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Crispy Tilapia Fingers with Lemon & Garlic Mayonnaise

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Tilapia fillets lightly coated with panko, pan fried to crispy perfection, and served with a tangy garlic and lemon mayonnaise.

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If you’re wondering how to get your children to eat — or even love — fish, try feeding them this. They’ll think it’s kid-friendly food for them, but I promise you it’s anything but. These tilapia fillets are lightly coated with panko, pan-fried to crispy perfection, and served with a tangy garlic and lemon mayonnaise. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the best way to transform ordinary tilapia into a seafood sensation.

What you’ll need to make crispy Tilapia fingers

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The great thing about this dish is that you can do most of the preparation ahead of time. Come dinnertime, all you have to do is throw the fish in the frying pan. You can also make a huge batch and freeze some before cooking, which makes for a quick and easy dinner another time. Gotta love two meals for the work of one.

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How to make them

To make these tilapia fingers, simply cut your tilapia fillets in half. Leave the thin sides long and then cut the thicker sides in half on a diagonal so they appear longer.

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Next, bread the fish using the three-step breading method: first flour, then eggs, then panko. This will ensure a beautiful and crispy coating that will adhere evenly to the fish.

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Lay the fish fingers on a baking sheet and season with the salt and pepper. Looks good already, right?

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Coat a non-stick pan generously with olive oil and pan-fry until crisp and golden.

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Drain any excess oil on paper towels…

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Sprinkle with salt, dip in Lemon-Garlic Mayonnaise and enjoy!

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Crispy Tilapia Fingers with Lemon-Garlic Mayonnaise

Tilapia fillets lightly coated with panko, pan fried to crispy perfection, and served with a tangy garlic and lemon mayonnaise.

Servings: 4-6


  • 2 pounds tilapia fillets
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups panko
  • Salt
  • Ground black pepper
  • Olive oil
  • 1 lemon, cut into wedges

For the Lemon-Garlic Mayonnaise

  • 1 cup mayonnaise, best quality such as Hellmann's or Duke's
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, from 1 lemon
  • Salt and ground black pepper, to taste


For the Tilapia Fingers

  1. Cut the tilapia into "fingers" by first cutting the fillets in half. Leave the thin sides long, then cut the thicker sides in half on a diagonal so they appear longer.
  2. Set up three large shallow bowls in an assembly line. Put the flour in the first bowl; the beaten eggs in the second; and the panko in the third.
  3. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Dredge the fish fingers in the flour mixture, shaking excess into the bowl so just a light coating remains; dip in the eggs and turn to coat evenly; then dredge in the panko, turning several times to coat evenly. (This can be a messy job...it's best to use one hand for the flour and eggs and the other for the panko.) Set the breaded tilapia fingers on the prepared baking sheet and season with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate until ready to cook (this can be done several hours ahead of time).
  4. Line a plate with 3 paper towels and set by the stove. Coat a large non-stick sauté pan generously with olive oil and place over medium heat. When the pan is hot, place the first batch of tilapia fingers in the pan (do not crowd) and cook until the first side is golden brown, 2-3 minutes. Flip and continue cooking until done, about 2 minutes more. Transfer the fish fingers to the plate with paper towels and let sit for a minute to drain any excess oil. Remove any brown bits out of the pan, add more oil if necessary and continue to cook the fish in batches until done. Season the cooked tilapia fingers with more salt if desired. Serve with lemon wedges and Lemon-Garlic Mayonnaise.

For the Lemon-Garlic Mayonnaise

  1. Mix the mayonnaise, garlic and lemon juice in a small bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  2. Freezer-Friendly Instructions: Lay the tilapia fingers in a single layer and wrap well with aluminum foil. Place in a freezer bag in the freezer. When you're ready to make them, simply defrost them enough so they'll lay flat in the pan and cook as directed above.

Pair with

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  • I made these tonight and my family really enjoyed the fish with the sauce. I had to use wild rockfish which is pretty tasteless but with the crust and the sauce, it was delicious! I sdrved it with Turkish rice and mushrooms with onions and spinach.

