The last time I made my favorite cold slow-roasted salmon for a lake house full of guests, a funny thing happened: we somehow had a lot of leftovers.
But that was not a problem. The next day at lunchtime, I flaked that cold leftover salmon into a big bowl. I stirred yogurt into the salmon, added lemon juice and chives, and set it out with potato chips. Suddenly, there was no more leftover salmon to worry about.
All my guests thought I was very clever, but I can't take full credit for the idea. The practice of turning smoked fish into dips and spreads has been around forever (see, for example, this smoked salmon dip from 2011). What I made that day at the lake house is a riff on those smoked fish dips. They're just made with leftover cooked fish instead.
I'm a fan of these dips for a couple of reasons. First, I believe that once fish is cooked and cooled, it should not be heated up again—reheated fish typically gets overcooked and smells fishy. So I eat my leftover fish in salads, or I eat it cold with an equally cold creamy sauce, or I do the dip/spread thing.
Secondly, these dips are a very good party trick—they always surprise and impress.
A fish dip can be as complicated or simple as you want it to be. The process is similar to how you'd make any creamy party dip, except...with fish! Here's how I do mine:
1. Start With a Creamy Base
First, decide if you want to make a dip or a spread; this decision will determine what your creamy base should be. For a dip, you want something lighter like yogurt, mayo, sour cream, or crème fraîche. You can use any of these, or combine a few to build a creamy, dippable base. For a spread, room temperature cream cheese is the name of the game. Dips can be mixed by hand, but spreads really need to be whizzed up in a food processor.
Start with equal parts creamy base and leftover fish. (So if you've got about a cup of leftover salmon, start with about a cup of yogurt, etc.)
2. Add Some Extra Flavor
Once you've got your creamy base, it's time to liven it up and thin it out a bit with some liquid flavoring. Liquid flavoring? What I mean is lemon juice, lime juice, hot sauce, or vinegar. Then you need to add some salt, and some spices if you like. Then add some chopped fresh herbs, and/or chopped scallions or onion. Throw in some grated citrus zest or grated garlic if you have it. You can essentially add whatever you want—just stir or process those ingredients in and taste as you go.
3. Stir in Your Fish
Any leftover cooked fish you have on hand will work—my personal favorites for dips and spreads are salmon and trout. You can use bluefish or mackerel for a more assertive flavor, or any flaky white fish like cod, flounder, halibut, or sea bass for a milder flavor. Stir it into your creamy dip base (or process it into your cream cheese spread base) until it starts to breaks down. For a chunkier dip or spread, stir or process less. For a more uniform dip or spread, stir or process more. Now taste again and fuss as needed. It will probably need more salt. If you want it creamier, add a dollop of mayo or sour cream. If it could use a bit more zing, squeeze in some extra lemon juice or a dash of vinegar. (If it's just too thick, add a splash of water and never mention it to anyone.)
4. Make it Pretty, and Serve
Selling spreadable, leftover fish to your guests is about making it taste good, sure. But it's also about making it look appealing. So spoon your dip or spread into a nice bowl, swirl the top with the back of a spoon, and sprinkle some garnishes on top. Chopped chives, a sprinkling of paprika, torn herb leaves...even just a crank or two of black pepper will make it look prettier. Then put out a pile of crackers or bread if it's spread, or some chips and crudités if it's a dip, and get ready to take credit for an incredibly original (shhh—nobody needs to know!) idea.
Originally Appeared on Epicurious