Tilapia Pan-Fried and Gluten-Free

Crispy Almond-Crusted Tilapia Fillets with Spicy Stir Fried Vegetables

I made Crispy Almond-Crusted Pan-Fried Tilapia Fillets with Spicy Stir-Fried Vegetables because I like fried fish. Crunchy on the outside, succulent on the inside– you like fried fish too. But there’s baggage with pretty much anything fried. So if I told you that the crisp crust on this fish was gluten-free, would that make you feel better? Besides, it’s not deep fried.

Now I’m not gluten-free. As I have said before I’m just not the type to say “no” to things unless there’s a pretty damn good reason. Allergies would be a pretty damn good reason. Fortunately for me I’m not afflicted, but I’m getting to a time in life when cutting back on certain kinds of carbohydrates is probably a good thing. So I thought I’d experiment with a way to make the fried fish I love just a bit more healthy.

This nut-based gluten-free crust is what I came up with. It keeps the crunch by combining ground almonds and corn starch. Which is a great trick I think. Southern cooks sneak a bit of corn starch into fried chicken coating all the time. It makes the chicken extra crispy. It also makes the coating stick better. I merely adapted that concept using ground almond ‘flour’ to make the crust gluten-free.

There’s another problem lurking on the sidelines. I’m well aware that many folks are afraid to cook fish at home. So I want to talk (again) about pan-frying fish. It uses a lot less oil than deep frying and is one more step in making this more healthy. Besides, once you’ve mastered this simple technique you’ll always be ready to put together a full-flavored gourmet meal in a snap– without the stress that comes with ‘cooking fish at home’.

I chose tilapia for this discussion because its mild nature works well with bold flavors. The super crispy, gluten-free crust stands up to sauces and garnishes. But I’ve also given this dish some serious heat from the chili in the stir-fry of carrots, snow peas, scallions and Napa cabbage. The sauce I chose is more like a vinaigrette so it cuts through the richness in the fried nut crust and ties all the diverse elements together with acidity. In other words this is a complexly flavored and multi-textured dish.

Wine Pairing

2011 V. Sattui Secco Riesling 

V. Sattui Riesling wine pairing from Sippity Sup
V. Sattui Secco Riesling. Rieslings can confound wine buyers. The varietal typically runs the gamut from bone dry to very sweet, so having “secco” in the name is a helpful clue. This delightfully dry, crisp wine from California’s Napa Valley has a touch of honeyed sweetness at the tip of the tongue. Flavors of apricot and ripe […]
Ken Eskenazi

Price $25.00

Pairs well with seafood, smoked meats, Asian flavors

All of these facts also present a challenge with the wine.

My partner Ken chose Riesling for this dish. It tends to go well with foods with complex flavors. Especially those with an Asian influence. It can also withstand the heat that often accompanies them.

Riesling is a particularly food friendly wine. It’s a favorite here at Sippity Sup with my brother writing recently, “Despite the best efforts of sommeliers, chefs and wine writers, Riesling is still criminally under-appreciated in the United States by the general wine-gulping populace.  I laugh every time I hear someone say with a sneer, ‘I don’t drink sweet wines,’ as if it was a badge worn only by ‘true appreciators’ of wine. The truth is that Rieslings are arguably the most versatile white wine for pairing with food.”

Now that we have the wine settled. Let’s make the fish. The process starts by soaking the fish in well-seasoned buttermilk (another trick I stole from fried chicken). The tang and seasoning will permeate the fish improving its flavor. The acidity in buttermilk also firms the flesh some and helps keep the fillets moist– even while subjected to the high heat of pan-frying. Don’t let the fish sit in the buttermilk as long as you might chicken however. The acid in buttermilk will actually ‘cook’ the fish if left marinating too long.

The only real trick to pan-frying fish is the oil. You want to make sure it’s very hot, but not yet smoking. You’ll best be able to gauge this by a certain movement to the oil. It won’t bubble, or smoke in the pan. But there’s a barely perceptible shimmer to its surface. Once you see it– the oil is ready.

So come on. You can cook fish at home. Even fried fish. GREG

pan-fried tilapia

Here are a few more tips to help you get over that fear of cooking fish at home.

  • Pat the fillets between both hands just before they go in the oil. You’ll get a more even coating of the dry ingredients.
  • For an evenly colored crust, heat the oil to just before its smoking point, and don’t overcrowd the pan. Apply gentle pressure to the fillets with the back of a spatula to make sure that the entire bottom crust is in contact with the hot oil.
  •  To get a crispier top crust on the filets, cook them about three-quarters of the way on one side before flipping.
Almond Crusted Tilapia


  • 3 tablespoon grapeseed oil
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • 1 tablespoon minced shallot
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon asian fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon thai red chili paste
  • ¼ cup orange juice
  • ¼ cup fresh squeezed lime juice
  • ½ cup chopped cilantro leaves
  • 1 cup chilled buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning as needed
  • 1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper, plus more for seasoning fish
  • ½ cup corn starch
  • ½ cup almond flour (or other ground nut flour)
  • 4 (4 ounce) tilapia fillets
  • 2 cup or as needed for frying
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 cup ulienned peeled carrots
  • 1 cup julienned snow peas
  • 10 scallions thinly sliced on the diagonal (white, light green and some dark green parts)
  • 1 cup julienned napa cabbage
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresno chilies (or red jalepeño)
  • 4 lemon wedges


Make the sauce: Pour grape seed and sesame oil in a small sauce pot set over low heat. Add ginger and shallot and stir to sweat the shallot, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add sugar. Turn off the heat and add soy sauce, fish sauce, Thai red chili paste, rice wine vinegar, orange juice and lime juice. Stir to mix.

Let the sauce steep for at least 30 minutes at room temperature. The sauce will develop in flavor the longer it sits. If you plan to make it ahead store it in the refrigerator up to 2 days. Before serving allow the sauce to come to room temperature then add chopped cilantro, whisking ingredients together until emulsified.

Fry the fish: Season both sides of the fillets with salt and pepper.

Place the buttermilk in a container that is large enough to fit the 4 pieces of fish. Stir in 1 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Place tilapia fillets in buttermilk, coating them all around. Leave to marinate for 15–20 minutes, but note that the acid in the buttermilk will start cooking the fish if left too long.

Meanwhile, whisk the cornstarch and almond flour together on a rimmed plate or shallow bowl. Remove the fillets from the buttermilk, one at a time, letting the excess buttermilk drip off and placing them in the almond flour mixture. Coat fillets well on all sides by flipping them in the mixture several times. Move to a rack.

Heat a large heavy-bottomed cast iron skillet or non-stick sauté pan over medium-high heat and add the oil. Make sure there is enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan by about ¼ inch. Let the oil get quite hot, it should be shimmering and almost smoking, add the fillets and cook until golden brown and crisp, about 2–3 minutes. Gently turn fish over and cook another 2–3 minutes. Move the fillets to a rack to drain.

Make the vegetables: Heat a large sauté pan or wok over medium-high heat and add about 1 tablespoon vegetable oil to thinly coat the bottom. Add the julienned carrot and cook until the carrots start to soften, about 1 ½ to 2 minutes. Add the julienned snow peas and sauté with the carrots for another 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Next, add the sliced scallions and the Napa cabbage, followed by the minced Fresno chili and sauté for another minute. Season the vegetables with salt and pepper.

To serve, divide the cooked vegetables between 4 warm dinner plates. Center a tilapia fillet on top, then drizzle with the sauce. Serve with wedges of lemon.