Are you thinking about throwing a fish dinner party? We do it all the time here in the South. Many of us are avid fishermen, and we like to eat what we catch. When we make a big haul, we like to share the bounty with our friends and neighbors. Our version of throwing a fish dinner party is what we call a “fish fry.” A fish fry is an extremely casual dinner party that’s usually held outdoors. The venue might be a patio, a deck, or a back yard. If the host has a dock on a lake or river, their fish dinner parties might be held there, right over the water. Fish fries are a lot of fun. I think one reason for this is because everyone is at ease due to the laid back nature of the event. Another reason is that fish dinners can be wonderfully yummy! To get you in dinner party mode, I’ve included several easy dinner party recipes here. By scrolling down, you’ll find some great fish recipes, some appetizers recipes, some ideas for party side dishes, and some dessert ideas.
Fish Dinner Ideas
Would you like some fish dinner ideas? Decide first if you want to serve strictly fish dinners, or whether you’d prefer to serve seafood dinners – finned fish and other types of seafood. Actually, at a southern fish fry, the pot might end up with just about anything! Of course, freshwater and/or saltwater fish species are the main attraction, but other entrees might very well make an appearance, too. These could include shrimp, oysters, scallops, soft shell blue crabs, doves, quail, alligator tale, or whatever else folks bring to add to the fish fryer.
Which finned species are best for fried fish dinners? I strongly suggest choosing mild tasting fish. Some of your guests might not care for fish with a strong “fishy” flavor. And, by the way, most fatty fish have a pronounced flavor that turn some diners off. Instead, it’s a good idea to restrict your fish dinner ideas to lean fishes, which are usually mild in flavor. In my opinion, the best freshwater fish for frying are crappie and bass. A lot of people like bluegill, but sometimes they can get pretty strong tasting.
With saltwater fish, you’ll have more delicious options. Some of the tastiest are grouper, red snapper, flounder, and spotted sea trout. Other great choices are whiting, cod, pollock, and sheepshead. Believe it or not, shark meat is also yummy if you prepare it correctly. If you’re buying fish for your dinner party, consider tilapia. It’s lean, mild, and flaky. It’s also readily available at most supermarkets, and it’s inexpensive. I’ve heard a few people complain about this species, saying that it didn’t have much flavor. If you season it correctly, though, tilapia has plenty of flavor! Whether you buy fish or catch and clean your own, you’ll need for the fish to be filleted. The last thing you need at a dinner party is for one of your guests to get choked on a bone.
Easy Dinner Party Recipes
I just have to say a word or two here about easy dinner party recipes. Some hostesses think they have to serve “fancy food” at their dinner party, so they really fret over their menu. Some even attempt to make complicated dishes for the first time ever, in order to impress their guests. In my opinion, this is a recipe for disaster! Before you serve foods to guests in your home, you need to be sure that you know how to successfully prepare the dishes. Don’t use your party guests as test subjects. Guests don’t need haute cuisine in order to enjoy themselves. As long as the food is tasty and plentiful, and the company is good, everyone will have a great time at your function.
Easy dinner party recipes make throwing a get-together much easier on you. And trust me – if you’re relaxed and not overly stressed, your guests will pick up on it. In turn, they’ll be comfortable and relaxed, too. I’ve never been a hostess who doesn’t enjoy her own party because she’s too busy taking care of a hundred details. I plan ahead and make what I can ahead of an event, and when party time rolls around, I’m more than ready to have a good time!
Great Fish Recipes
I have a couple of great fish recipes for you – southern style. If there’s one thing we know how to do well down here, it’s deep fry. In keeping with this tradition, both of these fish recipes are for fried fish. For seafood dinners, you can use the same batter and frying techniques with shrimp, oysters, and scallops. These are easy dinner party recipes that practically anyone can make to delicious perfection!
You’ll notice that I suggest peanut oil in both fish recipes. Why? I like the flavor the oil gives the fish, and peanut oil has a high flash point, so it’s really good for using at higher temperatures.
