Pan-seared tilapia with lemon butter is sure to be an easy dinner the whole family will love!! This mild-flavored fish is infused with a hint of tart lemon, cilantro, and sweet, creamy butter perfect for a family dinner. The best part is, it only takes 10 minutes to cook making it perfect for busy weeknights!
This might be the best tilapia recipe I’ve prepared! I love its simplicity, the mild flavor of the fish and it goes with everything!!
Serve up this flaky white fish recipe with your favorite side dishes such as a quick rice pilaf, quinoa, or baked potatoes, and then add on a simple salad or vegetable such as green beans. I really love it with these roasted Brussels sprouts or a caesar salad.
I am sure that once you discover how versatile this pan-seared tilapia recipe is you will love it as much as I do!
😊 Why This Recipe Works
- Fresh tilapia is affordable and easy to find in most grocery stores.
- Tilapia is a mild white fish that easily absorbs the flavors of the ingredients you cook with it and isn’t overly fishy for anyone who isn’t a fish lover.
- This simple pan-seared tilapia recipe with only 8 ingredients, many of which you probably already have in the cabinet, is so easy it’s sure to be part of your regular rotation of healthy dinners after you try it out!
- An easy recipe that's perfect for any level cook and sure to become everyone's favorite fish recipe for meals.
🛒 Ingredient Notes
This lemon butter tilapia recipe is made with relatively simple ingredients that you may already have on hand or can easily pick up from your local grocery store.
- Tilapia fillets: This mild-flavored fish holds its shape well when cooked which makes it perfect for pan cooking. This fish is usually farm-raised in freshwater year-round making it an accessible and economical fish to add to your grocery budget. It’s easy to find in most grocery stores and usually comes in fillets ready to cook.
- Butter: The salty umami flavor of the butter creates a lemon butter sauce that’s perfect for mild fish.
- Cilantro: I love the unique flavor cilantro brings to the fish.
- Garlic: This dish is one where you want to use fresh garlic. The flavor of garlic powder isn’t the same and doesn’t work well in this simple preparation.
- Dijon mustard: Just a bit for some zestiness in the flavor of the fish. If possible, use a high-quality authentic dijon rather than any old mustard.
- Olive oil: A small amount of this healthy oil is added to the pan for cooking pan-seared tilapia.
- Fresh lemon juice: Using bottled lemon juice instead of freshly squeezed is like eating a piece of watermelon candy instead of a fresh piece of watermelon. Sure it works in a pinch for the flavor but it really does not compare in taste. Fresh lemons keep in your refrigerator for weeks and are inexpensive so I suggest always keeping a few on hand so you always have the option to use fresh.
See the recipe card further down on the page for a complete list and quantities.
🔪 Step by Step Instructions
Here’s a preview of how to make perfectly cooked lemon butter tilapia in a pan. This recipe is a great choice for easy dinners, especially during the week. For the full instructions, see the recipe card towards the bottom of the page.
Step 1: Mix butter with cilantro, garlic, Dijon mustard, a pinch of salt & pepper, and lemon juice. Mix it until the ingredients are well combined.
Step 2: Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.
Step 3: Sprinkle fillets with salt and pepper
Step 4: When oil is hot, add fish fillets top side down. Pan fry until the fish is almost cooked through and the underside is deep golden brown, about 3-4 minutes.
Step 5: Flip the fillets using a large spatula so they do not break apart.
Step 6: Then use a small rubber spatula or spoon to spread the butter mixture over each fillet in the pan.
Step 7: Add lemon circles to the pan and allow to cook with fish for 2 to 3 minutes more.
Step 8: Serve pan-seared tilapia immediately with lemon circles as a garnish.
⭐ Hint: I suggest keeping a quick and easy juicer on hand like this OXO brand so you can easily juice citrus to add to recipes.
Here are a few easy swaps you can use to make when making pan-seared tilapia:
- Cilantro: If you don’t have any on hand or simply don’t care for the flavor, swap it out with fresh parsley instead.
