Entertaining, Our Parties

The Spanish-Inspired Cocktail Party You Need to Throw Before Summer Is Over

During the heat of of summer, casual entertaining has its place in the sun. This low-key backyard bash is as easy to put together as it is to enjoy.

One of my favorite ways to entertain nowadays is to have people over for a casual happy hour instead of a full dinner. When you invite people to dinner, they want to know what they can bring -- they feel like they need to come bearing gifts. There can be an unintended air of formality about the whole thing, even between the best of friends.

Cocktail Hour Fish Fry 12

When I tell someone to come by for happy hour there are no expectations (except that drinks will be had), and there's no better hang in the summertime than a no pressure hang. After plenty of these mini parties, I've found that the key to a good happy is as much about the food as it is about the drinks -- I know, counterintuitive, but hear me out. You don't need to have something fancy, just something hearty.

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Happy hour just happens to be around or before dinnertime, so things can quickly turn into hangry hour if you don't have something to munch on. I'm not talking about chips and salsa here -- is it just me, or do light snacks before dinner just make you more hungry? I like to have something that could pretty much serve as a full meal. That way, the happy hour can extend well past an hour and into the evening if you want it to.

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Enter the whole grilled fish. It looks pretty but takes almost no effort, cooks up quickly on the grill, and can serve four or more easily, depending on the size of the fish. I like to put it out on a platter wherever we happen to be sitting, with a stack of small paper plates and forks nearby. If you really want a more dinner-like experience, add a loaf of bread, a cheese plate, or a good pre-made side salad (like an orzo) from a market or grocery store. Even without these additions, there will be enough fish to sate all but the most robust eaters.

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My favorite zero-maintenance drink to pair with an outdoor summer meal, especially fish, is Tinto de Verano. I first fell in love with this sip on a trip to southern Spain, where it's widely consumed throughout the hotter months. Now the drink has become a summer staple around here, both for its refreshing citrus flavor (think a lighter, drier version of sangria) and how incredibly easy it is to make -- just pour equal parts lemon soda and red wine over ice. That's it. Not even a recipe so much as a reeeeeeally good tip.

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Final proof of how easygoing this little fish fry can be? I threw it in the backyard of our new place at our outdoor table, which is in the midst of a complete gut reno. I have no dishwasher, no kitchen, and most of my serveware is still on a truck somewhere. I had exactly three things to wash when this party was through -- the grill basket, the platter, and a knife (which I used to slice limes). Truly minimal and truly delicious, like all summer gatherings should be.

Easiest Grilled Fish





  • Whole large fish (like red snapper), scaled and gutted, gills removed
  • Aromatics (like cilantro, shallot, lemongrass, and citrus wheels)
  • Canola oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper


(1) Coat the grill grates with oil and pre-heat to medium high. Cover the fish with oil and season well with salt and pepper, including inside the cavity. Stuff cavity with aromatics -- I like sliced lemongrass, shallots, lime, and cilantro stems.

(2) Grill fish on one side until skin is crisp and charred and flesh is flaky (10-15 minutes depending on the size of your fish). Using two fish spatulas or your grill basket, flip the fish carefully and grill other side just until flesh is flaky all the way through, another 10-15 minutes. (If a knife slides easily through the thickest part of the fish to the bone, it's done).

(3) Serve with your favorite sauce, a drizzle of olive oil, a squeeze of citrus, and/or fresh herbs like mint and cilantro.

Cocktail Hour Fish Fry 1

Tinto de Verano



  • Red wine (ideally Spanish, like Temperanillo)
  • Lemon soda (like San Pellegrino Limonata)
  • Lemon slices or fresh berries for garnish


(1) Pour equal parts chilled red wine and lemon soda over ice, garnish with lemon slices or fresh berries.

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