Buttermilk Fried Fish- Buttermilk Fried Shrimp
Fish fillets and/or peeled and deveined shrimp
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
Self rising cornmeal
Directions: Rinse and dry fish fillets and set aside. If you’re frying shrimp, peel and devein them.
In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, buttermilk, salt, and pepper.
In a large paper bag, combine equal parts flour and cornmeal.
Heat peanut oil to 365 degrees. Dip fish or shrimp in egg wash and shake in flour-meal mixture. Place seafood in a fry basket and lower into fryer. Fry until fish is golden brown. Drain on paper towels or wire racks.
Cajun Fried Fish
I’ve made some great fish recipes using cracker meal. Unfortunately, I can no longer find it in our local stores, so I make my own, using Ritz crackers. One sleeve of crackers from a standard size box makes about a cup of fine cracker crumbs, or cracker meal. Just process the crackers in the blender until you get fine crumbs. This is some of the best fried fish I’ve ever eaten. The crust is extra crispy, and the flesh is flaky and tender. I made this tonight with flounder fillets, and it was awesome!
Rate my fish recipe! Thanks!
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- 4 fish fillets
- flour for dredging
- 1/2 cup beer
- 2 eggs
- 2 tablespoons Louisiana hot sauce
- 1 cup fine cracker crumbs or cracker meal
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- 2 teaspoons onion powder
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 2 teaspoons cayenne
- 2 teaspoons black pepper
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon salt, (optional)
- peanut oil
- Rinse fish fillets and pat dry.
- Pour some flour in a deep bowl.
- In a medium sized bowl, whisk together beer, eggs, and Louisiana hot sauce.
- In another bowl, combine cracker crumbs, paprika, onion powder, oregano, cayenne, black pepper, garlic powder, salt, and thyme.
- Heat peanut oil to 370 degrees for thin fillets, or 360 degrees for thicker fillets.
- Dredge or roll fish fillets in flour. Shake gently to remove any excess.
- Dip fillets in egg mixture, then roll in seasoned crumbs.
- Fry until fish fillets are golden brown – 2 or 3 minutes per side. Drain.
For a fish fry, you need an outdoor fish fryer. We have one, and we use it pretty frequently. We use it for frying fish, shrimp, oysters, and sometimes chicken. At Christmas and Thanksgiving, the fryer is used to cook up some awesome deep fried turkeys. A fish fryer isn’t just for frying, either. We fill ours with water and use it to boil peanuts, corn, crabs, and crawfish. The big pot is also a must whenever we host a Low Country shrimp boil! Yep, our fryer has proven to be a great investment. We’ve had the same one for years, and I can’t tell you how much great grub that thing has cooked up. Even though it has some age on it, it still works as well as it did the day we bought it!
If you buy a fish fryer and a basket doesn’t come with it, I strongly suggest you find one. Using a basket will help keep your oil clean. When you fry battered foods, pieces of batter, flour, and other debris can pile up in your cooking oil. Even with a basket, you’ll still have some debris, but you’ll have much less. The basket will also help prevent grease spatters and burns because one cooking of food is all lowered gently into the oil at the same time.
Once you’ve finished your frying, place the lid on the fryer. When the oil is cool, strain it and pour it into large containers that have lids. Store the oil in a cool, dark place until you need it again. Depending on what you’re frying, you should be able to get two, three, or even four cookings from the same oil.
You’ll need a couple of party appetizers to serve to your guests while they’re waiting for the fish to fry. You see, at a super casual dinner party like a fish fry, most of your guests will stay outdoors near the fish cooker. I guarantee you that if you attended a southern fish fry on the hottest day in August, you’d find several men crowded around the fish fryer. I’ve never really understood this. Is the 100 degree weather not warm enough for them? I mean, really - is watching fish fillets bubbling in hot oil really that fascinating? I dunno, but it never fails. Most of the time, the womenfolk seem to be smarter, as they usually find a shady spot to gather.
