Cornmeal Crusted Fish Tacos

You know you’ve made a good recipe when your partner says to you “I’m so glad we FINALLY have a go-to fish taco recipe!”. These cornmeal crusted tilapia fish tacos are LEGIT.

A serving tray filled with crispy fish tacos. The cornmeal crusted tilapia fillets are served on tortialls with cabbage slaw, cheese, salsa, cilantro and lime wedges.

We’ve been playing around with various fish taco recipes for years, never settling on one until we created this recipe. And now we eat these homemade fish tacos on the regular. Inspired by a WW recipe, we love that these crispy fish tacos are light, healthier, and darn delicious.

TELL ME ABOUT THESE CRISPY FISH TACOS

Level of difficulty: Moderate to difficult. In my book, any time you’re dealing with boiling oil, that’s an automatic ‘moderate’ because of the increased level of awareness you need for both safety and food quality purposes! If you’ve never fried in oil before (this is just pan-frying, though, not deep frying), you may need to make this recipe more than once to really nail your timing and cooking temperatures.

Flavor: Sweet and zesty cornmeal crust surrounds fish that’s got a fresh and buttery flavor.

Texture: The cornmeal breading will get nice and crispy, and the tilapia should get flakey and tender. Mix that with some crispy slaw and a soft tortilla, and you’ll see why texture is as important of a component in fish tacos as the flavor!

Time: It will take you about 25 minutes to make cornmeal crusted fish tacos.

4 photo collage showing ingredients needed for cornmeal crusted tilapia fish tacos, and how to coat the tilapia fillets.

KEY INGREDIENTS NEEDED FOR CORNMEAL CRUSTED FISH TACOS

Tilapia fillets: we’ve found that using smaller, thinner tilapia fillets make the best tacos because they become more crispy and have a nice breading-to-fish ratio. We use 3oz fillets that we can buy in the frozen section of our grocery store, nothing fancy!

Cornmeal: the cornmeal creates the crust for your homemade crispy fish tacos.

Southwest seasoning: mixing this seasoning into the cornmeal crust takes these tilapia fish tacos to the next level

Neutral oil: needed for pan-frying your tilapia. Canola oil or vegetable oil are great options!

top down shot of three cornmeal crusted tilapia fillets being pan fried

See a step-by-step story series on these delicious fish tacos here!

OVERVIEW: HOW TO MAKE CORNMEAL CRUSTED TILAPIA TACOS

  1. Make breading: Mix together cornmeal and seasoning on a dinner plate and set aside
  2. Prep fish: Pat thawed tilapia fillets dry with a paper towel. Press each fillet into the cornmeal mixture to create a thin and even coating on each side. Move the fillets around to also cover the edges. Set breaded fillets aside.
  3. Pan fry fish: Place ~⅓ C of oil into a large skillet to create an even, thin layer across the entire bottom of the pan. Heat over medium-high heat until a small drop(s) of water sizzles. Cook 2-3 fillets at a time until golden brown on each side and internal temperature is at 145°F (~2mins per side)*
  4. Eat! Break fillets into smaller pieces and serve with your favorite tortillas and toppings
top down view of a serving tray filled with crispy fish tacos. The cornmeal crusted tilapia fillets are served on tortialls with cabbage slaw, cheese, salsa, cilantro and lime wedges. The serving tray is surrounded by various sides and toppings.

SERVING SUGGESTIONS FOR THE BEST HOMEMADE FISH TACOS EXPERIENCE

Pick a high quality tortilla

It may sound simple, but choosing a good tortilla makes a big difference! Whether you prefer corn tortillas or wheat tortillas, these cornmeal crusted tilapia fish tacos will be delicious.

Taco toppings for fish tacos

One of the beauties of making homemade fish tacos is that you can put on whatever toppings you like! Here are the taco toppings I usually pair with this tilapia taco recipe:

  • Shredded cheddar cheese – not needed, but awesome with these
  • Cabbage slaw – shredded cabbage on tacos adds the perfect crunch to your bite!
  • Salsa – I love using a fresh red salsa on these. Tomatillo or salsa verde is also great!
  • Avocado – I mean, avocado on tacos is always a hit.
  • Cilantro – adds a nice herby punch to your tacos.

Side dishes for tacos

Fill out the meal by adding a couple of sides to go along with your cornmeal crusted fish tacos. Here are a few of our favorites that we rotate in with this meal:

  • Corn – grilled corn, Mexican street corn, or even a ‘steamers’ bag of frozen corn
  • Beans – black beans or pinto beans, either regular or refried, are my go-to side dish for taco night. Top with cheese if desired
  • Chips and salsa – a classic taco night appetizer and/or side
  • Guacamole – you can never go wrong with guacamole. Enjoy with chips or on your taco
  • Grilled vegetables – I know, I know, I’m a vegetable pusher… but adding a side of veggies to your meal is a great way to create a balanced meal. We’ve enjoyed grilled peppers and grilled zucchinis with these, but get creative with your favorite veggies.
  • Side salad – keep it simple or go elaborate, but having a crunchy side salad along with these cornmeal crusted tilapia fish tacos is a nice addition!
Close up photo of a serving tray filled with cornmeal crusted fish tacos. The cornmeal crusted tilapia fillets are served on tortialls with cabbage slaw, cheese, salsa, cilantro and lime wedges.

