Salmon Heads

A warm August evening found my son Corwin (then 10), friend Daniel (15), sister Brita and I hunkered around a fire at our camp on the back side of Portland Island, a short 20 minute skiff ride from Juneau’s Auke Bay. The Lund skiff rocked gently at anchor offshore. We’d finished half of Daniel’s first Coho, caught earlier that day while trolling at South Shelter Island, and were still a little bit hungry. The coals were glowing in a state of perfection that usually happens AFTER you’ve finished cooking whatever you had for your main dish. As dusk slowly fell, the boys skewered the coho head and started to slow roast it over the fire. We sat around, reflecting on the perfection of the day, listening to whales breathe offshore and inhaling the wonderful aroma of roasting salmon. After about an hour of roasting it was pitch dark and the head was done to perfection. We sat around in the light of the fire and picked off greasy, delicious pieces of head meat and popped them into our mouths like cave men. After a little while we put the fire out and stumbled into the woods to our tents to sleep, cheeks glowing and stomachs heavy with good food.

After years of practice, I’m actually pretty good at fileting salmon. Nonetheless, it has always pained me to waste salmon heads, collars, skeletons, fins, tails, hearts, and gonads. This is in part innate, and part a result of having eaten a lot of good meals from these parts. Just like a mammal, different parts of the fish have different flavors, textures, and oil content, and meat on the bone tends to be more flavorful and oily. For this reason, I’m always on the lookout for recipes that use salmon heads. If you’re not out camping, this light and delicious Phillipino soup recipe (modified from The Splendid Table) uses salmon heads and shell-on northern shrimp. I particularly like this recipe because while it feels like a treat, the richness is strictly from healthy seafood Omega-3 fats.

Seafood Sinigang Soup

Tools:

Large stock pot

Collander

Small tea strainer

 

Ingredients:

King or coho salmon head with collar, backbone, fins, and tail

¾ lb shell-on northern spot prawns or sidestripe shrimp, preferably with heads

2 c long-grain white rice

6 oz tamarind paste

¼ c fish sauce

1 14.5-oz can diced tomatoes

1 medium yellow onion

3 cloves fresh garlic

1 orange, red, or yellow pepper

½ pound kale

2 medium carrots

1/8 c chicken bouillon paste

4 c water

4 c rice washing water

½ tsp black pepper

Calamansi juice to taste

Instructions:

  • Simmer salmon head, bones, and fins in 4 c water, remove to strainer and cool, separate meat from bones and retain
  • Wash rice, retaining wash water and transfer to stock pot with salmon stock
  • Add 1 c hot water to tamarind paste, let sit for approx. 10 min then sieve to remove seeds, pod, and fibers
  • Chop onion and garlic
  • Slice pepper and carrots, remove mid-ribs from kale leaves and shred
  • Add tamarind paste, fish sauce, tomatoes, and chicken bouillon to stock pot, bring to boil
  • Reduce to simmer and add carrots, peppers, onion, garlic, and black pepper, simmer for 15 minutes
  • Just before serving add shrimp, kale, and salmon head meat, simmer for an additional 3 minutes
  • Serve over cooked rice, add calamansi juice* to taste

*Note that lime or lemon juice or rice wine vinegar may be substituted for the calamansi juice.

 

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