Friday, March 8, 2013

Off the Cuts

We all know and love fish fillets.  We like our dinner portions nice and square, basically in pretty little packages that are pleasing to the eye.  Some of us are a little more daring and will opt for the whole fish.  Cooked this way, on the bone, is one of the more flavorful ways to enjoy fish.  If you don't mind navigating through some bone which can act like dining potholes, you can really score yourself some delicious meat.  Those preparations are familiar to just about everybody and are very pleasing dinner options.

Sword Collar
Now if you are willing to sacrifice the viewing pleasure of cookie cutter portions and striking whole fish preparations, you can get into what I call off-cuts and possibly save yourself some money.  More importantly, these off-cuts offer an intense flavor that your Norman Rockwell fillet just can't match.  I'm talking about collars, bellies and cheeks folks.  If a whole fish was a sports car, these cuts would be the turbo option.  Yeah, she runs good without it, but the turbo boost makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up and scream.

If you are looking for more than just a Sunday drive I recommend giving a fish collar a chance.  Collars are typically a cheaper cut of protein.  They usually will have a bone still attached to them that adds a ton of flavor and is easy to remove.  Some of my favorites that we sell at BlackSalt are snapper, rockfish, and tilefish collars.  If you want the ultimate experience I suggest trying a swordfish collar.  There is really nothing like it.  It is oily and rich and bold and nothing like the rest of the fish.  It only needs a little salt and pepper, a quick sear, then 20 minutes in the oven.  Most collars are easy to cook.  Just add some seasoning and roast.  What you end up with is a beautiful cut full of flavor that will have your dinner guests wondering when you had the time for cooking lessons.

Salmon Belly
Belly meat is just as flavorful as collars and just as ignored by most shoppers.  Salmon belly specifically is a delicious cut that offers a silky texture packed full of flavor.  A simple sear will get the job done, normally less than a minute on high heat will do the trick.  You want to leave it a little rare, trust me it's better that way.  Or if you are pan frying you can do no better than cod, hake, or haddock belly cuts.  They cook so tender and make the best fish'n chips.  Most people see the belly as an unfortunate appendage attached to a beautiful center cut, some useless scrap not worth the cooking oil.  I completely disagree.  The belly is where the fat is and the fat is where the flavor is.  It's also where the vitamins are.

Cheeks, well let's put it this way, when I am sharing a whole fish with friends, the cheeks usually go to the guest of honor.  Sometimes there is no such designated person and when this situation occurs there is usually a small scuffle and the cheeks will go to the fastest fork.  The cheeks on a fish are meaty bites that can best be described as everything flavorful and good about that fish packed into a exquisite morsel that delivers a surprise complexity of savoriness.  The secret about cheeks is slowly getting out and combined with their relative scarcity (only two per fish), they are not the 'steals' they used to be.  However, if you happen to be at BlackSalt when the market has halibut, opah, monk, skate, or really any cheeks, you should be inclined to try them.  Look at it this way, you're getting the filet mignon without buying the cow!
Rockfish Collar

So the next time you are shopping at the market for dinner, ask about what collars might be available.  Buy a belly cut and do some quick searing or pan frying.  Take some cheeks, live a little.  There's a lot of flavor out there and it isn't all wrapped in pretty packages.  Sometimes you have to dig around some bone or opt for a thin belly cut to discover everything delicious a fish has to offer.  Life's too short to waste good food and willing taste buds.

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