Okay, back to party appetizers. I’ve included three “fishy” appetizers recipes below. All are quick and easy to make, and they’re all delicious, too. If you think this is going to be “fish overload,” choose different appetizers. Whatever you decide on, allow just a small amount of party appetizers per guest. You want them to save room for dinner!
½ pound boiled shrimp
1 cup sour cream
½ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup chopped green onions
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 teaspoon dried dill
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon curry powder
Directions: Peel and devein shrimp and chop. Add remaining ingredients. Cover and refrigerate. Serve with chips, crackers, or pita crisps.
Spicy Crab Spread
1 pound refrigerated crab meat
4 eight-ounce blocks softened cream cheese
1 small onion, chopped
1 tablespoon Tabasco sauce
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons cayenne
2 teaspoons chipotle powder
1 teaspoon salt
Directions: Remove pieces of shell from crab and flake meat with a fork. Drain well. Combine crab with remaining ingredients. If you wish, use your hands to form the spread into a fish or crab shape. I like to make a fish, with thin slices of cucumbers for scales. Keep spread cold until ready to serve. Surround with savory or buttery crackers.
½ pound crab meat
½ cup grated Swiss cheese
½ cup grated cheddar
¼ cup mayonnaise
Slices of white bread
Hot sauce (optional)
Directions: Drain crab meat and remove any shell bits. Combine with cheeses and mayonnaise.
Using a biscuit cutter, cut circles from bread slices. Spread lightly with butter and broil until the bread is just beginning to brown. Remove bread from oven and top with crab mixture. Sprinkle hot sauce on top, if desired. Return rounds to oven and broil until topping is bubbly.
Party Side Dishes
There are a few standard party side dishes that are just about always served at fish fries: fried potatoes, coleslaw, cheese grits, and hushpuppies. Lucky for you, the fish, the taters, and the hushpuppies can all be cooked in the same pot. Most southern cooks fry the fish first, the hushpuppies second, and the potatoes last. The coleslaw is made the night before and left in the fridge to get nice and cold. As the fish, taters, and puppies fry, the cheese grits stay warm on the stove. Oh, by the way, most southerners think baked beans go with everything - especially foods cooked outdoors. Fish dinners are no exception.
If you’re not a native southerner, I think you’re allowed to serve other party side dishes at a fish dinner party. I’m not completely sure about this – you might want to check your state’s laws on the matter. As long as you have all that hot oil, you might as well use it for some of your sides. My suggestions are fried squash, fried zucchini, fried green tomatoes, onion rings, or fired sweet potatoes. Okay, not everything has to be fried. You might like to serve potato salad, three bean salad, or pasta salad. Heck, you might even want to add something healthy, like spinach salad or some fresh fruit. Cold dishes are really appreciated on hot summer days and nights.
You can use practically any dessert ideas for your dinner party. In my opinion, fruity desserts that are tart and sweet go great with fish dinners and seafood dinners. That’s why so many seafood restaurants serve key lime pie as their only dessert. If you don’t care for key lime pie, try lemon meringue pie. If both of these are too ordinary for you, try orange meringue pie. It’s awesome! Click the link for the recipe.
Other good fruity dessert ideas could include lemon pound cake, mandarin orange cake, lemon cream pie, or fruit tarts. If you have an ice cream churn, you might want to make some homemade ice cream. Peach ice cream, raspberry ice cream, blueberry ice cream, and strawberry ice cream come to mind.
Instead of making a traditional dessert, you might just decide to serve fresh fruits as dessert. Watermelon boats are popular at most outdoor parties, and fish fries are no exception. Just hollow out the shell, make a nice pattern around the edge, and fill it with melon balls, blueberries, strawberries, grapes, and star fruit.
Throwing a Fish Dinner Party
When throwing a fish dinner party or a southern fish fry, decide how many people you want to invite first. Next, decide on your menu and on your venue. (Hey – that rhymes!) If you’re having an outdoor event in the summer months, you’ll need to set up a few fans outdoors. Not only will this help keep your guests cooler, it will also help keep the flies, gnats, and mosquitoes away. You might want to use a few citronella candles or torches, too.
