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Ways to stretch fish for the grill to feed a crowd inexpensively?

We are having a BBQ of about 16 or so people for 4th of July. We don't eat meat, so we usually do a portobello burger or fish kebabs as a main course when we BBQ (along with plenty of veggies and side salads). I'd love to do some kind of fish but we're trying to avoid spending a ton of money. Any suggestions for recipes that stretch the use of the fish so that I don't have to buy the equivalent of 1/2 pound per person? I initially thought of salmon burgers, but most of the recipes I've used in the past still have a high fish: other ingredient ratio. Thanks in advance!

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  1. No fish kebabs for this? I would think one could put just a couple of pieces of fish on the skewer, along with fruit (like pineapple chunks) or veggies, then grill. Maybe do some grain salads to balance the use of fruit and veggies on the kebab.

    1 Reply
    1. re: wyogal

      That's what I was thinking but I worry people will eat a lot at a time and I'd still need to make a big batch...with burgers it's easier because you know people will limit themselves to one or two. I'll look into it more, though.

    2. I might suggest cooking some chicken / red meat for the non veggies?

      One other Idea shrimp burgers - you grind some of the shimp to a paste in the food processor as a binder then add whole shrimp and form patties...

      you can used a lower quality shrimp for this - very reasonable frozen at some of the big box stores...

      Here's one recipe I found.


      Also, using salmon bellies etc you could make fish sausage

      Blacken' Catfish? Pretty inexpensive and quite easy to do on the grill...

      1. Eight ounces per person??? That's ridiculous. Try three or four. How about fish tacos where you use even less so they can go back for seconds?

        16 Replies
        1. re: c oliver

          Sorry, that's what I meant--1/4 lb per person. But still, to serve 16 people that means at least 4 lbs...it adds up quickly! I like the fish taco idea.

          1. re: arielleeve

            We make tacos a lot and from all sorts of things. It takes so little 'protein' so any little dabs of leftover meat or fish will make us a couple. While not truly taco-esque, we put rice, beans, cheese, etc. on the tortillas rather than as sides.

            1. re: c oliver

              I'm starting to get very into the taco idea. Wonder if it will clash too much with other sides I was going to make, like pasta and potato salad, but I'm sure I could find some interesting recipes that have a southwestern/Mexican edge...off the top of my head recalling a wonderful corn edamame salad I've made many times (epicurious). One question, what would be the best way to heat up/keep warm many tortillas at once? I like the idea of grilling all the fish, then putting out the fixins in bowls and letting people make their own tacos. Our grill is quite small though, so wouldn't want to make people wait while we grill each and every tortilla.

              1. re: arielleeve

                Put the warm tortillas in covered casserole dish. Yes, they will eventually cool down. But, oh well. One can reheat them quickly in the microwave.
                One could put a bit of smoked green chile in the potato salad, here's a google search: https://www.google.com/search?q=south...

                1. re: arielleeve

                  I've done multiple tortillas between layers of paper towels and MWd. I never feel obligated to get all matchy-matchy with informal gatherings but, yeah, I think you could lend a Mexican slant to lots of things. Lately I've been mixing some finely chopped chipotles in adobo to mayo for dressings for burgers or dips. Maybe do a small test run of potato salad with that?

                  1. re: c oliver

                    Oooh, also could buy a few portobello caps to grill that could be sliced and put into tacos. I think I have a recipe from vegetarian times that called for that. Would be a way to make the tacos last longer, bring some variety, and feed anyone who doesn't like fish (it happens).

                    1. re: arielleeve

                      Yes, and with the addition of the other toppings, one could have a taco bar that would feed plenty. Just don't put all the fish out at once, save some for the second half of the group! (if you fear someone will help themselves to too much!)

                      1. re: wyogal

                        I like the bar idea a lot. Getting outside the box and let people play around.

                    2. re: c oliver


                      Didn't think pasta salad would work, but this could be really good.

                      1. re: arielleeve

                        That sounds fabulous! You could also use orzo. I'd be putting that in my taco...but I'm kinda wild and crazy :)

                        1. re: arielleeve

                          If you don't want to do pasta salad because you don't think it'll go with the "theme" you could always do a Texas style potato salad - they have mustard, mayo, jalapenos, onions, and potatoes, and often a little cayenne for a bit of a kick.

                    3. re: c oliver

                      If you use a large taco wrapper...it then bcomes a Burrito, which is fine too.

                    4. re: arielleeve

                      How much are you looking to spend?

                      1. re: arielleeve

                        how about sustainable tilapia? that works well as a fish taco and not expensive. also i like the idea of asking people to help out. you tell them you're making tacos, they will bring beer/chips/guacomole/salsa whatever THEY think will go with the main. you also make vegetarian/bean tacos as suggested. i personally love bean tacos.
                        people most likely will take one bean and one fish taco if you put them out together.