FAQS FOR MAKING CORNMEAL CRUSTED FISH TACOS

Do I have to use tilapia for these cornmeal crusted fish tacos? While I like and recommend making this recipe with tilapia, you do not need to if you’d prefer a different fish! Cod is another popular choice for fish tacos. If you are using a fish other than tilapia, note the thickness of the fillet. If you have a thicker fillet, this is important for a few reasons. Your breading-to-fish ratio will likely be heavier on the fish (so less of a crispy bite than noted for the tilapia in this recipe). The cooking time will also be longer than noted in the recipe due to a thicker fillet, so make sure to use an instant read thermometer to ensure your fish is fully cooked.

Why do I have to pat the fish dry with a towel?

‘Moisture’ is the sworn enemy of ‘crispy’. If you want crispy fish for your cornmeal crusted fish tacos, and of course you do, you need to remove the surface moisture from the fish before coating the fish in cornmeal. If you skip this step, your cornmeal coating will turn out soft and mushy. No thanks.

How can I tell when the fish is ready?

Aside from a set of sharp knives, the most important kitchen tool for making repeatedly delicious/quality proteins is an instant-read thermometer. With a standard kitchen thermometer, it may take 5-10 seconds before you get an accurate temperature reading. During that time, your hands are right above a hot pan of oil, which means two things can happen: 1) your hands get uncomfortably close to very hot oil and you may get hurt, or 2) you pull the fish out of the pan too quickly to save your hands.

With an instant-read thermometer, though, you’ll know your accurate temp instantly and can act accordingly. If you don’t have one, they’re relatively inexpensive and something I would recommend adding to your kitchen tools.

What if I don’t have Southwest seasoning for the crust? No problem! You can substitute the Southwest seasoning for your favorite taco seasoning blend instead.

Is cornmeal gluten free / is this taco recipe gluten free? Generally, cornmeal is considered gluten free, meaning you can make these fish tacos gluten free! Cornmeal is a coarse flour made from corn. However, it’s always a good idea to double check the packaging for a gf marking if you’re serving these fish tacos to a family member or friend with celiac. Checking the label can tell you if the brand of cornmeal you’re looking at is processed in a facility that also processes wheat products. Also make sure to verify your toppings (primarily the tortillas) are gluten free if that is of concern to anyone who may be enjoying this recipe.

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a serving tray filled with Cornmeal Crusted Fish Tacos and surrounded by bowls filled with a variety of sides and toppings.

Cornmeal Crusted Fish Tacos

Meredith
These homemade fish tacos are THE BEST. Tilapia fillets are breaded in a cornmeal crust and pan-fried to create delicious and crispy fish tacos. Serve with your favorite tortillas and toppings and enjoy!
5 from 5 votes
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 15 mins
Total Time 25 mins
Course Mains
Cuisine American, Mexican
Servings 6 Servings
Calories 221 kcal

Ingredients
  

  • 6, 3 oz tilapia fillets thawed if using frozen fish (size is approximate)
  • 4 tablespoon cornmeal
  • 1 tablespoon Southwest seasoning
  • C neutral oil + additional as needed*
  • Tortillas and desired toppings for serving

Instructions
 

  • Mix together cornmeal and seasoning on a dinner plate and set aside
  • Pat thawed tilapia fillets dry with a paper towel
  • Press each fillet into the cornmeal mixture to create a thin and even coating on each side. Move the fillets around to also cover the edges. Set breaded fillets aside.
  • Place ~⅓ C of oil into a large skillet to create an even, thin layer across the entire bottom of the pan. Heat over medium-high heat until a small drop(s) of water sizzles
  • Cook 2-3 fillets at a time until golden brown on each side and internal temperature is at 145°F (~2mins per side)*
  • Break fillets into smaller pieces and serve with your favorite tortillas and toppings

Notes

*Neutral oil options: canola oil or vegetable oil are the oils we generally use when making these fish tacos. You could also use grapeseed oil, or another neutral oil of your choice.
*To keep prepared fish warm as you continue to cook the remaining fillets, place cooked fillets onto a baking sheet lined with paper towel or oven-safe cooling rack and into the oven heated up to 170°F.
*The nutrition facts for this recipe were calculated without a shell/tortilla or toppings as these will vary widely based on personal preference

Nutrition

Calories: 221kcalCarbohydrates: 7gProtein: 18gFat: 14gSaturated Fat: 2gPolyunsaturated Fat: 9gMonounsaturated Fat: 3gCholesterol: 43mgSodium: 45mgPotassium: 309mgFiber: 2gSugar: 1gVitamin A: 42IUVitamin C: 1mgCalcium: 48mgIron: 2mg
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!
*Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, which means at no additional cost to you I may receive a small commission for purchases made through these links. However, please know that I strive to provide links to products that I actually use and wholeheartedly recommend whenever possible.
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Comments

  1. Luci says

    5 stars
    SO good and pretty easy. I really enjoyed this. Do you have a go-to Southwestern spice mix? We made our own…and even though I am not a high-spice person, I think I would add more. Salsa was a good addition. This recipe will go into the regular rotation!

    • ourlovelanguageisfood says

      I’m so happy to hear you enjoyed these! McCormick brand has a nice Southwest Seasoning, as does Good n’ Gather (the Target brand). If you are up for ordering online, Yep!Shake has a great Southwestern seasoning that we love (they’re a small family business out of South Carolina).

  2. Victoria says

    5 stars
    Loved this – you are right it makes the best fish taco! The fish turned out crispy and made the perfect taco base. Because I am cutting back on processed carbs, we made this sans tortilla! We added black beans, avocado, tomatoes, and salsa. It made a fabulous, football-Sunday lunch. Next time, I need to have cole slaw on hand!

    • ourlovelanguageisfood says

      I’m so happy to hear that you loved these too! Love all the items you enjoyed this with, I’m going to try that next time!