How to Use Up Leftover Fish

by Sherri Brooks Vinton

Published: 4/25/19, Last updated: 6/21/19

When you’ve put a lot of work into finding sustainably sourced seafood that is responsibly caught and doesn’t put too much pressure on any one individual species, it’s too delicious and precious to waste! Often eaters toss seafood leftovers, thinking that they spoil too quickly to save. But if you follow a few pointers, you can enjoy every last bite of the fish you buy.  (And don’t forget to use up the bones, they’re full of flavor, too!)


Keeping Fish and Leftover Fish Fresh

A skilled fishmonger is your first line of defense against buying too much fish — they can guide you toward the right quantity for your meal and divide your purchase in portions so each eater gets just enough. They also act as a trusted third party that can ensure your fish is as fresh as it can be.

When you get your fish home, put it in the coldest part of the refrigerator, typically the lowest shelf or drawer. You can also put an ice pack on top to keep it extra chilly—cold conditions keep your fish at its finest. Even if you take all precautions, raw fish will only stay fresh for a day or two so you want to get it in the pan as soon as possible. Come home with a bit more fish than you think you will eat in one sitting? Cook it up with the rest and use the recipes below to enjoy it another way. Cooked fish has a longer shelf life; it remains safe to eat for three to four days in the fridge and up to two to three months in the freezer. If you can’t cook your fish, you can freeze well wrapped, uncooked portions for up to three to four months.

Enjoying Leftover Sushi

Sushi is best ordered by the piece or roll until you’ve had your fill, to prevent waste. The warm or room temperature rice that is often a bed for sushi limits the shelf life of your meal but it is possible to enjoy leftover sushi if you follow some rules. If you are bringing home leftover sushi, it’s important to eat it within a day and make sure that it was not out of refrigeration for more than two hours (calculate that from the time your roll left the sushi chef’s hands to the time you popped it in the fridge). Pre-packaged sushi should not be consumed after its expiration date.

Some eaters swear by the microwave method. They cover their leftover pieces that contain raw fish and heat them in the microwave until they are cooked through to extend their shelf life. This might buy you an extra day to enjoy the fish, but by cooking it  you will lose the subtle flavors that are at the center of the craft.

Reheating Leftover Fish

Some eaters are happy to reheat last night’s extra fish and serve it up as is, and it is perfectly safe to do so. However, the oils in fish are very fragile and can oxidize over a short amount of time, amplifying the compounds that eaters often identify as “fishy” and leaving you with some very strongly flavored meals. While this effect may be seen as a negative you can also use this development to your advantage; you will only need a little bit of leftover fish to flavor a whole dish.

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Using up Leftover Cooked Fish

The best recipes for using leftover fish not only stretch this valuable protein to feed a number of eaters, they also protect the meat from overcooking which will toughen and dry it out.

Leftover Fish Rillettes

Rillettes are spreads made of cooked meat. Strongly flavored fish such as cooked salmon or bluefish are perfect for this appetizer, which is spread on crackers or crostini. Blend your leftover flaked fish with some cream cheese that has been brought to room temperature and thinned with a little sour cream or yogurt to a spreadable consistency. Add lemon zest, capers or dill to taste. This party trick can be served immediately or covered and refrigerated for up to two days.

Leftover Fish Cakes

Croquettes are not only an efficient way to dispatch with leftover fish but can also be frozen for a quick heat-and-eat meal. Make them bite size and you will have cocktail nibbles on hand any time. (see recipe below)

Leftover Fish Tacos

Slather warmed corn tortillas with a spicy mayo (simply mayonnaise spiked with a bit of hot sauce) and a few shreds of lettuce or cabbage. Very briefly toss leftover flaked fish or chopped shellfish in a non-stick pan over medium heat. Add a few tablespoons of fish to each taco, squeeze a bit of lime on top and serve.

Leftover Fish Chowder

There are so many recipes for fish chowder; creamy, New England style; tomato based Manhattan; and Sherry-spiked southern versions just to name a few. Substitute leftover cooked fish for the raw seafood called for and add it just at the end of cooking to preserve the texture. Any kind of mild flavored fish will do and shellfish such as lobster and shrimp feel downright decadent.

Leftover Fish Fried Rice

Quick cooking fried rice serves as a versatile background for any leftover fish, particularly if you are using leftover rice that was served with the original fish dish. In a large sauté pan or wok, quickly scramble two eggs in a bit of neutral flavored oil, such as organic canola, and remove to a plate. Add an onion and sauté until it begins to brown. Add any chopped, cooked vegetables you have on hand, a cup or two of leftover rice and some soy sauce. Heat through, stir in leftover fish and serve.

Leftover Fish Pasta

Creamy, lemony pasta makes an elegant foil to leftover fish. Sauté a shallot in butter, add a splash of white wine, the zest and juice of a lemon and a cup or so of cream. Simmer until thickened, add your fish and toss with cooked pasta and you are dinner party ready.

Leftover Fish Curry

Curries, whether Indian or Thai, are a welcoming cover for leftover fish. Go easy on the spice so you don’t completely disguise the delicate flavor of the seafood. And be sure to add it right at the end of cooking—just a quick reheat in the lively curry sauce is all you need.

Chilled Leftover Fish Dishes

Leftover Fish Grain Bowl

Pair flaked leftover fish with grains, such as quinoa, wheat berries, or even grain-sized pasta such as couscous or orzo for a base to a healthful, satisfying grain bowl. Add some greens and/or chopped vegetables and drizzle with your favorite dressing or simply a bit of vinegar and oil.

Leftover Fish Thai Summer Rolls

Thai summer rolls traditionally contain cooked shrimp but there’s no reason you can’t substitute with whatever leftover fish you have on hand. The lovely glassine wrappers show off the beauty of the ingredients and will provide a window to your special twist on the classic. Serve with spicy peanut sauce or a vinegar-based dip for a great light lunch or fun dish for entertaining.

Leftover Shellfish Salad

A generously seasoned creamy base, studded with chopped celery, makes a welcoming start to seafood salad. Add crab, shrimp, or lobster and serve over salad or on toasted rolls for a special lunch treat.

Recipe: Leftover Fish Cakes

Sherri Brooks Vinton
Serves 4

This recipe is not only a great way to use up leftover fish, it is also a handy way to freeze leftover portions without sacrificing quality. I love to have these on hand in my freezer for a quick meal when time is short. You can serve them sandwich style—on a buttery roll slathered with tartar sauce—or perch one on top of a salad.


1 egg
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
1 teaspoon mustard
1 teaspoon seafood seasoning, such as Old Bay
1 piece of bread, shredded into crumbs
1 tablespoon milk
1 cup leftover fish, flaked
1/4 cup neutral oil such as organic canola


  1. In a medium bowl, whisk egg, mayonnaise, mustard and seafood seasoning until combined.
  2. Add the bread and sprinkle it with milk to moisten.
  3. Add fish and stir to combine.
  4. Form into patties and arrange on a cookie sheet. Refrigerate for at least half an hour and up to two hours.
  5. Heat oil in a medium sauté pan.
  6. Sauté patties over medium heat until browned, about 3-5 minutes per side.
  7. Serve hot.

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