Looking for quick and easy air fryer recipes? Look no further! This air fryer whole tilapia recipe is a definite must-try!
Many people are put off by the idea of cooking a whole fish, but buying whole fish tends to be more affordable than buying fillets.
While cooking a whole fish sounds daunting, it’s actually very easy. Follow this step-by-step guide and you’ll be enjoying air fryer whole tilapia in no time!
Here’s what you’ll need:
Why opt for air fryer whole tilapia?
Here’s why you should be cooking whole fish in air fryer:
- It’s budget-friendly. Whole tilapia is relatively more affordable than other fish, so it’s usually my go-to. You can also opt for any other medium size fish (which will fit inside your air fryer) that’s on sale in your local grocery store.
- It’s healthy. Deep-fried whole fish is delicious, but deep-frying certainly isn’t the healthiest way of cooking. Air frying uses less oil, and cuts down on fat and calories, while still producing delicious, succulent fish.
- It’s easy and hassle-free. When deep-frying or pan-frying fish, you often have to babysit the fish stoveside. With an air fryer, you just pop the fish inside, set the timer, and go about doing your own thing!
Ingredients for whole tilapia in air fryer
Here are the ingredients you’ll need to prepare this whole tilapia fish recipe:
You’ll need a medium size whole tilapia (which will fit inside your air fryer) for this recipe. You can also opt for any other whole fish that’s on sale in your local grocery store.
This (along with turmeric) is going to reduce any fishy smell. It’s also going to give your fish a really nice flavor. You can buy readymade ginger-garlic paste from the store, or make your own ginger-garlic paste at home.
This recipe uses just a handful of spices, namely chili powder, turmeric, and black pepper. Adding turmeric is an absolute must when cooking fish. It helps to reduce any fishy odor, and enhances the flavor of the fish.
Lime juice, or lemon juice, adds a nice acidity to this dish. You can also serve this cooked whole tilapia with lime wedges on the side for a quick spritz that’ll brighten this dish.
How to prepare whole fish for frying
So, how do you prepare a whole tilapia?
The first step is to clean the fish thoroughly. This involves descaling, cutting off the fins, and removing the gut of the fish. If you’re doing this at home, having a fish scaler and a sturdy butcher’s knife really helps.
I’m pretty well known for being a clutz in my family, so I tend to stay clear of huge knives whenever possible! I usually ask my local fish seller’s assistance to clean whole fish for me. They’re really good at what they do, so I leave it to the pros!
Before cooking, wash the cleaned tilapia fish under running water, and then pat dry with a paper towel. Using a sharp knife, cut diagonal slits on both sides of the tilapia. This ensures that the fish cooks evenly.
And you’re done!
How to cook a whole tilapia fish in air fryer
Here’s how to cook a whole tilapia fish in the air fryer:
1. Prepare the fish.
Wash the whole tilapia and pat dry with paper towels. Using a sharp knife, cut diagonal slits on both sides of the fish.
2. Combine the other ingredients.
Mix the other ingredients together in a bowl to form a paste. Spread this paste on the tilapia, making sure to cover the inner cavity as well.
3. Preheat your air fryer.
Preheat the air fryer to 190°C/374°F for 5 minutes.
4. Air fry the whole tilapia.
Grease the air fryer basket with an oil mister to prevent sticking. Put the whole tilapia in the air fryer and cook for 20-25 minutes, until the fish is cooked and the flesh is opaque. Make sure to flip the fish halfway through.
Cooking time may vary depending on the size of the fish. For smaller fish, check for doneness at 15 minutes.
5. Finally, serve air fryer whole tilapia.
Serve with lime wedges on the side along with rice and sambar (South Indian lentil stew).
How to serve air fryer whole tilapia
A 20 oz (600 gram) whole tilapia can feed two people, or one very hungry person. This is the perfect weeknight dinner for my husband and me.
We enjoy air fryer whole fish with rice and sambar (South Indian lentil stew). The earthy flavors of the sambar pair well with the fresh, spicy fish.
Here are some dishes that pair well with this whole tilapia recipe:
How to make air fryer whole tilapia with a small air fryer
If you have a relatively small air fryer, don’t worry. You can still make this air fryer whole tilapia recipe.
