This fajita-spiced stovetop tilapia with a quick avocado sauce is the weeknight dinner of our dreams! Full of flavor, texture and a little spice, this pan-seared tilapia is a flavorful fish dish the whole family will love. So if you've ever wondered how to grill tilapia on the stove...keep reading!
A quick and healthy dinner can be hard to manage on busy weeknights. This pan-fried tilapia is the perfect choice when you want a little bit healthier option with a total time of cooking around 10 minutes.
We use a flavorful shortcut of store-bought fajita spice mixture for our seasoned tilapia, then sear the tilapia in a little neutral oil. Whip up the creamy avocado sauce to serve over your skillet tilapia and sprinkle the whole glorious dish with crunchy pepitas, or pumpkin seeds.
Let's get this quick weeknight meal on the table, team!
Ingredients for how to grill tilapia on the stove:
Tilapia: tilapia fillets are a popular choice for simple fish dishes, but any mild white fish fillets will work for this recipe. Haddock, hake, cod, catfish, snapper, sea bream or branzino fillets are all flaky fish that would take work well in this simple recipe. If using frozen tilapia, for best results, thaw the fish in the refrigerator overnight, then dry well before seasoning and cooking the fish. If you have run out of time, just soak the packaged frozen fish in a bowl of cold water for 30-40 minutes until thawed. Then dry with a paper towel and season before cooking.
Fajita seasoning: I have used Old el Paso, a local store blend, and even made my own spice rub using chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper, brown sugar, cornstarch and a touch of oregano. If you have a packet of taco seasoning in your cabinet, that's a similar spice blend and it would work well as a substitute in this healthy seafood recipe.
Neutral oil: avocado oil is a great choice for this easy recipe, but canola, sunflower or peanut oil also work. You can use a light olive oil, as well.
Pumpkin seeds: earthy, salty, crunchy - all the things we love best in a garnish.
Avocado: a perfectly ripe avocado is ideal, but I've used less-than-perfectly-ripe ones and still made a lovely sauce.
Greek yogurt + mayo: the perfect fresh and tangy backbone for our avocado sauce. Substitute sour cream or creme fraiche, along with a squeeze of lime juice, if needed. Mayo adds a touch of fatty richness you need for balance.
Cotija (or feta): a salty, crumbly, tangy cheese is the perfect addition to the sauce in this easy dinner. If cotija is hard to come by in your neighborhood, substitute feta cheese.
Cilantro: my favorite fresh herb with avocado and lime. Substitute flat leaf parsley or chives, if needed.
Pickled jalapenos: these pickled peppers add a hint of spice and acidic notes to our creamy sauce. If you like a spicy dish, taste the sauce and add more peppers, if you like. Substitute canned green chilis for a gentler heat. Omit for a completely mild sauce.
Lime zest: using just the zest brings a lovely citrus note without an overpowering acidic flavor. I like to serve this easy tilapia recipe with lime wedges, as well. Substitute lemon zest and lemon wedges / lemon juice, if needed.
Full ingredient list and step-by-step recipe instructions included in the printable recipe card below.
Instructions for grilled tilapia recipe with creamy avocado sauce:
Begin your dish by making avocado crema. Combine avocado, Greek yogurt, Cotija (or feta), cilantro, mayo, lime zest and pickled jalapeños in a food processor until smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Dry fish fillets well using paper towels or an absorbent tea towel. Sprinkle top of fish generously with fajita seasoning.
Heat 2 tablespoons of neutral oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, place seasoned tilapia (spice side down), in the skillet. Sprinkle bottom of fillets with remaining fajita seasoning.
Let fish cook undisturbed for about 4 minutes, until it is cooked about 70 percent through. Check the fish to ensure it’s deep golden brown. Use a fish spatula to turn the fillets and cook for remaining 2-3 minutes, until opaque and easily flaked with a fork. Remove fish from skillet and drizzle with spicy avocado crema.
Sprinkle with pumpkin seeds and serve with lime wedges.
FAQ's and Serving Suggestions for Skillet Grill Tilapia:
Yes, you can use frozen tilapia for this recipe. Just make sure to thaw it completely before cooking. Pat the fish dry with paper towels to remove excess moisture before seasoning and grilling.
Seasonings like lemon pepper, BBQ rub, Cajun seasoning and even Old Bay Seasoning work well with grilled tilapia. You can adjust the seasonings based on your preferences.
To prevent sticking, make sure your pan is properly preheated and oiled before adding fish fillets to the pan. You might also consider using a grill pan with raised ridges to create those nice grill marks and prevent direct contact between the fish and the pan.
Yes, this recipe can be adapted for other types of flaky white fish with similar cooking times such as cod, haddock, hake or snapper.
Yes, a non-stick skillet can be used for grilling tilapia on the stovetop. Just be sure not to use metal utensils that could scratch the non-stick coating.
Grilled asparagus, Mexican red rice, crispy roasted potatoes, or a light napa cabbage coleslaw make excellent side dishes to complement grilled tilapia. If I'm in a hurry, a bowl of cherry tomatoes drizzled in olive oil, salt and pepper are the perfect healthy addition to this easy fish recipe.
Absolutely! If you have an outdoor grill, you can follow the same recipe and grill the tilapia fillets on the grill grates. Just make sure to oil the grates before placing the fish to prevent sticking. For even easier grilling, cook fish in a grill basket for a slightly smoky flavor without the stress of turning fish over an open flame. Remember that cooking times and temperatures might vary based on your specific grill or stovetop, and the thickness of the fish fillets. Always use your judgment and test for doneness by checking the internal temperature and flakiness of the fish.