                        1. re: arielleeve

                          fish isn't very filling and you will lose some water weight when cooking -- about 10%. so 1 pound will cook down to 13-15 oz.

                          i appreciate entertaining on a budget, but planning only 3-4 raw ounces of fish pp is very skimpy. will other people be bringing more protein? tacos will help stretch the fish for sure and offering a bean/lime/chili/cilantro kinda filling will help too. that can even be cold.

                          would you think about making fresh spring rolls? not grilled, i know, but those can be mostly veggies with very small bits of fish in there. it's pre-portioned, won't look as meager to your guests and will leave the grill open for those making their own meat. these don't need to be limited to an asian flavor profile if you don't want.

                        2. re: c oliver

                          Fish tacos are my suggestion as well

                        3. How about making a grilled fish cake. Fish Cakes use potato as a filler. That's how my family use to stretch the dollar!

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: treb

                            do this, and pan fry them on a cast iron pan on grill. not sure how they'd be directly grilled.

                          2. fish tacos don't need a lot of fish per taco, and are great made with grilled fish. You can use the small corn tortillas (softened up), make a cabbage slaw, guacamole, salsa and some lime/cilantro/serrano crema.

                            Sides can be black beans and rice, which is pretty inexpensive.

                            1. Or you could do a low country boil that is pretty inexpensive!

                              1. I know it's a BBQ but what about a big pot of fish chowder? Keep it warm off flame on the grill and serve it with crusty rolls, grilled corn and salad. Or served with skewers of grilled veggies.

                                1. Are all of your guests pescetarians? It not, it might make sense to have some chicken and/or meat available-- it will certainly be less expensive than serving just fish.

                                  Otherwise, I agree with those who've suggested fish tacos. If you really need to stretch your dollars, why not just splurge on the main, and ask your friends to bring the apps/sides/deserts?

                                  4 Replies
                                  1. re: ohmyyum

                                    We don't cook meat ourselves but we always tell people they can bring their own if they are so inclined. I generally go overboard and make so much food when you take into account sides that it's not really a problem, however when I cook fish it always go fast and I feel like people would have wanted more...

                                    1. re: arielleeve

                                      I like wyogal's suggestion to only put out part of the fish. You can keep the rest in a warm oven and refill later. Nothing wrong with veggie tacos.

                                      1. re: c oliver

                                        Yes, and I can also just cook one piece of fish at a time since presumably I will marinate and I will likely need at least one piece of fish.

                                        1. re: arielleeve

                                          offering only 1 piece at a time -- 1 pound?-- really will limit how many people will be able to get served. it will be gone by the time the 3rd or 4th person gets to it. i realize the usda recommends a serving size of protein should equal the size of a deck of cards, but very few eat only that. especially at a cook-out.

                                    1. If you can stir fry on the grill, that's what I'd recommend. Use your fish and add the veggies to make it go further.

                                      You might also offer Portobello burgers, which I think would be nice.

                                      1. Along the Mexican line of thought, there is a local, Mediterranean-ish restaurant chain here that does a nice spin on nachos using blue corn tortilla chips topped with stewed mixed beans (pinto, butter beans, and black beans in a tomato/onion base), chopped red onions, chopped fresh cilantro, and melted cheese. They serve them with fresh pico de gallo and tzatziki. They are very filling and summery. Would be a good side dish.

                                        1. Others have made good suggestions, but I'm going to take a slightly different tack. Before serving the fish, make sure there are appetizers out, specifically, some high protein appetizers, like chips with a bean dip, or high-protein side dishes, like pasta and beans (pasta e fagioli) or BBQd beans. If you go with the fish taco idea, you could put out refried beans and tortilla chips to snack on, and fill your guests up fuller with cheap beans. The more your guests eat before the main course, and the fuller they feel (protein makes you feel full), the less they'll eat of the expensive stuff.

                                          1. I served swordfish kabobs at a family party for 30 people last year. You could use another kind of fish. We marinated the swordfish. The kabobs had onions, peppers, and zucchini on them in addition to the fish. That definitely stretched the fish. We served the kabobs on the metal sticks so people couldn't has easily pick the fish out.

                                            1. Why not do veggie burgers along with the grilled fish? There are lots of good recipes for homemade veggie burgers, so you don't have to use nasty store bought ones.

                                              1. fish tacos with a mango corn salsa.

