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When dinner needs to happen fast, look no further than fish — and this pan fried tilapia recipe is one of the easiest! In just 20 minutes, you can whip up pan seared tilapia with lemon butter sauce… perfectly flaky, flavorful, and tender. No breading needed!

I’m all about quick pan cooking with fish (my pan seared halibut and pan seared salmon are prime examples)… and if you’re wondering how to make tilapia pan fried, it’s just as easy! You only need a few ingredients to make this white fish taste truly special.

Why You’ll Love This Pan Seared Tilapia Recipe

  • Garlicky, buttery mild fish flavor
  • Flaky, tender texture
  • Uses basic spices and fridge staples
  • Ready in only 20 minutes
  • Tastes like it came out of a restaurant!
Pan fried tilapia fillets on a platter with lemon slices

Pan Fried Tilapia Ingredients

This section explains how to choose the best ingredients for searing tilapia, what each one does in the recipe, and substitution options. For measurements, see the recipe card below.

How to season tilapia:

This is all you really need, but if you want a more complex seasoning, try adding some paprika or lemon pepper seasoning.

For the lemon butter sauce:

  • Salted Butter – I use a grass-fed variety, but any salted version will work in this dish. If you use unsalted butter, you’ll need to add salt to taste. You can also use ghee if you like.
  • Lemon Juice – Use fresh lemon juice for the best flavor, but a bottled variety is fine, too.
  • Garlic Powder
Pan seared tilapia with lemon butter sauce ingredients on plates

How To Cook Tilapia In A Pan

This section shows how to pan fry tilapia with step-by-step photos and details about the technique. For full instructions, see the recipe card below.

  • Season. Pat fillets dry with paper towels and season with garlic powder, salt, and pepper.

TIP: Make sure fillets are completely dry. This will ensure that they brown well.

Seasoned raw tilapia fillets
  • Fry. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat, then add fillets in a single layer. Sear until edges are opaque, then flip and cook until done. (You can reduce heat to medium if it starts to brown too much.) Remove and cover with foil to keep warm.

TIP: Work in batches if needed. Tilapia should fit in a single layer on the pan.

Tilapia fillets fried in a pan
  • Make sauce. In the same pan, melt butter. Stir in lemon juice and garlic powder, and continue heating until sauce becomes dark yellow. Remove immediately.
Lemon butter sauce for pan seared tilapia in frying pan
  • Plate. Drizzle sauce on each serving plate, add the pan fried tilapia fillet over it, then top with a tablespoon or two of sauce. I like to garnish with a lemon slice and a sprinkle of chopped parsley.
Tilapia fillet with lemon butter sauce drizzled over the top

How Long To Pan Fry Tilapia?

Sear tilapia for 3-4 minutes on the first side, then 2-4 minutes on the second side. There are several doneness indicators to know how long to pan sear tilapia. Check these clues:

  • Fish flakes easily at its thickest point with a fork
  • Fillet is completely opaque and no longer translucent
  • A meat thermometer measures internal temperature of 140-145 degrees

Can You Pan Fry Frozen Tilapia?

You can prepare a frozen tilapia fillet pan fried, but it will take a few extra minutes on each side. Check internal temperature for doneness, since frozen fish does not cook as evenly as thawed fillets. If you have a few extra minutes to thaw your frozen fillets overnight in the fridge or under cold water, it’s much better that way!

Finished pan seared tilapia on a platter with lemon slice

Storage Instructions

  • Store: Store pan fried tilapia with sauce in airtight containers in the fridge for 3-4 days.
  • Reheat: Bake leftovers at 350 degrees F until heated through.
  • Freeze: Place pan seared tilapia fillets on a platter or baking sheet and freeze until solid. Once solid, transfer to a freezer-safe container and store up to 3 months.
Pan seared tilapia with lemon butter sauce with fork

What To Serve With Pan Seared Tilapia

Pan seared tilapia with lemon butter sauce pairs perfectly with these quick sides:

More Easy Fish Recipes

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The recipe card is below! Readers that made this also viewed these recipes:

Pan Fried Tilapia Recipe With Lemon Butter Sauce

Pan seared tilapia with lemon butter sauce is flaky and tender, in 20 minutes! Make this pan fried tilapia recipe with just a few simple ingredients.

Prep Time 5 minutes

Cook Time 15 minutes

Total Time 20 minutes

Servings 4 servings

Ingredients

Tap underlined ingredients to see where to get them. Please turn Safari reader mode OFF to view ingredients.

Lemon butter sauce:

Instructions

Tap on the times in the instructions below to start a kitchen timer while you cook.

  1. Pat the fish fillets completely dry with paper towels, which will ensure even browning. Season the fish on both sides with garlic powder, sea salt, and black pepper. Set aside.

  2. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat for 2 minutes.

  3. Add the tilapia fillets in a single layer, working in batches if it doesn’t fit. Sear, without moving, for 3-4 minutes, until the edges of the fish are opaque. Flip and cook for 2-4 minutes, until cooked through.

  4. Remove the fish from the pan and cover tightly with foil to keep warm.

  5. Reduce heat to medium-low. In the same pan, make the lemon butter sauce for fish like this.

  6. Drizzle a little lemon butter sauce over each serving plate. Place the pan seared tilapia fillets over the sauce, then drizzle more sauce on top.

Recipe Notes

Serving size: 1 tilapia fillet with 2 tbsp sauce

Nutrition Facts

Amount per serving. Serving size in recipe notes above.

Calories 432

Fat 32.9g

Protein 34.6g

Total Carbs 1.1g

Net Carbs 0.9g

Fiber 0.2g

Sugar 0.4g

Nutrition facts are provided as a courtesy. Have questions about calculations or why you got a different result? Please see our nutrition policy.

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