If you think that I am that type of person that has an arsenal of fish head recipes, you’re wrong. The more I cook and try and fail and succeed and ask questions, the more success I’ll have with fish heads. You will, too.
The fifth quarter, or butcher’s cut, is offal traditionally kept by the butcher for home cooking. Often inexpensive and always tasty, RVA’s monthly column, Fifth Quarter, offers less-traveled recipes that are both good and offal.
The third installment of Fifth Quarter utilizes fish heads, which can be had for free if asked for sweetly.
If you think that I am that type of person that has an arsenal of fish head recipes, you’re wrong. Perhaps, if I’m lucky, I’ll discover some locked in my genetic memory… or (more likely) via epigenetic inspiration. The more I cook and try and fail and succeed and ask questions, the more success I’ll have with fish heads. You will, too. As the great Louisiana seafood chef Paul Prudhomme might say, “It’s Guaran—teed. “
My first try making fish head soup turned out, but, by the third attempt, it turned out good. I had help: a Cantonese recipe, modified several times, and someone that knew what they were doing when asked to clean and provide fish heads. And what a fish head that last one was — this baby was 4lbs of rockfish front-to-end. You probably have a person like that too. A fisherman, cook, or fishmonger who has a little extra time and temerity to aid a novice.
Don’t be afraid to try, fish heads are free (or inexpensive) and will forgive your mistakes. One of my fish heads actually came with this note encased in a fortune cookie: It doesn’t matter, who is without a flaw?
- Large fish head (1-1/2 lbs or more)
- Several strips of bacon
- 2 leeks, cleaned and slivered
- Large cake bean curd (I used Twin Oaks tofu from Louisa, available at Elwood Thompson)
- 1 1/2 Tbs. Canola oil
- 6 slices of fresh ginger
- 3 pts of chicken stock
- Medium bok choy, slivered
Rinse and clean the fish head, making sure any traces of blood are washed away. Cut the bacon into 1/2 strips and the tofu into bite-sized cubes.
Heat the oil in a large wok or saucepan. Add the bacon and cook for a minute or two. Add the fish head and fry in the hot fat for a couple of minutes on each side. Add the ginger and chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes.
Add the leeks, bok choy and bean curd pieces. Bring to a boil for a minute and then simmer for fifteen minutes. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper and a splash of sake, if you like.
Fish heads are built for experimentation. Sub out the chicken stock for water and dry white wine, add a touch of tomato paste or marinara, and, instead of tofu and bok choy, add mussels, thinly sliced onion and a few crushed tomatoes. Switch the ginger for garlic—and presto— fish head zuppa Italiano.