How to Use Leftover Fish

April 17, 2014

Inspired by conversations on the Food52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun.

Today: Don't throw that fish away! Here are 10 ideas to give it new life so that you can eat happily ever after.

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There are some things that we're happy to embrace in their leftover form -- that we may, in fact, intentionally make in large batches and revisit all week.

Seafood is a different story.

Perhaps you learned this the hard way -- you popped some leftover salmon in the microwave, only to fill your kitchen with a rank, fishy smell. Or maybe, in a fit of Panglossian optimism, you took home some leftover sashimi (why were there leftovers?) and let it get gummy in the back of the fridge because you were too scared to eat it and too guilty to toss it.

But it doesn't have to be like that. Fish needn't be a one-night affair, when you have a perfectly lovely evening but must expunge all traces by the next morning. Learn the basics of working with your leftover fish and it will meet you halfway, and then you'll eat happily ever after.

The first thing to know about using leftover fish: Be careful with reheating. Let there be no quick nukes in the microwave and no second shots at pan-searing -- such forays will only dry out your fish and leave your kitchen with a smell that makes you want to order take-out. If you must use direct heat, make it very gentle and very brief.

This above all: No fish dish shall be the same twice. Your salmon filet cares not for how blissful dinner was last night; it simply will not behave if you try to relive the past. Instead, it will urge you to re-imagine it and all you thought it could be. You can adapt many recipes that call for fresh fish and turn them, instead, into homes for your leftovers -- just make sure you do so within a day or two of first cooking. We've got 10 ideas to get your creative juices flowing.

1. Give fish a second hoorah at taco night by either gently bringing it to room temperature or quickly reheating it in a sauté pan.


2. Add it to a chowder or soup by flaking it and stirring it in just before you eat.  


3. Follow the crab cake drill and make fish cakes instead -- gently combine it with eggs, breadcrumbs, a bit of milk or mayonnaise, and whichever herbs and spices strike your fancy. Cook them through in a bit of oil or butter. 


4. Turn it into pâté by mashing it up with plain yogurt, crème fraîche, cottage cheese, a bit of butter -- really, any permutation of the above -- and chopped fresh herbs. Try adding acidity or heat with freshly squeezed lemon juice, lemon zest, horseradish, hot pepper, or a dash of vinegar. Salt and pepper to taste. Pat yourself on the back -- you've turned fish from a misunderstood leftover into a veritable hors d'oeuvre. 


5. Give that fish new life in a burrito: Heat a tortilla, make rice and beans (or, for breakfast, scrambled eggs), slice some fresh vegetables, and break out the salsa and guacamole. 


6. Make the greatest leftover hero of all: kedgeree. Re-purpose leftover cooked rice by heating it up in a pan with mustard seeds, turmeric, and aromatics, then stir in flaked fish and greens until they're just warmed through. 


7. You may have missed the boat for ceviche, but you're all set for salpicon. Add lime juice, scallions, cilantro, and a fresh hot chili to flaked fish (either at room temperature or quickly reheated on the stove). Eat with a fork or wrapped up in a tortilla, with or without cubes of avocado.  


8. Top off any beautiful plate of vegetables (and turn them into a full meal) with fish that you've brought to room temperature. 


9. Tuna's not the only fish that can be made into fish salad. Play around with other types of fish, doing what you usually do for tuna salad, then put that on a sandwich -- we'd suggest accompanying it with crisp greens or blanched seasonal vegetables. 


10. If all else fails, pasta is the old faithful -- just stir your fish into the skillet a minute or two before serving. 

Tell us: What are your favorite ways to use leftover fish?

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Delayna
  • Peggy
  • Ronda
  • oliveannie
  • ErinM724
Fond of large dogs, tiny houses, pungent cheese, and dessert for dinner (or breakfast).


