Full-flavored and easy to prepare, this crispy breaded fish is brightened by Cherry Tomato Pico de Gallo and Cilantro-Lime Crema for a festive summer dinner.
I always seem to have a surplus of tortilla chips in the house during the summer. While I love dipping into a good bowl of salsa poolside, I’ve found that when crushed up, all of those leftover salty chips (especially the fragments at the bottom of the bag that are otherwise undippable) also make a delicious coating for chicken and fish. Not to mention easy. Just toss the chip crumbs with your favorite spices and you have an instantly crunchy, flavorful breading that’s easy enough to pull together even the busiest of weeknights. In one of my favorite summer dinners, I bread flaky tilapia fillets with cumin- and chipotle-seasoned chips and pan fry until crispy and golden. Served with Cherry Tomato Pico de Gallo and a drizzling of Cilantro-Lime Crema, this Tortilla Crusted Tilapia is a bright, fresh, full-flavored dish equally suitable for a quick weeknight meal or to serve to summer dinner guests.
Tilapia is my favorite fish to serve with a tortilla chip coating; it’s firm, yet flaky, so it tends not to fall apart during cooking. Most of your favorite white fishes can be substituted; flounder, cod, and haddock would all work well, though it’s best for the fillets to be on the thinner side so they cook quickly and evenly in the pan. In terms of chips, you can use whatever variety you have on hand, though, I’ve found a coating made exclusively of blue corn to be a little tougher in texture. When I have both varieties available, I like to use a mixture of yellow/white and blue corn chips, crushed finely (easy to do by just popping them in a plastic storage bag and rolling with a pin). The light, crispy texture of the pan-fried coating is a great contrast to the tender fish, and its confetti-like appearance a festive addition to the dinner table.
We absolutely love the contrast of fresh Cherry Tomato Pico de Gallo, and smooth, creamy Cilantro-Lime Crema against the crispy fish. The sweet tomatoes and tart lime bring a nice element of freshness and acidity, contrasting the deeper flavors of the breaded fish for a light, summery feel. As an alternative presentation, I’ve also topped these fillets with a simple cabbage slaw (such as the one served with Chef Evan Blomgren’s Buffalo Chicken Meatballs) and a squeeze of fresh lime juice, or my Grilled Pineapple Salsa. Regardless of which you choose, I would most definitely not skip the fresh topping component here; we find that it really pulls the dish together, elevating very good breaded fish to a delicious meal.
Speaking of salsa, indulge me for a moment while I shamelessly promote my latest BuzzFeed Community post: 16 Mouthwatering Salsa Recipes You Need to Make This Summer. In my never-ending quest to “up” my summer snacking game, I rounded up a collection of unique salsa recipes from some of my favorite food bloggers. I’m not sure which recipe I want to make first: Strawberry Jalapeño, Guajillo Chile, Fire Roasted Tomato and Roasted Garlic, or Mexican Street Corn. With Father’s Day and 4th of July barbecues on the horizon, it’s a great time to stock up on chips and start trying out some new recipes to serve your guests. And, of course, to save the leftover chips for a fresh and fun tilapia dinner. Win-win!
Tortilla Crusted Tilapia
- 1 -1/2 cups finely crushed tortilla chips (I use a mix of blue and yellow corn)
- 1/4 teaspoon chili powder (or more, to taste, if you prefer your fish spicier)
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- 2 large eggs
- 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
- 4 tilapia fillets (6 ounces each)
- kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1/3 cup all purpose flour, for dredging tilapia
- 4 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil, divided
CHERRY TOMATO PICO DE GALLO
- 2 cups cherry tomatoes, quartered
- 1/4 cup chopped yellow onions
- 1 jalapeño pepper, finely chopped (seeds removed for mild)
- 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
- 1 -1/2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
- 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
- kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 1/4 cup mayonnaise
- 1/4 cup cilantro leaves
- 1 teaspoon grated lime zest
- 1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
- kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
MAKE THE TILAPIA
In a dish suitable for breading, mix together crushed tortilla chips, chili powder, ground cumin, and garlic powder. In a bowl, whisk together eggs and 1 tablespoon lime juice. Season tilapia fillets with salt and pepper and dredge in flour. Dip into the egg mixture, and then into the seasoned chips, pressing to adhere crumbs.
In a large skillet over medium high heat, warm 2 tablespoons oil until shimmering (enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan). Add 2 breaded fillets to the pan and cook until fish is cooked through and breading is golden, about 4 minutes per side. (Cooking time will vary by the thickness of your fillets. The USDA recommends an internal cooking temperature of 145 degrees F for fish, or until opaque.) Remove from pan and transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. Carefully clean pan with a paper towel and repeat process with remaining 2 tablespoons oil and fillets.
MAKE THE CHERRY TOMATO PICO DE GALLO
In a bowl, mix together cherry tomatoes, onions, jalapeño pepper, cilantro, lime juice, and olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
MAKE THE CILANTRO-LIME CREMA AND SERVE
In a small food processor or blender, combine sour cream, mayonnaise, cilantro, grated lime zest, and lime juice until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (Crema can also be made by hand by finely chopping the cilantro and whisking ingredients together.)
To serve, top each tilapia fillet with a scoop of the Cherry Tomato Pico de Gallo and a drizzle of the Cilantro-Lime Crema. The Pico de Gallo and Crema can be made ahead, but the tilapia is best served immediately.