    • — samantha Severe on November 21, 2023
    • Reply
  • So good and so simple. Thank you Jenn!

  • My family LOVES this meal! My pickiest eater requests it weekly and that’s fine by me as I also love it and it’s easy to prep ahead of time. The lemon-garlic mayo really elevates the dish. I serve it with roasted potatoes and broccoli, yum 🙂

  • My 4-year old’s favorite dinner, especially because she dresses up like a mermaid when we make these. I does squeeze quite a bit of fresh lemon on these when they come out of the hot oil for our preferences. Delicious!

    • — Katie Gibson-Harding
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  • I love the crunch these get from the panko breading. We always have leftovers and I love warming them up in my air fryer the next day. They get even more crispy. I don’t even need sides with this dish. I buy a large bag of tilapia at my wholesale club just to make these, delicious!

  • Family enjoyed every bite. Friendly suggestion to help with messiess. Wear a disposable glove. Made things a lot easier.

  • I made this last night. My family and I loved it. Very simple. I paired it with all your recommendations. The smashed potatoes and the arugula salad. Definitely keeping this recipe in the books to make again. Thank you for sharing ❤

    • Reply
  • Hi Jenn, instead of frying can i bake the fish

    • Yes, Mars, but I would spray them with oil first so that the breadcrumbs crisp up. Enjoy!

  • I made this for the first time, and my family loved it. I had doubled up on the sauce, and now have a lot left over. How long do you think that will keep? If I make this recipe again next week, will the sauce still be good? Thank you!

    • Glad you liked it! I’d say the sauce would keep for up to about 5 days in the fridge.

  • We occasionally make frozen fish sticks for the kids for convenience’s sake, and this tasted like a WAY more elevated and delicious version of that. The dip takes it over the top. This will be on regular rotation.

  • Hi I have made this recipe and the children (and adults) enjoyed them. My question please is how long will the breaded fish last in the fridge please? can they last 24 hours?


    • Glad everyone enjoyed! I’m assuming you’re referring to already cooked fingers? If so, I’d say a day or two.

  • Hi Jenn,
    So excited to hear about your new book! Love the topic. I’ve been experimenting with different oils for different situations. I’m guessing you chose olive oil here because of flavor and medium heat? Or is it pan frying versus deep frying? Or is it the type of coating/panko and type of protein/fish/tilapia? Thank you for sharing your knowledge and talents with us!

    • Hi Laura, I used olive oil here because the tilapia doesn’t cook over high heat (and I try to use olive oil when I can). Any oil will really work here though. Hope that helps!

  • Saw this and thought it would taste good, so I gave it a try. I thought my goodness this is messy & I am not doing this again! I made the Garlic Mayo dip & tasted it and thought, even though I like Mayo, Garlic and Lemon.. I certainly don’t like this. Being new to cooking I was feeling a little disappointed with myself in trying this. Upon completion, I was so impressed with this dish! It was absolutely DELICIOUS and there was NONE left! My daughter who is a picky eater….LOVED it, she didn’t like the mayo dip at first and she added some Herb Mrs. Dash and it made the flavor enhance and it was so good, my mom who don’t like Mayo at all, tried the dip and loved it! My mom is a great cook, so to have her like something I fixed it amazing…lol her, my dad & daughter are my taste testers! My daughter is picky and loves my moms cooking because that’s what she grew up on because I wasn’t a “cook”..although I came from a family of cooks who made everything home made and had hot dog carts and restaurants, I never picked up on the cooking. My mom, dad and daughter and my self loved this recipe! There was NONE left! Jen you are so amazing and I thank you so much for sharing your talents and recipes and tips with us! God bless you!

  • These were really good! I added salt and pepper before breading and after they were cooked. We both really liked the mayo sauce too. I thought that it was interesting that you used olive oil instead of a high heat oil but it worked out since the heat wasn’t too high. Great job! In the future, I would probably make it with avocado oil and increase the temperature just a tiny bit more so that it soaks up less oil. This was our dinner and we found that the recipe makes a lot, enough for 6 people. The cooking time was perfect. Thank you!

