Pan-Seared Tilapia with Homemade Tartar Sauce

By Laura Mack
March 28, 2016

These flaky, golden tilapia fillets, with a dollop of my tangy tartar sauce and a squeeze of fresh lemon, are just the ticket for a quick, healthy dinner. Add a low carb veggie like broccoli, or a simple side salad, and you’ll have a winner in under 30 minutes.

Although I love to cook, if a meal is going to take more than 30-45 minutes to prepare, the bar is raised for me. I want it to yield enough for more than one meal — either as leftovers or with the ability to freeze for meals beyond the next day. While these fish fillets and tartar sauce are not suitable for freezing, they’re still delicious the next day if you have any left after the first go-round. If not, they still meet my criteria of less than 30 minutes for a one-off meal.

When I was a new home cook years ago, the idea of preparing fish or other seafood intimidated me (not including frozen fish sticks, of course). I’ve heard similar comments from other folks. In fact, a number of people have told me that they don’t cook seafood at home, but save it for when they are going out to eat. That’s truly a shame because fish and seafood can be among the easiest and quickest meals to prepare, not to mention one of the healthiest options.

Cooking fish and seafood isn’t really any different than most other lean proteins. That is, you don’t want to overcook them or the texture will suffer. Fish and seafood tend to cook faster than other proteins such as chicken, beef, or pork, so do keep an eye on them. Because seafood is often thin or small, a food thermometer is rarely useful for determining doneness, so checking the middle with a thin knife for opaqueness and/or flakiness is what I do. If in doubt, less is more — you can always add it back to the heat if it’s underdone. If it’s overcooked, it will still be okay and you’ll have learned something for the next try, probably just like the first time you cooked a hamburger or chicken breast!

I usually have a selection of fish and seafood in the freezer but, if not, I’ll often choose something that is on special at one of my favorite grocery stores. Any white, flaky fish (such as cod) would make a great substitute for the tilapia.

Purchased tartar sauces often have added sugar and other undesirable ingredients. I’d give you a store-bought recommendation if I had one. However, my tartar sauce takes just a few minutes to prepare, and it tastes so much better than anything you can buy! It keeps for up to a week in the refrigerator.

Add a quick and easy low carb vegetable, such as broccoli or asparagus, to round out the meal. A colorful veggie will look more appealing on the plate than something like cauliflower. Whitefish + white tartar sauce + white vegetable = boring. As I learned early on in culinary school, we eat with our eyes first. Being satisfied with food is more than simply tasting good or filling us up. Thinking about the visual appeal of the finished plate will help you get the most out of every meal. That’s the way we foodies roll!

Give this a try and let me know what fish you used. Types of fish can vary widely from place to place, and it’s fun to hear about what’s available in other locations.

Pan-Seared Tilapia with Homemade Tartar Sauce

Author: Laura Mack
Recipe type: Main
Prep time:  10 mins
Cook time:  5 mins
Total time:  15 mins
Serves: 4

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These flaky, golden tilapia fillets, with a dollop of my tangy tartar sauce and a squeeze of fresh lemon, are just the ticket for a quick, healthy dinner. Add a low carb veggie like broccoli, or a simple side salad, and you'll have a winner in under 30 minutes.


Tartar Sauce

3 ounces / ⅓ cup mayonnaise, homemade or high-quality

1½ ounces/ 3 tablespoons dill pickle relish

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

2 teaspoons minced fresh chives

½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

¼ teaspoon Old Bay seasoning


1 pound tilapia fillets (or other white, flaky fish such as cod)

1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning (or simply salt and pepper to taste)

1 tablespoon avocado oil

1 tablespoon butter

fresh lemon wedges, for serving

minced fresh chives, for garnish


  1. In a small bowl, add all of the tartar sauce ingredients and stir to blend. Set aside. If making ahead, cover and refrigerate up to one week.
  2. Pat tilapia fillets with paper towels to remove excess moisture. Don't skip this step or your fish will steam and you won't get that lovely golden sear. Sprinkle both sides of each fillet with Old Bay seasoning (it contains salt and pepper, so add extra only to taste).
  3. Heat oil in 12" skillet over high heat until shimmering. Add butter, and when butter stops foaming, gently lower fillets presentation side down (skin side up) into the hot oil mixture. Leave undisturbed for 2 minutes. Carefully turn fillets with thin spatula and cook until fish just flakes in the middle, about 1-2 additional minutes. This is based on thin fillets; cooking time will increase with thicker fillets. Remove fish from pan, sprinkle with fresh chives, and serve with tartar sauce and fresh lemon wedges.


Nutritional info* per serving: 208 cal, 3 g total fat (56%), 0 g total carbs, 0 g fiber, 0 g net carbs, and 23 g protein.

*I use Living Cookbook 2015, along with package information and data from, to calculate the nutritional information for my recipes. Thus, I can make no guarantees as to the accuracy.

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