Delayna April 24, 2021
I am excited to create any of these tomorrow evening. I seriously did not know what else to do, and my husband made a ton of fish that I do not want to waste! What a relief!
Peggy May 20, 2019
just turned some leftover baked trout fillets into the most delicious pate! Ate it on whole grain crackers as part of a light dinner. So delicious!
Peggy May 20, 2019
What a great assortment of ideas for using leftover fish - thanks!!
Ronda March 24, 2019
Some great ideas here! I'll have to adjust some items, but I appreciate the multiple ideas to use up leftover fish. Hubby and I are making a healthy lifestyle change and fish will be on the menu quite often. :)
oliveannie January 5, 2019
I'm adding Spanish style croquetas and a Russian-style composed salad 'Fish in a Fur Coat' (here's one version from Food and Wine https://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/herring-under-fur-coat)
Marti April 11, 2021
Love that idea!
ErinM724 April 7, 2018
I'm planning on #4 using salmon, ricotta, cilantro or parsley, lemon, s/p. Maybe a touch of mayo too? To eat on crackers...
Neil January 29, 2018
Man, most of these are great tips when you have some leftover fish! I personally love using leftover fish for fish balls (cakes) or health-friendly tacos. Will try a pate next time though, I believe it would make for a fantastic appetizer.
Holly J. August 16, 2017
I've been making quesadillas. As I heat the tortilla (I recently had quinoa tortillas that were fantastic), I add vegetables like red pepper or corn or whatever I'd like, cooked fish or chicken, shredded cheese, pop another tortilla on top, flip it over when the bottom one is toasted, and voilá.
paizley May 20, 2017
You can also make a Japanese rice topping called soboro (look it up) or use some liquid smoke and make a tasty fish dip!
Laura December 5, 2014
I love your piece it made me laugh. I'll be trying the pate tomorrow with fresh chopped dill and cultured cashew cheese on toast!
Teresa E. August 26, 2014
I tried the fishcakes last night and used the butter vinegarette it was cooked in. It was amazing! Thank you so much. And I'll definitely try it with mashed potatoes and freezing. I always need quick and easy from the freezer.
Lynn L. June 13, 2014
Add leftover, flaked fish to drained white beans, sliced red onion or scallions, garlic, thinly sliced celery (optional). Toss lightly with a lemon or plain vinegrette. You can also add flaked fish to potato salad.
joyce May 6, 2014
My favorite way to use leftover salmon is to make a macaroni salad with eggs, pasta, onion, celery, cut up sweet pickles, mayonnaise with touch of mustard, horseradish sauce, and tablespoon of pickle juice; just flake fish and add to salad.
karencook April 21, 2014
I use many of these ideas . If you use only the freshest fish, bring it to room temp first, and haven't over cooked it; you can gently reheat it in the microwave on medium power or less without a problem. I do this often especially with Alaskan wild caught salmon. Fresh fish should not have an odor when reheated.
Chana O. April 20, 2014
Love this...I've been doing fish tacos for years but these ideas are even better. I use whole wheat tortillas, flaked leftover fish, chopped tomatoes, jalapenos, cilantro, lime juice, salt and pepper. Or I melt a bit of pepper jelly with lime or lemon juice and drizzle it over the room temp bite sized bits of fish on top of a bed of micro greens or just plain baby greens. Also lettuce rolls with flaked fish, seasoned with whatever you like, wrapped in lettuce leaves, dipped in a hoisen sauce or peanut sauce or pepper jelly or...or...or...whatever rocks your fishing boat!
Judith R. April 20, 2014
My favorite way to use leftover fish is Thai green curry.
Michele April 18, 2014
Yum!! I do several of these, but some are completely new ideas, so thank you!
Barb April 17, 2014
I recently discovered the joys of fish cakes when we had some leftover halibut, at around $22 per pound. I also had leftover mashed potatoes, which make a wonderful addition to fish cakes. And they freeze really well. Great article -- leftover fish used to go to our dogs. but no more.
Chana O. April 20, 2014
Pegeen April 17, 2014
Great tips!
ChefJune April 17, 2014
very inventive!