What is crusty tilapia, you may ask, and how is it different from other forms of making tilapia?
I called this dish “crusty tilapia” because the three-part coating (before frying/sautéing the fillets) came out so nice and, well, crusty that the name seemed appropriate.
Normally I’d make this dish using something like sole or flounder, but tilapia is all our store had last night so I thought I’d experiment to see if it worked with tilapia, too. Short answer: yes, it did.
As usual, assemble your ingredients: fresh tilapia fillets (1 to 1 1/4 pounds for four people), 1 egg, 1 cup of buttermilk, 1 1/2 cups (roughly) of panko crumbs, regular flour (2 tablespoons), 1 teaspoon thyme leaves, and (not shown), olive oil, salt, and pepper. (I’m not sure about the availability of buttermilk outside the U.S. but this link will give you several buttermilk substitute options.)
Rinse and pat dry the fillets. Dust lightly with the flour, and sprinkle with salt and pepper (to taste).
Start heating a large sauté pan (but don’t put the oil in just yet). Prepare two bowls, one with the buttermilk-egg wash and one with the panko crumbs. For the buttermilk-egg wash, simply whisk together the buttermilk, egg, and thyme with a fork. Ideally, have these two bowls next to the sauté pan so you can dip and then put in the pan with minimal fuss.
Now you’re ready to sauté the fillets. Pour a generous amount of olive oil into the pan, perhaps 3-4 tablespoons. This is how the crust gets nice and crispy — if there isn’t enough olive oil, then the crust doesn’t really cook right.
Dip each fillet, both sides, first in the wash, then in the panko crumbs.
Place in the hot pan and cook about 3 minutes over medium-hot heat, then flip the fillets to the other side and cook about 2-3 minutes. (My pan was a little crowded.)
And then serve! We had this with the 2014 Breaux Rosé, a dry rosé made from Nebbiolo grapes which paired very nicely. The crust on this fish should be nice and crunchy for you!