With everyday spices and just five minutes of prep, blackened tilapia is an ultra-fast, healthy dinner you’ll reach for again and again. It has irresistible flavor you’ll legitimately crave, and goes well with any grain and vegetable for a quality dinner that lands on your table in no time at all.
Adding more fish to your diet is healthy, sure. But when it takes about 15 minutes and has flavors you legitimately crave? Healthy never sounded so good!
This simple blackened white fish is the essence of an easy meal. A quick spice rub, a quick pan fry, and you get the most incredible flavor along with a delightful textural contrast — crispy, ultra-flavorful spice bits on the outside, surrounding tender, mild white fish in the middle.
Tilapia with blackening seasoning is also versatile and good for meal prep. I try to make a big batch so I can serve it as-is for dinner one night and use extra for fish tacos another night, or just enjoy the leftovers for lunch. I’m always happy to see this stashed in the fridge!
Ingredients & Substitutions
Here are a few notes and shopping tips about the ingredients you’ll need to make tilapia with a blackened crust, as well as possible substitutions:
- Tilapia Fillets: Tilapia is an economical, relatively sustainable fish that is an easy contribution to the average person’s recommended intake of two portions of fish per week. If you prefer, you can easily make this recipe with another firm, white fish, such as cod, bass, or haddock.
- Spice Mixture: You’ll need brown sugar, paprika (can be sweet or smoked paprika), salt, oregano, garlic powder, and cumin. Craving more heat? Add a pinch of cayenne pepper.
- Olive Oil: Traditionally, blackened proteins are cooked in a generous slick of butter, because the butter’s milk fat helps to develop that dark, rich crust. That said, olive oil also works well here, as long as your pan is hot before you place in the fish, and we prefer its neutral flavor and heart-healthy benefits. You can use canola or another vegetable oil, as well.
- Lemon Juice. A small squeeze of lemon at the end really livens up all the other flavors. And the extra wedges make a pretty garnish!
Is tilapia a healthy fish to eat?
As noted by WebMD, fish in general is one of the healthiest sources of protein, and tilapia is no exception. Each serving boasts a good amount of vitamins and minerals, including choline, niacin, vitamin B12, vitamin D, selenium, and phosphorus. Tilapia is also a valuable source of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, although admittedly it’s omega-3 power pales in comparison to salmon.
Is tilapia environmentally friendly?
Farmed tilapia gets a bad rap in some circles, but as outlined by The Washington Post, like any other food product, it can be farmed responsibly or irresponsibly, and in general, tilapia can be a sustainable choice. If you care about choosing responsibly farmed or fished seafood (we do!), the Marine Stewardship Council is a fantastic resource for reading and labeling to help you navigate these choppy waters. (Sorry, just couldn’t resist the pun.)
What is a white fish?
“White fish” isn’t a specific kind, per se. As The Kitchn explains, in recipes this generally means any type of light-colored fish that cooks quickly and has a relatively mild flavor. Tilapia is a prime example, as is haddock, cod, or bass.
Can I use a store-bought blackening seasoning?
How To Make Blackened Tilapia
Begin by combining the brown sugar and spices in a small bowl. Rub together with your fingers until they are well mixed, and the brown sugar in particular is evenly distributed.
Pat your fish dry with a paper towel or clean kitchen towel, so the spices will adhere to it well. Sprinkle on the spices — be sure to cover both sides of the fish — and gently rub them in.
Grab a non-stick skillet — you can use a well-seasoned cast iron skillet, too, but it will be more difficult to flip the fish and to clean up afterwards. Warm a drizzle of olive oil in it over medium-high heat.
Add the fish when the oil is hot, but not smoking. The fish should sizzle right away when it hits the pan.
Cook for 2-3 minutes on one side, then carefully flip the fish. I use a large non-stick spatula, you don’t need anything fancy. Cook on the other side for another 2-3 minutes until the fish is cooked through. Spritz with fresh lemon juice and serve right away.
How To Tell When Fish is Done
You’ll know tilapia fillets are cooked when they are opaque white, no longer translucent, and flake easily when pressed with the side of a fork. If you have an instant read thermometer, this takes out all the guesswork: the FDA recommends cooking fish to an internal temperature of 145° F.
For this recipe, an extra tell of course is the crispy blackened bits on the fish’s exterior. Yum!
If you’re not sure what to serve with tilapia, we love this with rice of any kind, steamed peas and corn, broccoli or broccolini, or a light salad. Blackened tilapia is very flavorful on its own, so really any steamed vegetable seasoned with salt and black pepper will pair very well.
Craving more of a tropical vibe? Blackened fish with mango salsa is absolute perfection.
As for a garnish, a sprinkling of fresh parsley or cilantro makes a nice pop of green.
More Easy Fish Recipes
Looking to incorporate more healthy fish into your weekly menu? Baked lemon tilapia is easy and versatile, quick and healthy fish tacos are always a hit, and a simple lemon herb roasted salmon is ready in 15 minutes.
If you try this Blackened Tilapia Recipe, don’t forget to rate it and leave a comment below. I love hearing how recipes turn out in your kitchen, and it helps other readers, too.
- 3 teaspoons brown sugar light or dark
- 2 teaspoons paprika sweet or smoky
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin
- 3-4 tilapia filets about 6 ounces each
- olive oil
- lemon wedges
- Combine brown sugar, paprika, salt, oregano, garlic powder, and cumin in a small bowl. Mix until evenly blended. Sprinkle the spice mixture over both sides of tilapia and rub in gently with your fingers.
- Place a large enamel-coated or non-stick pan over medium-high heat, and drizzle in a thin layer of olive oil. When hot, place fish in the pan and cook for 2-3 minutes per side, until they are cooked through (145 degrees F and easy to flake with a fork) and have a dark reddish-brown crust on the outside. Spritz with lemon juice.
- Remove from pan and serve right away with extra lemon wedges and a sprinkle of fresh parsley or oregano, as desired.
- For more heat: Add a pinch of cayenne pepper to the spice mixture.
- Cookware: You can use a large cast-iron skillet, rather than a non-stick pan, but be sure it is well-seasoned and has a good slick of cooking oil, else it will be more difficult to flip the fish and to clean up afterwards.