Tilapia with Gluten Free Pecan Topping

Gluten free pecan topping adds flavor and crunch to tilapia (or any other white fish!) Easy to prepare, delicious whether you need to avoid gluten or not!

Gluten free pecan topping adds flavor and crunch to tilapia (or any other white fish!) Easy to prepare, delicious whether you need to avoid gluten or not!

You could say I’ve come full circle with this one…

It all started eight or nine years ago, before I wrote the blog and long before I went gluten free. A close friend of Rich’s visited family in the South and came home with pounds of pecans from the trees in their yard! And she was generous enough to share them with us.

Pecans are relatively expensive in New York – not major luxury but noticeably more than, say, walnuts or almonds… and we had a tight budget, so this was a real treat for us. And they were so fresh! So we put them in our cereal and I baked with them, and…  somewhere I saw a suggestion to use them for breading, instead of crumbs. I don’t remember what I used them for that time, but it worked so well that I remembered it – everything that breadcrumbs do but with the flavor of the nuts!

So when I did have to go gluten free, I remembered that… (I’m all about changes that are improvements, not sacrifices.) I used them for Pecan Crusted Baked Pork Chops, and they’re amazing.  (And you could use them for Nutty Baked Carrots, though I used almond meal there.) I found that, if anything, freshly ground pecans were not only better tasting but also easier, because the oil in the nuts made them stick to the food – I didn’t need egg or oil or… any fuss.

Tilapia baked with a crunchy pecan topping

Then last month I was deciding how to cook tilapia for the family. I’d seen a recipe for baking fish fillets with seasoned breadcrumbs, which looked easy as well as tasty, but of course I didn’t have seasoned breadcrumbs… but there were some pecans hiding in the back of the fridge – and the end of a wedge of parmigiano drying out in the cheese drawer. Threw them in the processor, sprinkled them over the top – and everyone liked the gluten free pecan topping so much I knew I had to serve it again – and write it up for you!

And then, we finally got to the farmer’s market – and found bags of pecans sitting in among the onions and cabbages. Ah, right – they’re readily available here! (You may see some more variations on this idea…)

The tilapia fillets I often get have two sides, one much thicker than the other, and the whole piece is generally about half a pound. The first means that it can be tricky to cook it evenly, and the second means that three fillets are plenty for the four of us…  When I cooked it in a pan for just the Rich and me I usually cut the two sides apart, but it’s a nuisance and then serving can be tricky.

I’ve found that placing them in a round baking dish with the thick sides to the outside and the thin ones layered over each other in the center seems to work. If I were going to use four fillets – either to increase the recipe or because I has smaller pieces – I would place them in a rectangular dish with the thin sides overlapping. And if your fillets have already been divided – I’ve seen “tilapia loins” that are – just place them next to each other and cut five minutes from the baking time.


Preheat the oven to 425°

Take your fish fillets and lay them in a buttered baking dish.  (See above for a discussion of layering uneven pieces.)

Tilapia fillets arranged in a baking dish

Now – a note about the fish. See the delicate pink color? That’s a sign of freshness in white fish! Years ago I did weekly demos and sampling in the seafood department of an upscale New York grocery store, and learned a lot from the fish man…  He taught me to look for that pink – showed me when a new delivery came in that the freshest fish was pink, the last of the previous day’s shipment was white. And complained that many customers would insist on the whitest fish! I mean, he acknowledged that it was good for rotation, that the fish was still certainly good, and it meant he didn’t have to worry about it sitting around – though they had a whole system in place to keep it moving in good order – but he had pride in his work and wanted people to recognize and buy the best!

Grind half a cup of pecans in a food processor. (I use a little mini chop that is part of a set with my immersion blender which is very convenient for this sort of thing.)

Ground pecans and grated romano in a mixing bowl.

I originally made this recipe with Parmigiano Reggiano, but as it happened, I had Pecorino Romano in the house this time, so I used it. So I can tell you that either works… (And of course you can use the American versions – Parmesan and Romano – if they make more sense for you, though they have less intense flavor.)  Take half a cup of the grated cheese.

