Fried Whole Mojarra, for Colombia Beach Memories

Colombia fish mojarra fried 2

This fried whole mojarra fish — so crispy good, with a big squeeze of lime — reminds Janeth Palacio Barrera of beach vacations back home. ”Whenever I go to Colombia to visit my family, before I come back to the States, we always go to the beach. To rest. To be with family.”

For Janeth’s familia, like so many in Colombia, vacations means sun, sea and garlicky pescado frito freshly caught that day. One of the most traditional kinds of fish to fry in Colombia is mojarra, which looks like, tastes like and is often called (but is not) tilapia. “When you are at the beach, it’s everywhere,” says Janeth, “You see it in all the restaurants. At all the markets. And it’s more affordable.”

There are more types of popular local pescados, of course, says Janeth, who is a Spanish teacher in Chicago, where she lives with her husband and two kids. Other favorites in Colombia include snapper and corvina. “If you go to a restaurant near the beach and ask for fish, they’ll bring you whatever came in on the fishing boats that day.”

Her mother loves fish, says Janeth. “My father would go buy it at the market, and my mom would make it a lot. And my mother eats the eyes, everything. She sucks out the head and all that is inside,” Janeth laughs. “She also puts it in caldos or soups, in consomés.”

But when vacación is over and her family goes home, fried-fish dinners — like days at the beach — are no more, says Janeth. “Every once in a rare while, my mother would make this recipe, but it wasn’t very common. Because we weren’t close to the sea and it is more expensive than other foods.”

Janeth is longing for her next trip to Colombia. Until then, she can keep an eye out for mojarra or tilapia to go on sale in Chicago. If the price is right, she will make pescado frito and cook her way home — back to the playa, verano and vacation. This family recipe takes her right back to feliz memories of “vacations, la playa, being at the ocean with my family.”

If you make pescado frito for dinner, Janeth recommends pairing this dish with two popular, traditional Colombian sides: patacones con hogao (fried green plantain rounds with a zingy tomato sauce) and savory-sweet arroz con coco or coconut rice. For more of Janeth’s family recipes, check out her mom’s flan de leche and her husband’s Mexican family recipe for guacamole, which lasts longer than any other recipe you’ve tried, promises Janeth.

Ready to Make Colombian-Style Fried Whole Fish?

Fried Whole Mojarra from Colombia

4.3 from 3 votes
Recipe by Janeth Palacio Barrera Cuisine: Colombian


Prep time


Cooking time




  • 1 whole tilapia or mojarra, head and tail on, cleaned and scaled

  • 1 cup vegetable oil

  • 1 lemon, freshly juiced (from the zested lemon)

  • 1 lemon, zested

  • 1 tsp garlic salt

  • 1/4 tsp black pepper, or to taste

  • 1/2 cup flour


  • When buying, ask for your mojarra or tilapia whole fish to be cleaned and scaled, keeping the head and tail on.
  • Or do it yourself: Rinse the fish. Leave the head and tail attached. Scrape off the scales with a knife, from tail to head. Slice a shallow line cut along the lower edge of the fish belly, from tail to just before the head. Pull out the entrails. Rinse out its newly empty, interior cavity.
  • Dry the fish with paper towels on both sides.
  • Cut 3 shallow diagonal slices on both sides of the fish’s body. This will help cook the fish inside and out.
  • Rub the lemon juice, lemon zest, garlic salt and pepper all over the outside and the inside of the fish.
  • Dredge the fish in the flour, lightly but fully coating both sides, including the head and tail.
  • Add the oil to a pan on a stove-top burner set to a medium-high. The pan should be large enough to fully fit and submerge the whole fish.
  • When the oil is 350° (if you touch it with the tip of a wooden spoon, the oil will sizzle softly), place the floured fish in the hot oil.
  • Fry for about 8 minutes on the first side, until it is golden brown. With tongs, turn the fish over and fry on the second side for 6 to 8 minutes, depending on the size of your fish.
  • When both sides are crispy and medium-brown, and the fish is cooked though, remove it from the hot oil with a slotted spatula or spoon.
  • Set the fish on a paper towel-lined plate to drain the excess oil.
  • Sprinkle a last pinch of garlic salt, lemon zest and squeeze of lemon juice and serve hot.


  • Make sure the fish is evenly coated with flour on both sides and that your hands and tongs are dry when you place it in the hot pan. This will help stop the oil from splattering on you.
fried fish mojarra Colombian
Fried whole fish like this mojarra-like tilapia is a popular comida in Colombia, especially at the beach.

Photos: Michelle Ezratty Murphy

Like This

More Delicioso Family Recipes & Articles We Think You’ll Like!

Got a question or suggestion?

Please rate this recipe and leave any tips, substitutions, or Qs you have!

Share Your Thoughts

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *