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How to Use Leftover Fish

April 29, 2014

How to Use Leftover Fish

April 29, 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.

fish from Food52
fish from Food52

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. 

Zuni’s Pasta with Preserved Tuna

Serves 4

pound pasta (see above)
1/2 cup olive oil
tablespoon lemon zest, in thin strips
bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon chili flakes (optional, for the sake of small humans)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper (optional, for the same reason)
garlic cloves, slivered
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/4 cup pine nuts
tablespoons capers, coarsely chopped
tablespoon preserved lemon, rinsed and chopped (optional)
12 ounces olive oil-packed tuna (slightly more or less is fine)

  1. Set a large pot of salted water to boil.
  2. In a small skillet, gently warm the olive oil with the lemon zest, bay leaf, chili flakes and black pepper (if using), garlic, and fennel seeds. Cook for about 15 minutes over very low heat to let the flavors infuse the oil. Then add the canned tuna, pine nuts, capers, and preserved lemon (if using). Gently nudge apart the tuna and let it warm up but not cook.
  3. Meanwhile, once the water boils, cook the pasta until al dente. Drain well and toss in a serving bowl with the tuna mixture. Serve.

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

This article originally appeared on Food52.com: How to Use Leftover Fish