These delicious gluten-free air-fryer fish fillets have a crispy, low-oil corn meal coating on the outside and tender fish on the inside. Serve with lemon or lime wedges or a Harissa Aioli sauce.
We tried three kinds of fish: tilapia, opah and steelhead trout. We couldn’t be content just to have the fish come out like fish’n’chips, oh, no. We wanted it just a little raw in the center – not a strong point of the air fryer. We found, of course, that the thicker the pieces, the creamier the fish was in the center.
Much as we liked the tilapia, and the seasonings were great on it, it wasn’t suited to our goal of the soft middle here. But we were pretty happy about our final results with the opah and steelhead.
Our favorite way to eat the steelhead (salmon) fillets was dipped in Harissa aioli. We also enjoyed the salmon flaked in tacos as in my parchment-roasted salmon tacos.
Air Fryer Fish Recipes I researched
To cook fish in the air fryer, I commonly found recipes using fillets. A fillet has a showier presentation than chunks and will cook for evenly than a large piece of fish.
Most of the recommendations for thickness of the fillets were ½ inch or less. We wanted the middle of the pieces to be tender, especially with the opah, which is a sashimi-quality fish. With half-inch slices we got very crispy fish indeed.
We found it a little challenging when using the air fryer to keep the fish partly raw in the center, and think the air fryer might not be the best cooking method for opah, tender though the “fish sticks” came out. In the air fryer at 390 degrees F the fish cooked too quickly for me, leaving the thinnest parts chewy, so I reduced the temperature to 375 degrees F and was happier.
Also, opah has a delicious flavor of its own that I wanted to preserve. Most recipes cook the fish in the air fryer for WAY too long for me, after which the opah could have been any white fish – what a shame! So to preserve the delicate flavor, we settled on 5 minutes for the first side, then only 2 minutes for the second.
We enjoyed the opah with braised garden greens, quinoa salad and pineapple.
What oil is best for air-frying fish?
Avocado oil has a high smoke point, making it relatively safe at the temperatures of the air fryer. It has almost no aroma so won’t interfere with the seasonings. With a spray avocado oil, you can spray it on in the middle of cooking the fish when you need to work quickly and don’t want to risk removing the crispy coating with a basting brush.
We sprayed the air fryer just before putting the fish in, the fish just before closing the air fryer basket, and the other side of the fish after flipping the pieces.
Can I make this recipe without the egg wash?
I chose to use the egg wash because I’m new at air frying and wanted to be sure the coating would stick to the fish (it did). A beaten egg is commonly used before rolling fish or chicken in a coating like corn meal or breadcrumbs to help the starch stick to the protein.
In my research, however, I saw at least two recipes without egg. In those recipes, the fish is brushed or sprayed with the same oil (such as avocado) used during the cooking process, then dredged in the seasoned corn meal. From what I could see, the cornmeal topping would stick to the sprayed-on oil – but I suspect I’d want to be more gentle with it and use the oil spray, rather than baste, before cooking.
What seasonings go well with air fryer fish?
The seasonings in the coating are pretty versatile already. And I vary them by subbing berbere or chili powder instead of paprika, or changing the herb from thyme to rosemary. We tried cutting the salt in half but found the result pretty bland, unless you will be serving a salty dipping sauce.
The paprika and the berbere are both compatible with the harissa and cumin in the aioli. If you want a spicier coating, add some cayenne or powdered jalapeno.
Preparing the fish
As always, use the freshest fish you can find if your goal is for the fish to be tender in the middle (ie., just slightly undercooked). You’d only prepare the fish this way if it would be all right to eat it raw anyway.
You’ll need two containers, each large enough to fit one fish fillet at a time (I used a glass loaf pan and a storage bowl). Crack the egg into one of the containers and whisk it completely. Mix the cornmeal and seasonings in the other.
Dip each fillet into the beaten egg, dredge on all sides in the cornmeal mixture until coated, and place on a plate. I try not to have any egg left over, but sometimes one kind of fish (like opah) takes up less than another (like steelhead).
Then follow the directions for air-frying the fish pieces.
I hope you will enjoy this delicious and easy recipe that really makes the air fryer a handy tool for preparing crispy, flavorful fish.
If you make this recipe, please let me know! Leave a comment, rate it, and don’t forget to tag a photo #amealinmind on Instagram and pin on Pinterest. I’d love to see what you come up with. Thank you so much!!
Other fish recipes you may enjoy
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Air Fryer Fish Fillets with Harissa Aioli - Gluten Free
- 2 pounds fish fillets such as opah, steelhead, or cod (up to 1 inch thick)
- 1 large egg
- ½ cup yellow cornmeal
- 1 teaspoon pink sea salt
- ½ teaspoon paprika or berbere seasoning, or chili powder
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme or 1 tablespoon fresh thyme
- Avocado oil spray because of high smoke point
- lemon or lime wedges and parsley for garnish optional
- For the harissa aioli
- ½ cup plain yogurt
- ¼ cup mayonnaise we like Kewpie Japanese mayo
- ½ teaspoon red wine vinegar
- up to 2 tablespoons harissa sauce see note
- finely chopped basil about 1 tablespoon
- ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon each salt and black pepper
- Preheat the air fryer for 3 minutes to 375 F. Whisk the egg in a shallow dish. In another shallow dish, combine the cornmeal and spices thoroughly.
- Pat the fish completely dry. Dip the fish fillets into the egg – allow the excess to drip back into the pan. Then press the fish into the cornmeal mixture until well coated on both sides.
- Spritz the preheated basket with cooking spray. Place half the coated fish into the preheated air fryer basket in a single layer, then spray the fish lightly with oil. Cook for 5 minutes. Carefully use tongs to turn the fish to avoid breaking the pieces. Spritz the second side with oil. Return the basket to the air fryer and cook 2 minutes or until the fish is sizzling out the outside and flakes with a fork. Repeat the process with the second half of the fillets.
- Stir together the yogurt, mayo and salt with half the harissa for the aioli. Swirl the rest of the harissa on the top and sprinkle with basil. Note: This recipe is completely customizable - make it with more mayonnaise, or all mayonnaise, and adjust the harissa to your taste.
- Once the fish is done, sprinkle with lemon or lemon juice and/or parsley and or serve with lemon or lime wedges. Offer the harissa aioli sauce on the side. Serve immediately.
- We enjoyed this dish with sides like braised garden greens and this Mexican quinoa-vegetable bowl.
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