It’s been a fun, busy summer, but we haven’t made it to a sunny beach this year, so maybe that’s why I’m craving tropical tastes like the coconut, lime and fresh fish in this coconut tilapia recipe. This recipe is very similar to coconut shrimp, which is one of my favorite things to order in restaurants, but I don’t make it at home, because my husband is allergic to shrimp! He liked this coconut tilapia, though. Tilapia is a very mild fish and doesn’t taste like much on its own, so it’s a blank canvas for the other ingredients like coconut, lime, chiles and scallions that give this recipe its knockout flavor.
Before you start to make your coconut tilapia, zest and juice a large lime. You will need the lime zest for the tilapia’s crumb coating, and the lime juice for the chili-lime dipping sauce.
Next, make the chili-lime dipping sauce. This is truly the “secret sauce” for this recipe, and it adds a huge flavor punch! The foundation for the dipping sauce is Thai-style sweet chili sauce. You can buy this ready-made, or you can make your own. The sweet chili sauce is combined with lime juice and thinly sliced green onion. Set the sauce aside so the flavors can blend while you cook the fish.
This coconut tilapia recipe calls for unsweetened coconut. You may have to ask around when shopping for this, but you can find it in larger grocery stores, possibly in the organic section if not in the baking section. I had unsweetened coconut flakes that I bought at Costco, but they were too big to make a crumb coating, so I ground them into smaller pieces by pulsing them in a blender:
The process for making this coconut tilapia will seem familiar if you’ve made any type of crumb-crusted fried recipe. First, season the tilapia filets with salt and pepper. As I mentioned, tilapia doesn’t have that much of its own flavor, so this recipe adds several layers of seasoning.
Each piece of seasoned tilapia is dipped first in seasoned flour, then in beaten egg, then in a combination of coconut, panko breadcrumbs, lime zest and crushed red pepper flakes. Here are the coated tilapia filets, ready to be cooked:
For this recipe, I tried to keep the ingredient amounts close to what you will actually need to coat the tilapia, so there will not be a lot of leftover breading ingredients, except the flour. I also measured the ingredients, including the cooking oil, before and after preparing the recipe, so I think the fat and calorie counts are pretty accurate. I did a lot of math for you!
I fried this coconut tilapia with my T-fal self-cleaning deep fryer, which I got for Christmas, because my family knows I love cooking gadgets! I use my deep fryer only once or twice a month, but love it. I’ve seen the same model used on “Master Chef” and “The Great British Baking Show.” An electric fryer keeps the oil at the exact right temperature, so the crumb coating turns out light and crispy, and not greasy. The thing I love about this deep fryer is that when you’re done frying, the oil passes through a filter and into a storage tank so you can use it again. If you don’t have a deep fryer, you can make this coconut tilapia in a frying pan on the stovetop, and it will be just as good, although the oil temperature is a little harder to control.
Cook the coconut tilapia at a temperature of 370 in the deep fryer for about 5 minutes, until the filets are medium brown and cooked through. With my fryer, I was able to do 3 at a time.
If cooking the filets on the stovetop, cook for about 3 minutes on each side.
Some of my kids just won’t eat fish, not even tilapia, so I cooked some chicken strips using the same recipe, and those were yummy as well. This coconut tilapia recipe really did give me a taste of the tropics and inspired me to start planning a beach vacation for next year!
Crispy Coconut Tilapia with Chili-Lime Dipping Sauce
For the sweet chili sauce:
- 3/4 cup Thai sweet chili sauce store bought or homemade
- Juice of 1-2 limes about 2 tablespoons
- 1 large or 2 small green onions thinly sliced
For the coconut tilapia:
- 6 tilapia filets about 5 oz. each
- Salt and black pepper for seasoning
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 egg beaten
- 1/2 tablespoon water
- 1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
- 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
- Zest of one lime or 2-3 teaspoons
- 1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes crushed lightly
- Canola oil for frying
- Zest and juice a large lime or 2 medium limes. Reserve the zest for the tilapia filets and the juice for the sweet chili sauce.
- Make the sweet chili sauce by combining all ingredients in a small bowl or jar. Set aside for the flavors to blend.
- Season the tilapia filets with salt and pepper, and set aside. Place the flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper in a pie pan or shallow dish, and stir to combine. Place the egg in another pie pan or shallow dish and beat together with the water. In a third dish, combine the coconut, panko breadcrumbs, lime zest and red pepper flakes.
- Dip each tilapia filet first in flour, then in egg mixture, then in coconut mixture, pressing to make sure the breadcrumbs and coconut stick to the surface of the tilapia.
- Deep fryer cooking method: Heat oil in the deep fryer to 370 degrees. Fry tilapia filets, 2-3 at a time, for about 5 minutes until medium golden brown and cooked through. Remove to a paper towel-covered plate to cool and drain away any excess oil.
- Stovetop cooking method: Cover the bottom of a large skillet with oil to a depth of about 1/3 inch, and heat over medium-high heat to 370 degrees. If you do not have a frying thermometer, you can test the temperature of by putting a 1-inch cube of bread in the oil. If it browns in about 50 seconds, the oil is the right temperature.
- Fry the tilapia filets for 2-3 minutes on each side, or until medium brown and cooked through. Drain on paper towel covered plate.
- Serve coconut lime tilapia with sweet chili sauce, lime wedges and steamed rice or rice noodles.