Tilapia's mild flavor may seem a bit dull, but the fish is a boon for home cooks who like the freedom to experiment with different recipes. You really can't render tilapia inedible. Deep frying turns it into an indulgent, texturally exciting dish. Panko is the breadcrumb of choice for coating fillets, because they brown nicely and add formidable crunch. Tenderize the tilapia and eliminate any fishy odor and taste with a quick soak in milk right before breading and cooking it. Remember, though, that deep frying is a high-calorie preparation best-reserved for rare, special occasions.
Thaw frozen tilapia filets for 12 to 24 hours in the refrigerator. If you have less time and they're still wrapped in leak-proof packaging, immerse them in a bowl of cold water for about a half-hour.
Fill a glass, plastic, ceramic or stainless steel bowl with enough milk or buttermilk to cover the tilapia. If you like, add some salt, pepper, chili powder or other seasonings for a more flavorful marinade. Submerge the fish for 15 to 20 minutes, turning it over halfway through.
Spread out panko breadcrumbs on a plate. Mix in any seasonings you'd like to use, such as salt and pepper, dried tarragon or thyme, Cajun or blackening seasonings, paprika, dry mustard or coriander.
Remove the tilapia fillets from the milk one at a time and let the excess milk run off. Dredge each fillet in the panko and gently shake off the excess. Place the coated fish on a plate next to the stove.
Fill a large skillet or your deep fryer halfway with peanut oil or an oil with a high enough smoke point for deep frying. Preheat the oil to 375 degrees Fahrenheit, using a food thermometer for accuracy.
Place the breaded tilapia filets in the oil and deep fry them for 2 to 3 minutes, just until the panko is golden brown and the flesh is opaque all the way through. Remove the fillets from the oil and lay them on a paper towel-lined plate to drain.
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Eric Mohrman is a food and drink, travel, and lifestyle writer living in Orlando, Florida. He has professional experience to complement his love of cooking and eating, having worked for 10 years both front- and back-of-house in casual and fine dining restaurants. He has written print and web pieces on food and drink topics for Visit Florida, Orlando Style Magazine, CrushBrew Magazine, Agent Magazine, Dollar Stretcher Magazine, The 863 Magazine and other publications.
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