May 22, 2013
Reader Tip: Cooking Fish Cheeks, Collars, and Other Parts
By David Draper
A Wild Chef reader and frequent Food Fight Friday contributor sent in a few photos that, let’s just say it, looked less than appetizing. However, while they might not have been the best photos, both dishes sounded delicious and—more importantly—illustrated the point that there’s a lot more to eat on most fish then just the fillets.
I have been contemplating on whether to share these with you are not. These recipes/dishes are not strong on the appearance—or even the recipes. They are downright ugly. But after trying these on Saturday night, I found them to be simple yet sublime. I need to share these with other F&S readers. Having grown up on the Chesapeake Bay, these bring back memories of my childhood. I started off with two rockfish (striped bass) heads. I then proceeded to cut out the cheeks and next, after being inspired by Hank Shaw, I decided to take off the collars. Now I did not have any of the supplies for Hank’s recipe, so I improvised. (Who would have all of that stuff right after getting back from a fishing trip anyway?)
I decided to use the cheeks as an experiment in flavor profiles. On one cheek I dusted it lightly with seasoned salt. The next cheek got a dash of Creole seasoning. The third received a generous helping of Paul Prudhomme’s Salmon Magic seasoning for something sweet. Lastly, I decided to go traditional and use kosher salt and Old Bay seasoning on the last cheek. I grilled them up in butter and viola! After tasting them, I decided on the sweetness of Salmon Magic and the one-two punch of the Old Bay and kosher salt. I was NOT disappointed. The Salmon Magic was delicious, but to me the Old Bay and kosher salt just couldn’t be beat.
The collar is an overlooked piece of fish. And in the case of this rockfish, it was magic all on its own. The Old Bay, kosher salt, and butter made it taste like I was eating lump blue crab. It just can’t be beat.
Personally, I’ve had cheek meat from walleye, halibut, and even bluegills and will say it’s a delicious and often overlooked cut. I haven’t tried collars yet, but think I’ll save them the next time I’m lucky enough to get a salmon on the end of my line. Do any other Wild Chef readers take the time to save fish’s cheek meat or collars? What about other overlooked fish parts? Any fin eaters out there?