Don’t forget that fish and crustaceans like crab, shrimp and lobsters can also yield tasty treats from a nose-to-tail cooking approach.
On a large fish such as halibut, salmon or sablefish, while the prime-cut fillets command top dollar, parts that are trimmed off in the process such as the head, collar and belly are often sold off at a discount. I suggest checking for these off-cuts at your favourite Public Market fishmongers: Seafood City, Salmon Shop and Longliner.
While not everyone will appreciate the charms of a Malaysian-style fish head curry, char-grilled halibut or salmon collar (lightly salted) with a ginger and scallion infused soy dipping sauce, a soft-fried egg, some rice and a leafy salad on the side is a great meal on the cheap. Just split the collar in half, season with some salt, brush it with some oil and put it on the barbie. They are also tasty basted with Teriyaki or barbecue sauce. Salmon, sablefish or halibut belly strips are actually my favourite part of the fish. They are fatty, rich and melt-in-mouth tender when fried in tempura batter. Serve them a la Japonais with a classic tempura dip, or in tacos with salsa fresca Mexican style.
Another part of the fish carcass that is often overlooked during the filleting of a fish is the spine itself. A thrifty cook will notice that there can be a good bit of meat left on the spine when fish fillets are removed. Using a spoon, you can scrap off the meat, chop it coarsely, and use it to make tartar or fish cakes. (Try it with this recipe.)
And of course, the easiest way to use up fish trim and bones is to make a good hearty soup. Start by making a fish stock: Put the trim in a soup pot with a stick of celery, a small onion and carrot, all chopped. Add enough water and a splash of wine to cover, then add a bouquet garni containing a few peppercorns, a bay leaf, some parsley stems and some thyme (wrapped in a coffee filter or a loose leaf tea bag, tied with kitchen twine to close) then bring to a boil. After a couple of minutes, remove the fish parts and strip off any meat and set aside. Return the bones to the stock and simmer for about 30 minutes then strain and discard the solids. To turn it into a rustic tasty soup: Cook one chopped onion and 1 clove of minced garlic in olive oil over medium heat until just soft, add 3 to 4 chopped ripe Roma tomatoes, some fennel fronds or a generous sprinkle of dried Italian herbs, and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes. Add the fish stock and a can of white beans (drained) and bring to a boil. If preferred, substitute 2 or 3 potatoes (peeled and cubed) and simmer until softened. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add in the fish meat right before serving and serve with some crusty bread. To jazz it up, add other seafood such as steamed clams & mussels, shrimp, sliced scallops or squid.
Local BC spot prawns, which are coming into season this month, are sweet and delicious and prime candidates for head-to-tail treatment. As they are best purchased live and whole when in season, you’ll likely have the heads and shell of the spot prawns left over from before or after you’ve made your favourite recipe with them. Don’t throw them out! Collect and freeze them until you have time to make the stock with them. When you are ready, use the same basic procedure as described above for the fish stock except add the prawn shells when you are sweating the onions and “fry” them for a few minutes to develop flavour and colour. Also, add a tablespoon or so of tomato paste to further add complexity and colour, then simmer the prawn stock for about 1 hour and strain off the solids (pressing on the shells to extract all the flavour) and you’ll have the base for a prawn bisque. To concentrate flavour – especially if you wish to freeze the stock for later use in soups or sauces - I recommend reducing the stock to about 1/3 its volume by just simmering it further. To make a simple bisque, bring the stock to a boil and add your desired amount of cream, then thicken lightly with a slurry of cornstarch and water, a dab of butter and a splash of brandy. Garnish with some cooked prawn meat and slivered green onions and serve. For a trendy presentation, try serving the bisque in a cup topped with some milk foam, like a cappuccino.
In these days of rising food prices, creative ways of using every part of an animal, fish or even vegetable will not only stretch one’s food budget, they can yield tasty results.