. For larger tilapia fillets, we like to turn them over halfway in the cooking process to ensure even cooking.
- While your fish is air frying, make the Lemon Garlic Butter Sauce. Place the butter in a small bowl and microwave for 30 seconds or until melted. Add garlic powder, lemon juice and parsley and stir. Set aside.
- Drizzle the Lemon Garlic Butter Sauce, garnish with lemons and enjoy while hot.