My air fryer is on the smaller side too, so I cut off the tail of the fish before putting it into the air fryer basket. This way, the fish fits snugly in the air fryer.
Once it’s done, you’ll have something that looks like this:
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How long to cook whole tilapia in air fryer
This depends on the size of the fish, and the air fryer model you’re using. This recipe uses a 20 oz whole tilapia, and you’ll need to cook it for around 20-25 minutes, until the fish is cooked and the flesh is opaque. For smaller fish, check for doneness at 15 minutes.
How to prevent fish from sticking to the air fryer
There are two ways of preventing your food from sticking to the air fryer basket:
By using parchment paper
Line your air fryer basket with perforated parchment paper. Perforated parchment paper has holes in it, allowing proper airflow inside your air fryer. Using parchment paper makes cleaning up much easier.
By greasing your air fryer basket
This is what I usually opt for. Grease your air fryer basket with an oil mister before putting the fish in to prevent sticking. This method is a little messier but produces the best results for me.
Why cut diagonal slits on the fish?
The first step of this recipe requires you to cut diagonal slits on both sides of the whole fish.
Here’s why it’s important to score whole fish before cooking:
- Making deep slits, down to the bone, allows heat to directly reach the flesh of the fish, which helps with more even cooking. Plus, you can look inside the slits to check for doneness. The fish is done when the flesh is opaque and separates easily from the bone.
- With deep slits, you can season not just the skin of the fish, but the flesh as well, leading to a more flavorful fish overall. I have forgotten to score whole fish on several occasions, and as a result, the flesh ended up tasting rather bland! You don’t want to go through all this effort just to end up with bland-tasting fish, so make sure to score your whole tilapia!
Frequently asked questions
Can you fry a whole fish in the air fryer?
Yes, you can! Once your air fryer is preheated, grease the air fryer basket with an oil mister or line the basket with some perforated parchment paper. Air fry the fish for 20 – 25 minutes at 190C/375F, making sure to flip the fish halfway through.
How long do you put fish in an air fryer?
For fish fillets, 10 – 12 minutes at 190C/375F in your air fryer should do the trick. Whole fish will take longer to cook, about 20 – 25 minutes.
How do I keep fish from drying in my air fryer?
Brush or spray your fish with oil to keep it moist, and avoid overcooking it, as this results in dry and chewy fish.
Do you flip fish in air fryer?
Yes, you’ll want to flip the fish halfway through the cook time to ensure even cooking. Use an egg spatula to gently lift and flip the fish to prevent the fish from breaking up.
Can you put fish in tin foil in an air fryer?
Yes, you can use aluminum foil in your air fryer. However, it’s recommended to poke holes in the aluminum foil to ensure proper circulation of heat inside your air fryer. Alternatively, you can use perforated parchment paper instead.
What is the best fish for the air fryer?
You can cook any kind of fish in your air fryer. Use whatever is available to you – cod, tilapia, seabass, catfish, pollock, haddock, or even salmon.
Air Fryer Whole Tilapia
- Air Fryer
- 1 whole tilapia (around 600 g or 20 oz)
- 1 tsp ginger-garlic paste
- 1 tsp chili powder
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp coarse black pepper
- 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
- Juice of 1 lime
- Wash the whole tilapia and pat dry with paper towels. Using a sharp knife, cut diagonal slits on both sides of the fish.
- Mix the other ingredients together in a bowl to form a paste.
- Spread this paste on the tilapia, making sure to cover the inner cavity as well.
- Preheat the air fryer to 190°C/374°F for 5 minutes.
- Grease the air fryer basket with an oil mister to prevent sticking. Put the whole tilapia in the air fryer and cook for 20-25 minutes, until the fish is cooked and the flesh is opaque. Make sure to flip the fish halfway through. Cooking time may vary depending on the size of the fish. For smaller fish, check for doneness at 15 minutes.
- Serve with lime wedges on the side.
This quick and easy air fryer whole tilapia recipe is definitely worth a try if you’re a seafood lover! This recipe uses affordable protein along with a handful of humble ingredients to create something truly special.
This is great on its own with a couple of lime wedges on the side, but it’s even better served with rice and brinjal sambar. This is quintessential Indian comfort food. Enjoy!