This easy recipe makes for a quick and delicious dinner that will bring a little piece of a Mexican beach into your kitchen.

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Mexican Fried Tilapia Recipe

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On a recent trip to Veracruz on the Mexican Gulf Coast, I was reminded of how much I love to eat fish and seafood. I indulged in treats I don’t normally have the opportunity to enjoy, like fresh shrimp and fried fish. Delicious!

Fried fish is a classic dish in Mexico, especially during the hot spring and summer months. It’s a cheap, quick, and easy way to make a yummy dinner, and you can pair it with a lot of things. You can’t go wrong with fried fish!

Now, you may be thinking this is probably not a very healthy dish because it’s fried, but nothing could be more wrong.

It’s true you have to fry the fish in plenty of oil, but it’s all going to end up in the skin anyway, which you can peel off to reveal the lean flesh. So just put your fatty fears aside and get ready to dig in.

Now, roll up your sleeves and let’s get cooking!

Shrimp on Mexican beach
Having fresh shrimp on the beach.

Mexican Fried Fish Recipe

Before we get started, you need to select a fish to fry.

Here in Mexico, most people go for a tilapia, or mojarra (roll the R), but there are plenty other fish in the sea which are great for frying, like red snapper, bass, trout, black pomfret or even catfish. It all depends on what you like.

The portion will vary depending on the size of the fish you pick out. If you choose a small fish, you might need two per person, but you’ll only need one for each if you select a larger fish.

Mexican Fried Fish Recipe
Fresh tilapia all clean and dry and ready for cooking.


  • 1 large fish or 2 small per person
  • Plenty of oil
  • A deep frying pan
  • Lemon rind
  • Garlic cloves
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Flour (optional)


Before you start cooking, make sure the fish has been thoroughly cleaned. All scales should be gone, as well as the entrails, but leave the head and tail.

Here in Mexico, when I buy fish the vendor always cleans it well so that it’s ready to cook.

If there is no whole fresh fish available, it’s not a problem. Frozen will do. Just make sure it’s completely thawed and dry before cooking it. You don’t want the humidity to make hot oil jump all over you!

Now that your fish is clean and dry, place it on a cutting board and cut three vertical slits across the body. Turn the fish over and repeat on the other side. These slits will allow the flesh to cook evenly.

Mexican Fried Fish Recipe
Cut slits on the fish so it will cook evenly.

Once you’ve cut the slits, it’s time to season the fish. Sprinkle it with salt and pepper to your liking. You can also add powdered garlic if you like.

Some people also use lime or lemon juice to season the fish, but I don’t like to use it because the juice makes the flesh fall apart when it’s cooking.

A good tip is to add garlic cloves and lemon rind to the frying oil. That way, the flavors go all into the fish with the garlic and lemon spilling out all over the place.

While you’re seasoning the fish, pour enough oil into the frying pan and start warming it up. There should be enough oil in there to submerge at least the entire half of the fish. That’s why you need a deep frying pan.

The kind of cooking oil depends on your personal taste. Coconut oil is a healthy option and it’s also great for frying. Avocado oil and olive oil are also good for this. I normally use canola oil because it has a high smoke point.

Mexican Fried Fish Recipe

Warm up the oil over a medium flame, not high. To know if the oil has reached a good temperature for frying, throw in a little piece of bread. If it sinks to the bottom, the oil is not hot enough. If the bread starts frying immediately, the oil is too hot. But it if it floats and starts frying gradually, then the temperature is good.

Before frying, some people dust the entire fish with flour to better protect the flesh. This is helpful, but if you don’t fry the fish correctly, you run the risk of the flour ending up all stuck to the pan. 

But don’t worry, you don’t have to use flour. It’s completely optional.

Next, just place the fish in the frying pan with the hot oil and let it cook for at least 5 minutes on each side, or when it turns a golden brown color. Carefully, turn it over and then let it fry on the other side. A pair of thongs will come in handy at this moment.

Once it’s cooked, take the fish out of the oil and let it lie on a couple of paper towels so the excess oil will drip off. And then it’s ready to eat!

Mexican Fried Fish Recipe

Enjoy Mexican Fried Fish

In Mexico, we like to squeeze plenty of lime juice on the fish and some hot salsa too. If you’re not into spicy food, skip the salsa but keep the lime.

I like to eat fried fish with Mexican salad, red rice, beans, and fried plantains on the side. And probably a cold beer too.

Perhaps you think having an entire fish on your plate (with the head, tail and all) looks weird, but let me tell you this is one of the best ways ever to have fish. If you rule it out just because you don’t like the way it looks, you’ll be missing out on something great.

Mexican Fried Fish Recipe
Fried fish served with red rice, plantains, and cucumber salad.

FYI, my kids love to eat fried fish. They even like how the head and tail look too!

What I like best about this dish is you have to eat it slowly. First, because you need to be careful so you won’t get any fish bones stuck between your teeth. Second, because it means you just have to take your time to sit down and enjoy the meal properly, which makes everything taste better.

So when your fish is fried and ready, pour yourself a cold beer and sit down to make this a memorable occasion. Imagine you’re sitting in a little eatery in Mexico, overlooking the beach. Buen provecho!

Vacation in Veracruz Mexico 8
At the beach in Veracruz, Mexico.

Would you like to try this? What’s your favorite way to have fish? Share in the comments!


6 thoughts on “How to Cook an Easy and Delicious Mexican Fried Fish

  1. I am really taken by how you score the flesh of the fish before seasoning it. Will definitely take your advice! And it looks perfectly fried. We have been on a fried fish roll lately (our house smells accordingly:) and red snapper is the likely candidate for your whole fried fish recipe because I know where we can buy it nearby. I saw you are ESL teacher my son has been lucky to be in dual language immersion program since Kindergarten here in Fort Collins, CO and we are beyond happy with his progress. Last year in second grade Sra. Angulo from Mexico City was his maestra and it was the most fun year yet for him. He is really mastering Spanish (yo tambien, un poco, haha) and I’m going to follow your blog for more cultural glimpses and genuine recipes I can cook for him to enrich his experience.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. How do I eat a whole fried fish? I was expecting a fried fish filet, but instead an entire fried fish, with head and tail, was served. Do I take it apart and eat it with my hands? Do I eat the skin? Do I politely pull the bones out of my mouth and start a little pile on my plate?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Here in Mexico, we take apart the fish using regular cutlery, a fork and knife. You can eat the skin if you wish, or set it aside. There’s no problem if you politely take the bones out and set them on a little pile. It’s all part of the fun.


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