  • I made these last night for the first time and we really enjoyed them! I was thinking it would be fun to make them bite size for a pick up appetizer, obviously I would lessen the cooking time. Thank you for another consistent recipe! Happy Mother’s Day to you ❤️

  • These were incredible! I was looking for a healthier version of fish sticks over the convenience frozen fish and these were perfect! My 3 year old loved them! Thanks so much!

  • This recipe works just as outstanding on Redfish! Caught a small Redfish that we brought home for dinner and this was the perfect recipe. My girlfriend loves a “breaded” fish and always loves a dipping sauce and this one takes the place of tartar sauce in more ways than one. One of my “secrets” I use when preparing the fish, use “bamboo skewers” when going from “flour to egg to Panko”, nothing sticks to your fingers!

    • — Anthony Boschi
    • Reply
  • Hi Jenn,
    I love the idea of home made fish fingers! I’m excited to try them with my son (we are doing baby led feeding and I think they would be the perfect size for his little fingers!). Could I use haddock for this recipe? Specifically I would like to buy a big bag of the frozen haddock from Costco and use that. I know I probably can’t thaw, bread and refreeze if I use frozen fish but do you think I could freeze it after it it cooked and just reheat in the oven? Your thoughts as always are appreciated!
    Thanks in advance!

    • Hi Bry, I think you could get away with using frozen haddock here, but I wouldn’t recommend defrosting, breading, then freezing again. If they start as frozen, once you defrost and bread them, I’d cook them then. Hope that helps and that your little one enjoys! 🙂

    • Can we use almond flour?

      • Hi Amy, I’ve never worked with almond flour so I don’t know if it will impact the texture, but I think it’s worth a try. Please LMK how it turns out if you try it!

  • These were AMAZING I make lots of fish recipes and had put these on “back burner”…my 87 yr old in-laws visiting from St Louis said it was among best fish they’d had. I went to sprouts and got fresh tilapia. Made tarter sauce (from crab cake recipe) and it was perfect!

  • This is one of the meals my son most requests. Since he does not put any lemon mayonnaise on the fish, I add some Tony’s or Old Bay seasoning to the breadcrumbs to add more flavor.

    • — Jacquie Rohricht
    • Reply
  • Just made these this afternoon and they’re delicious. Lol, no big surprise there! What a fortunate find your website and book have been for me. Anyway, my only substitution was lemon-infused olive oil instead of regular for half the batch. Both were fantastic. It’s the first time I’ve used the three step method. What a great job it does. Thanks, Jenn!!

  • This tilapia fingers was very delicious, it was a big hit, the sauce was so good!

  • I have made this recipe several times and it is delicious as written. I substitute gluten-free for the bread crumbs and flour and it works out great! We especially love the lemon-garlic mayo!

  • Wow, my kids ate this. All 3 of them (8, 6, and 2). They even asked if we could have it for dinner again soon. 5 stars!!

  • I made this dish t2 days ago!!! Came out amazing!!! Beyond delicious! I’m going to feature it on my blog mealswithmark.com of course giving credit to where I got the recipe!! Thanks again. I will never eat fish sticks any other way!

    • Glad you enjoyed them and thanks for letting me know you’ll be sharing the recipe!

  • I made this dish last night with a healthy version of ‘chips’, and it was a total hit! The fish came out perfectly, and the sauce was a delightful addition. Thanks so much!

  • These were super easy (although, as you said, messy) to make, and I loved being able to “bread” them hours before frying them. Everyone ate them enthusiastically. Another terrific family recipe from Jenn!

  • Thank you for a recipe that my fish hating family loved. made them look like nuggets. my boys loved it.

  • I love this recipe! Making it again tonight.

  • Hi! Can I prepare these the day before cooking? These look delish!

    • Yes Lori, this recipe is perfect for that! You can also make a double batch, freeze 1/2 before cooking, and defrost them for another dinner.

      • Made them tonight and they were great! Crispy and light… my super-duper picky eater liked them too! I froze the uncooked batch and am looking forward to an easy weeknight meal. Thank you for another fantastic recipe!