- Olive oil: Coconut oil, avocado oil, or any other neutral oil will work well for cooking tilapia in a pan.
- Tilapia: If you can’t find tilapia, whiting, branzino, red snapper and catfish are all mild fish options that work easily with this recipe.
Want to change lemon butter tilapia up a bit! Here are some great ways to add different ways to flavor this easy meal so I never get tired of serving it.
- Lemon pepper: If you like a little heat with your lemon, then add 1/2 tablespoon of freshly ground pepper to the butter mixture in the first step of this recipe.
- Fresh herb: Experiment with a variety of fresh herbs such as rosemary, oregano, thyme, basil, and tarragon to give the fish different flavors.
- Citrus: Try swapping out the lemon with lime wedges for a brighter flavor or even orange slices which give the fish a sweeter, less tart flavor when making pan-seared tilapia.
- Wine: Add a splash of white wine to the pan along with the lemon towards the end of cooking for some additional flavor to your pan-seared tilapia with lemon butter.
- Cajun: Add the desired amount of cajun seasoning to the butter mixture.
💭 Tips for Making Pan-Seared Tilapia
To make it in advance, slice the lemons and mix the lemon butter sauce for this recipe ahead of time. All you will have to do is saute the fish in a pan and add the lemon butter sauce and lemons. You could have the main dish ready in 10 minutes.
Balance the lemon with this quick and easy sweet coconut rice, a creamy, slightly sweet aromatic Jasmine rice recipe prepared using an electric pressure cooker.
Don’t overcook the fish. Before cooking the fish is rather shiny and translucent. When it's done, the fish flakes easily with a fork and turns opaque.
Don't crowd the fish in the pan. This makes it cook less quickly and difficult to turn over. Depending on the size of your pan, you may need to cook the fish in batches.
Serve pan-seared tilapia with extra lemon wedges for more lemon flavor.
Whenever possible use fresh tilapia to make this recipe.
Be sure to visit my What To Serve With Tilapia post for easy side dish ideas your family will enjoy.
The best way to purchase any quality fish is to check with Seafood Watch first. The information they provide is based on the quality of the fish as well as sustainability and environmental issues.
They will break down the best choice and good alternatives by type of tilapia showing you information about the harvest method, the body of water and country the fish was raised in, and any concerns to consider.
If you plan to serve whole tilapia fillets, it is best to go to the fish counter at your grocery store and use fresh tilapia. These fillets tend to be bigger and a nicer cut than what you'll find in the freezer case. Frozen fillets are smaller, usually around 4 ounces each. The frozen fillets are good for recipes that call for the fish to be cut into pieces.
Yes, baking tilapia is a good method of cooking. For fresh or thawed fillets, lay them out on a baking sheet and bake uncovered, in a 450 degree F oven for 4 to 6 minutes per each ½-inch of thickness.
I don’t recommend cooking tilapia frozen. Frozen fish contains a lot of water. When cooked frozen, this water releases into the pan diluting the flavors. It is best to thaw out frozen fish in advance.
There will be suggested directions for thawing on the brand of tilapia you purchase. You can quick-thaw by running cold water over frozen tilapia fillets in a colander for about 10 minutes. Once they’re thawed, make sure they are drained, and then pat the fish dry with paper towels before proceeding with cooking.
More Easy Dinner Recipes
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Pan-Seared Tilapia with Lemon Butter
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- Mix butter with cilantro, garlic, Dijon mustard, and lemon juice. Stir until blended then set aside
- Heat oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat.
- Season fillets with salt and pepper
- When oil is hot, add fish fillets top side down. Cook until fish is almost cooked through and the underside is deep golden brown. About 3-4 minutes
- Flip fillets using a large spatula so they do not break apart
- With a small spatula, spread butter mixture over each fillet.
- Add lemon circles to the pan and allow to cook with fish for 2 to 3 minutes more.
- Serve immediately with lemon circles as a garnish
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Visit the web story for Lemon Butter Tilapia.
Update Notes: This post was originally published in January 2021, but was republished with new photos, step-by-step instructions and tips, and video in April of 2022.