For seating, card tables and picnic tables are fine for casual, laid back fish dinner parties. Choose the colors you want to use for your décor, and cover the tables with cheap plastic or vinyl tablecloths. I use the ones from dollar stores. It’s a good idea to tape or otherwise secure the overhanging table covers to the legs. I usually serve my food at a fish fry buffet style. In hot weather, when insects have invited themselves to my dinner party, I set the food up indoors. It’s also a good idea to do this when the weather is cold. Otherwise, I’ll often have a buffet table outdoors, on my deck. To keep hot dishes warm, I use chafing dishes.
Many of our outdoor dinner parties are held at night, so we have to have enough lights for our guests to be able to see. We use candles, lanterns, hurricane lamps, spotlights, and rope lights. We also wrap strings of white Christmas lights around the deck railing. All together, these examples of illumination provide a soft light. It’s enough to enable guests to see their food, but it’s still soft and subdued.
For plates, we use heavy duty plastic ones. We sometimes use plastic knives, forks and spoons, too, along with plastic cups that match the plates. Same goes for the napkins. At the front of the buffet, I place sets of tableware wrapped in festive napkins. I place these in a basket or in some other attractive container. If you have a trout basket, that would work great for a fish dinner party. On the deck, we have coolers of ice, soft drinks, and beer. If kids are at the fish fry, we also have a cooler filled with drinks just for them. Of course, we also go through gallons of sweet iced tea at fish fries. I offer these in large containers that have a spout, so my guests don’t have to lift a heavy container in order to make themselves a glass of tea. By the way, beside the tea, I like to place bowls of lemon slices and mint leaves.
In the center of each table, I place small salt and pepper shakers, along with condiments. Depending on what type of seafood we’re serving, this could include ketchup, cocktail sauce, tartar sauce, remoulade, melted butter, grated horseradish, and/or hot sauce. I also like to add lemon and lime wedges. Most people enjoy a tart squirt of citrus juice on their fried fish.
After everyone has eaten their fill, I invite my guests indoors for dessert. At this point of the evening, hubby takes over as host. While the others are enjoying one or two of my desserts, I do a quick cleanup outside. Since I paid only a dollar each for the tablecloths, I don’t mind tossing them once they’ve served their purpose. I simply gather the four corners together, along with all the trash on the table, and throw them in the big trash can we keep near the deck. When my guests return to the deck after dessert, everything’s nice and clean!
After dinner and dessert, we sometimes have some live entertainment. No, it’s nothing fancy – usually just a local musician or two. We have friends who play guitar, and we even have one who plays the bagpipes. Sometimes we join together in sing-a-longs, and sometimes we just listen to the musical instruments. If you don’t have any musicians at your get-together, you might want to put on some background music. Of course, you don’t have to have any entertainment at all. If you have a good group of party-goers, you’ll probably have one or two in the crowd who are pretty darned entertaining all on their own! If I’ve convinced you in throwing a fish dinner party – southern style, be sure to send me an invitation!
Abby Slutsky from America on July 18, 2020:
The spicy crab spread sounds very good. Thanks for sharing your ideas.
Marcy Goodfleisch from Planet Earth on September 26, 2012:
Well, as you know, I also live in the heart of "Fried Fish Country" - and these recipes and ideas are calling to my taste buds, big time! Some of the best parties I've attended were fish fries - there's something about them that gets everyone into a mood to relax and have fun.
Thanks for sharing - and I got a laugh out of the sad little look on your fish 'sculpture' there!
Voted up and up!
Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on September 23, 2012:
Thanks, Carol. Always good to see your smiling face!
carol stanley from Arizona on September 23, 2012:
Every kind of fish here. I love the mold of the fish..My favorite. Going to bookmark to make at our election party. Thanks for sharing all these wonderful ideas. Voted UP.