  • Hi Jen, do you think I can broil the fingers for few minutes? I have made this recipe frying them and I would like to try to broil them. Thanks 🙂

    • Yes Lariza, I think you could. I would suggest baking them first and then finishing them off under the broiler. Hope you enjoy!

      • Thank you so much Jenn!!

  • This was such a simple and easy recipe to make! I thought the lemon-garlic mayonnaise was perfect for the fingers. I was happy to see you could make these ahead of time. It was great coming home and grabbing them out of the fridge, ready to fry in the pan.

    Another great recipe, Jenn! I just love everything you share with us. Thank you.

  • Made this on Friday night for our family and it was a big hit! My boys (ages 5 and 3) finally ate fish!

    I do have a question- I froze some to make for dinner in a week or 2. Should I thaw them overnight in the fridge? I’m afraid the breading will fall off.

    • Hi Sara, So glad your boys enjoyed it! And, yes, I would recommend thawing overnight in the fridge.

  • Made this for a group of adults and kiddos and everyone enjoyed it. The lemon garlic sauce is fantastic. If you want leftovers, best to cook them as you plan to eat them–the crust is wonderfully crispy when just cooked, but a bit soggy the next day. Still good, of course! Next time I will freeze what we don’t eat immediately. This will be a keeper.

  • Hi Jen,

    I love all of the recipes I have tried from your site. Unfortunately, my seven year old daughter has a severe tilapia allergy. What white fish would you recommend as a good substitution for any of your tilapia recipes?


    • Suzanne, any other thin white fish such as flounder, cod or catfish should work!

  • The Crispy Tilapia fingers were outstanding. I have tried many of your recipes and have yet to try one that wasn’t outstanding! I have gotten some friends hooked as well!
    Thank you.

  • This was delicious!!!! The only change I made was that I had some lemon/dill compound butter that I used to cook fish in! I will be making this many times in the future! Had a Caprese Salad with balsamic glaze on the side.

    • — Carolyn Stranges
    • Reply
  • This is a great go to recipe. My Grand Daughter loves fish and wants this all of the time. I make extra and freeze it for a quick meal for her. You did it again.

    • — Margaret Higgins
    • Reply
  • With the lemon wedge drizzle and the lemon garlic mayo… tilapia never tasted so good. Love your tips like slicing the thicker side at a diagonal to create an illusion of length and designating a wet hand and dry hand.

  • This is a great fish stick recipe using Tilapia which is so mild flavored! The dipping sauce pairs wonderfully with this. Easy to make – a great quick meal which ends up with me giving the recipe to all who try it!

  • All I can say is WOW! I’ve fried fish before but who would have thought that just using panko crumbs would make the fish so light and crispy! Also the fish came out very flaky. Definitely using this recipe again.

  • Wow wow wow! This recipe is ridiculously delicious! I never thought tilapia could possibly taste soooooo good! I’m extremely impressed & thanks for sharing…Wow
    By the way I rarely leave comments but this was totally worth it.

    • So glad you enjoyed, April!

  • This was awesome! I did tweek this a little bit. I seasoned the fish 1st with salt and cayenne pepper for some kick. I also added some parm to the panko. For the garlic mayo I subbed 1/2 sour cream and 1/2 mayo, no salt needed. Heated up leftovers in the oven and made yummy fish tacos. Thanks.

    • — Alison Fontenot
    • Reply
  • The Tilapia Fingers are delicious. It’s so hard to get my kids to eat fish… my daughter went back for thirds and even requests this dish for dinner. Thank you!

  • Do you use tilapia out of the seafood case or frozen?

    • Hi Sharon, I use fresh but it’s fine to use frozen; just be sure to defrost before proceeding with recipe.

  • These turned out amazing! Loved the sauce too!

  • This was without a doubt a five star recipe for making fish at home. The recipe is easy to follow and the fact that the fish can be prepared ahead makes the preparation and clean up a snap. Be sure to make to lemon/garlic mayonnaise it is the best I have ever tasted. The fish can be reheated the next day and tastes as good as if it were fresh cooked.

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