Mix your ground nuts and grated cheese, and grind in some black pepper – again, the amount is not exact, I just gave the peppermill half a dozen or so twists… If you use preground, it does lose flavor, so you may need half a teaspoon. You do not need salt – the cheese is salty enough. Then sprinkle that evenly over the fish. Pop the baking dish in the oven, and bake for 15-20 minutes, until the center is done.  Let it rest just a couple of minutes and then serve.

It is delicious as it is. If you want, you could toss in some herbs, like seasoned bread crumbs, but I really don’t think it needs anything else… And you certainly don’t have to be gluten free to enjoy it!

Gluten free pecan topping adds flavor and crunch to tilapia (or any other white fish!) Easy to prepare, delicious whether you need to avoid gluten or not!

Tilapia baked with a crunchy pecan topping

Tilapia with Gluten Free Pecan Topping

Anne Murphy
Gluten free pecan topping adds flavor and crunch to tilapia (or any other white fish!) Easy to prepare, delicious whether you need to avoid gluten or not!
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Course Main dish
Cuisine American, Gluten Free
Servings 4 servings


  • Butter or oil for baking dish
  • 1 1/3 - 1 1/2 lb tilapia or other white fish fillets
  • 1/2 c pecans
  • 1/2 c grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • Fresh ground pepper


  • Preaheat oven to 425.
  • Grease your baking dish and arrange fish in it evenly.
  • Grind pecans in a food processor. Mix with grated pecorino romano cheese and black pepper. Sprinkle evenly over the top of the fish.
  • Bake at 425 for 15-20 minutes, until fish in the center is fully cooked.
  • Let rest a few minutes, then serve.


Substitute parmigiano (or other aged grating cheese) for the romano if you wish - either is good!
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!





24 thoughts on “Tilapia with Gluten Free Pecan Topping”

  • I love pecans, and love the idea of using them as breading on fish. I’ve often wondered how well they would stick to the fish. I love the combination of flavors you have going on with the saltiness from the cheese and heat from the black pepper. This is an awesome idea. I can’t wait to give it a try.

    • Take a look at the pork chop recipe. I haven’t tried frying them, so can’t say for that, but they were fine on the baked chops! I found that the freshly ground nuts had enough of their own oil that it stuck all by itself. And thank you – the flavor combination was just right! Enjoy it!

  • This sounds delicious! It’s been awhile since I’ve had Tilapia, so I’ll definitely have to try out this recipe. So yummy!

    • One advantage to tilapia is that it is easy for most Americans to get… but this would also work with any other mild white fish. Enjoy it!

  • I’ve seen pecans as a breading and often been tempted to try it. Like you though, pecans are expensive. This year there were major storms throughout Georgia — big on pecans — and a lot of the crop was destroyed. Hopefully, I’ll find some reasonably priced nuts. I do have to add to your information about fish. Not all white fish is pink when fresh. My Hubby fishes and cleans his fish and trout and flounder are not pink. Certain fish can be as fresh as can be and not be pink.

    • The pecans really work quite well. And thank you for the clarification – I know we didn’t have trout at the fish counter, but there might have been flounder… Mostly I didn’t want people to look at the pink fish in my pictures and think there was something wrong with it – but I have found it true in general when I shop, so wanted to share. Always good to know there are exceptions!

    • Thanks! For me, the nuts solve a problem, but it’s just a nice change every so often as well. Enjoy it!

  • I haven’t had pecan crusted fish since I left the South about a decade okay. Your post brought back fond memories. I will certainly be giving your recipe a try soon to take a trip down memory lane. Thanks for sharing!

  • Love love love this recipe!!! I’ve used almonds before but never thought to use pecans but it makes perfect sense. What a wonderful flavor they have to have mixed with the nuttiness of the cheese. I can’t wait to try this!!

    • Yes, the nuts and cheese work very well together. I was pleased… And yes, almonds are more common (and could certainly be used here) but I like the texture, as well as the flavor, of the pecans. Enjoy it!

    • As I said, I’d tried it once years ago – I thought I’d heard of it, and someone else’s comment confirms this. They really work well.

  • Love the addition of the pecan topping. And I do know how expensive they can be but well worth the cost the minute you take a bite.

    • LOL, the expense was the reason I didn’t tend to have them in the house – but in this recipe a little goes a long way. It really dresses up a simple fish dish!

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