                                                1. When I made the swordfish kabobs, I only bought 7 or 8 pounds of sword fish for 30 people and we had some left over. If you put a chunk of fish on metal skewer, then a piece of onion, a piece of red pepper and a piece of zucchini, that takes up a lot of room. That is why we didn't have to use that much fish. We served pasta with pesto (easy and people love it), salad and broccoli rabe with garlic. Pasta (almost any kind) or pizza are things people will always eat.

                                                  3 Replies
                                                  1. re: troyfamily

                                                    Price aside, I stopped doing skewered food that way many years ago. The fish/meat/poultry is WAY overcooked before the vegetables are done. Separate skewers works much better IMO.

                                                  2. What about doing shrimp on skewers? Cheaper than fish... Skinnytaste just posted these a couple days ago: http://www.skinnytaste.com/2013/06/gr...

                                                    1. How about offering some shellfish? Clams and mussels are less expensive than fin fish, and though there's some prep work involved, they cook very quickly on the grill. I suggest getting some disposable aluminum pans, and you can do some mussels in one and clams in another, with some wine or beer, herbs & garlic, and some grilled bread, it's an easy entree to supplement your fish. This can even be done after you have grilled your fish or skewers, in the residual heat of the coals.

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: Dirtywextraolives

                                                        My step daughter in law made some empanadas with her kids and served them as one dish at her daughter's birthday party. They were a najor hit with kids and parents. You can make seafood and veggie ones. The big deal is that you can make them ahead of time. They would go well with some kind of Mexican fried rice dish and a salad. Also salsa and chips.

                                                      2. it might even look more luxurious to your guests if you *carefully* go all out on sides and do veggie and bean tacos. make a few different salsas using grilled vegetables, I was told that is how traditional salsas are made (with blackened ingredients). heat the corn tortillas and serve with traditional mexican vegetarian fillings. and some not so traditional things like guacomole and sour cream so that people fill up on it. also grilled corn with the mexican style mayo/cheese seasoning is awesome!
                                                        also make or buy a really good dessert like flan or tres leches cake.
                                                        no one expects vegetarians to serve fish to a large party, so you could completely avoid it if you want. it's just more work than a traditional cookout. unless you want to go the veggie hot dog, veggie burger etc route. which if you had really good condiments and REALLy good bread and salads (and maybe good vegetarian nachos, etc), I don't see how anyone would be dissapointed.

                                                        3 Replies
                                                        1. re: fara

                                                          I like the Mexican idea. I agree that a lot of 'sides' would be great. It would look sumptuous.

                                                          grilled or boiled corn on the cob with Mexican topping or some kind of corn and bean salad

                                                          tacos and/or empanadas. Empanadas can be made ahead and reheated.

                                                          corn chips and salsa for sure. I mix commercial salsa half and half with canned crushed tomatoes. It is more tomatoey with the added tomatoes and always works well.

                                                          Latin style rice


                                                          Very nice menu for a party. I like to do mostly make ahead dishes so I can enjoy the party.

                                                          1. re: fara

                                                            Yeah, I love to do up veggie dogs or burgers with caramelized onion, nice condiments, and even some interesting toppings like kimchi. But I think too many of my meat-eating friends would be disappointed. I love the Mexican idea though. At first I was thinking it wasn't traditional enough for what I had been envisioning, but I love the idea of "stations" of different toppings so people can mix and match. Fish tacos are one of my all time favorite foods so between that and some grilled veggie tacos I think it'll be a great combo. Then some side dishes salad (I'm thinking that includes jicama?), and I was hoping to do pasta salad originally but now I'm thinking maybe it won't go so well with everything else. I have a friend who was already planning on bringing fresh chips and homemade salsa so that will go perfectly. And I was debating a million different drink ideas, one of which was watermelon sangria, so that'll be a good pairing. So excited for this!

                                                            As for dessert--I LOVE tres leches, but I also like to use BBQs as an opportunity to make pie. Normally when I make it, since it's just my husband and me at home, it goes bad or at least loses a lot of quality before we finish it. It feels like such a waste for all the effort. So having a big group gives me a good excuse :) Also -- our CSA comes in Tuesday so I may wait and see what fruit we get to plan dessert.

                                                            1. re: arielleeve

                                                              If you end up deciding that the pie is too much work on top of everything else, you could get some cheap seasonal fruit (nectarines, peaches, etc.) and GRILL them, serve them on top of some commercial ice cream bought in bulk to reduce cost (stores like Smart & Final here in the West sell reasonably priced 5 gallon tubs of ice cream, if you have the freezer room). Alternatively, you could purchase pre made pound cake and serve the grilled fruit on top of that.

