~ Kevin ~
Fish heads can be remarkably good
I took a quick trip down to Valdez to go out with a charter boat for halibut. Randy Pyle of Lady Luck Charters took a group of us out for an all-day fishing charter on the Aleashia. We had a great day on the water. We saw whales, sea otters, great birds – and we caught fish. Then I zoomed home with the fish gutted and on ice: two halibut and two yelloweye rockfish. They fileted up quickly and easily enough, and I vacuum-packed most of the filets and put them in the freezer. I held out two nice pieces for a side-by-side taste test of the fish – baked: a little olive oil in the pan and seasoned only with salt and pepper to keep it simple for a flavor comparison. (I liked the yelloweye better, but both were very good).
As I finished up the fileting, I put the rinsed heads into pots of water to simmer. I used separate pots for each species, and I included the halibut carcasses (minus the fins) in that pot. You simmer until the heads begin to fall apart when poked with a spoon, then let them cool. When they are cool enough to handle, pull out handfuls and separate the meat from the bones, skin, gills, etc. Hold the meat aside in a separate bowl and throw the rest away. I got a little over nine pounds of head meat from these four fish (the halibut carcasses contributed a little of this; I vacuum packed about half of the head meat for later use). I put the bowls of remaining meat (covered) into the fridge and then began to make up a couple of recipes to see what fish burgers and a fish-based cracker spread might taste like. My first halibut burgers were nothing to write home about, but Rose and I concocted a better recipe that worked well with the yelloweye that was left over after we’d made fish head soup and a cracker spread.
(Randy told me that on his overnight charters he likes to boil up some yelloweye and dip it in butter. He said it’s like lobster. I believe it. It’s a really tasty fish. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game web site for this species says that they’ve found one that lived to be 121 years old! That’s a daunting fact to learn about. It sure makes you careful to use all of that tasty meat!)
First the fish head soup (or stew; it’s thick). We did not really like our king head recipe with halibut when we last tried it, so I dumped that stock and worked with the yelloweye stock instead. Once the heads were removed, I strained the stock into a smaller pot (the two heads had been simmered in a 12-qt pot, but the strained stock fit into an 8-qt pot), and then I simmered it to concentrate it. I simmered for some hours to bring it down to about 4 quarts (I like to use the exhaust fan to keep the fish aroma down in the house). Then we made an amazingly delicious fish head soup. After that, we made an excellent cracker spread, and the next night we made some really good fish burgers.
Here is what we did:
Big Fish Head Soup
(works well with king salmon and yelloweye)
(This began as a bouillabaisse recipe some years ago with a king salmon head, and it is still fantastic with king; we had one of those for several days earlier this year. We modified it only slightly here based on what ingredients we had on hand. And we sort of measured most of the ingredients this time so we could pass it along.)
~ 4 quarts of fish head broth with the bones and skin and meat removed
~ 2 lbs. cleaned fish head meat
1/2 C barley
1/2 C wild rice
1/2 C wild rice mix
1/2 C white wine
3/4 C V8
1.5 C chopped carrots
1 C chopped celery
1 whole medium onion chopped
1/2 C roasted garlic
2 Tbsp fish sauce
1.5 C chopped mushrooms
grated parmesan cheese
Add all of the ingredients but the onions, garlic, mushrooms, head meat, and cheese and simmer for about half an hour. Then add the onions, garlic, mushrooms, and fish head meat and bring back up to a simmer for about ten minutes. Season to taste, then serve in a bowl with grated parmesan on top. It is excellent! And it may be even better on the second and third days (it freezes well, judging from past experience, though we ate it all up both times this year).
Yelloweye Cracker Spread
(this will be good with halibut, too)
1/2 lb cooked head meat
hot red pepper sauce
Whip it all together with a fork and serve on crackers. (I know how much I like of each of these ingredients, so I don’t measure – just taste. If someone in your family likes things less spicy, have them taste and you can top off the spread on your crackers with more chopped jalapeños or salsa. What a great appetizer!
Crispy Yelloweye Melt
(this will be good with halibut, too)
~1.5 lbs cooked fish head meat
1/2 C chopped dill pickles
1/2 C chopped onion
1/2 C bread crumbs (panko)
just a little less than 1/4 C half and half
Whip this up with a potato masher until smooth. Pat into patties and dip (coat) with panko (Japanese bread crumbs). Fry in olive oil, and add a slice of cheese to the top of each burger near the end. You may need to add a little olive oil when flipping to properly brown the second side.