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Fish Head Curry

Written By Culinary Pen on Wednesday, May 26, 2010 | 7:49:00 PM

I have a few oddly specific cookbooks, but I think Bones by Jennifer McLagan is my favorite. When you think of bones for cooking, it’s satisfying to think of smoky pork ribs, oversized bone-in ribeye steaks, or stewing a chicken carcass for stock. Except fish bones. Everyone hates fish bones. They lurk invisibly on your plate, stick in your throat, and might kill your miniature schnauzer.

So when I saw she had a whole chapter on her book dedicated to bone-in fish recipes, I was pretty amazed. Most of the recipes are either for cooking fish whole, on the bone, to retain moisture, or feature small fish you can eat the bones of, like smelts. But her recipe for fish head curry really caught my attention.

I love cooking fish whole, especially because I know Carla won’t fight me for the head. All the meat around the collar, cheeks, and eye sockets just tastes so rich and delicious, like the dark-meat oysters on the back of a chicken. Perhaps it’s because the skull has more fats and delicious fishy oils that makes the meat taste so good. Either way, I was determined to cook up some curry!

Unfortunately salmon heads are hard to find. Not because there’s no demand, but because they’re in too much demand. The last few times I’ve gone to Wegmans, the fish dept has been out of stock, since the filets come headless and they only get a few heads on for making cross-cut salmon steaks. Those few heads that do come in are given away on a first-come, first-serve basis, and I was often out of luck.

Until now! With a generously meaty salmon head, I stocked up on curry paste and coconut milk. The recipe was a very straightforward curry, except that the fish head is cooked from the beginning. This gently leaches out the marginal amount of gelatin in the fish bones, making a quasi fish stock/fumet. Although the bones won’t make the broth turn into a jelly, it does gently thicken the cooking juices with a silken mouthfeel. So as my salmon stewed away I added some chopped zucchini, chickpeas, onions, carrots, ginger, and cardamom. The salmon gently flaked away from the head after about 45 minutes of cooking. A smattering of chopped chiles rounded the flavors out.


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