                                                          2. So I am getting REALLY into the fish / veggie taco idea, with a table set out as a taco station, where people can make their own. I'll put out a bowl of a simple slaw, chipotle crema, and a salsa or two (one verde and one traditional? or maybe one with mango?). Then people can load up their tacos at the grill and go to the station for the fixins. Will have to work out how to keep the tortillas warm while the fish and veggies get grilled.

                                                            Two remaining questions:

                                                            1) What are people's suggestions for type of fish? I've never done fish tacos on the grill so want something affordable that will hold up well.

                                                            2) Would people recommend corn or flour tortillas? I always prefer corn, my husband likes flour. I'm wondering if one might be better for large batches, thinking maybe flour since the corn tear so easily...

                                                            ETA: Just thought about it and remembered my local gourmet grocery store has a giant stack of corn tortillas for a few bucks, versus 10 or so flour for the same price. So I think corn will be the winner.

                                                            10 Replies
                                                            1. re: arielleeve

                                                              The very smallest corn. They'll eat less :)

                                                              1. re: c oliver

                                                                I can also double up on tortillas the way is often done, which will make them more filling. :)

                                                                1. re: arielleeve

                                                                  Yup, and doubling up on the tortillas is traditional, too. To keep them warm, you could either use a tortilla warmer if you have one, or drag your microwave out to the eating area, get a long extension cord, and steam them as needed in the microwave.

                                                                  1. re: ePressureCooker

                                                                    No microwave! I will try the slow cooker idea. Also I think I saw Alton Brown rig something with a heating pad...

                                                                    1. re: arielleeve

                                                                      I guess it would who used the heating pad last?

                                                                  2. re: arielleeve

                                                                    To keep the tortillias warm, use a crock pot. works real well. should you decide to use corn and flour, you will need two pots.

                                                                2. re: arielleeve

                                                                  Corn tortillas are not only more traditional for Mexican street fare like tacos, but far cheaper. ;D

                                                                  1. re: arielleeve

                                                                    1) What are people's suggestions for type of fish? I've never done fish tacos on the grill so want something affordable that will hold up well.


                                                                    depends on your location, but the cheapest white fish in my neck of the woods are tilapia and swai. however, both are farm-raised and taste "off" to me because of their diet and living conditions. ymmv.

                                                                    1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                                      If you live in the Pacific Northwest, it would probably be pollock. That's the fish that McDonalds uses in their fillet o fish sandwiches, I believe, its white, very mild close to bland taste.

                                                                      1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                                        Agree that your location may dictate but I've been using frozen Mahi from Costco which you can find at most locations.

                                                                        It's got good texture and flavor and works perfectly for fish tacos

                                                                    2. Also, just found this recipe, which calls for marinating the fish in buttermilk. Sounds good to me but I've never tried this.


                                                                      Any thoughts?

                                                                      3 Replies
                                                                      1. re: arielleeve

                                                                        Tallipa- brush with a bit of bbq sauce throw it on the grill take off kind of rough chop it and put it in a cast iorn skillet with a lid so it will hold heat and place on the table with the toppings...people will spoon a little on like ground meat and not eat as much...
                                                                        have a few really chunky toppings like sliced avacdaos, mangos and fruity salsas
                                                                        as well as some aolis

                                                                        1. re: arielleeve

                                                                          I've never done fish in buttermilk, but I do chicken and turkey in it all the time. Gives it a nice tangy taste that would work well with tacos, I suspect. But don't let it soak too long - it can help tenderize the meat, IIRC, and fish doesn't need tenderizing.

                                                                          1. re: arielleeve

                                                                            I think it was mentioned up thread...Catfish. obviously tuna, swordfish, shrimp.
                                                                            You might want to make what we call aroz con camerones, as one of the taco fillings.

                                                                          2. Just like everyone doesn't eat meat, not everyone eats fish. So, I assume you need another protein. Rice and beans are obvious if you are doing the tacos. Some sort of tofu option would be a good choice or a seitan or tvp type old style tex mex ground beef taco filling.

                                                                            I'd still suggest 3.5or so pds of fish for tacos unless you are serving a lot of kids with a substantial amount of rice and beans. Really, if you are on a tight budget, barbecue + fish is an expensive option.

                                                                            1. Paella is a great way to stretch out a protine, and it's wondeful done on the grill.

                                                                              1. Buy a few cans of premium oil-packed tuna and serve a Nicoise-style salad. Arrange large platter with chunked tuna in the middle, then surround with hard-boiled eggs (or not), steamed baby potatoes, and green beans, sliced cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, julienne bell peppers of assorted colors, and of course Nicoise olives. Scatter around some capers, and make a lemony vinaigrette on the side. Grilled garlic bread would be a good accompaniment. BBQ a few turkey burgers for good measure. The fish doesn't have to be grilled to have a BBQ!