Where some chefs see trash, Mehdi Brunet-Benkritly saw a signature dish: a salmon fish head, marinated in miso, maple syrup and garlic. At the NYC spot Chez Sardine, the dish represents the restaurant’s guiding principle—a Japanese izakaya infused with a trippy, gonzo spirit. “We sell more than a dozen a night,” says Brunet-Benkritly, adding that most diners need some help figuring out where the best bits of meat are. Here, his guide to getting the most out of each head.
For advanced eaters only. The eyeball resembles a soggy blob of fat—with a dark chewy pupil at the center. “It’s not my thing,” he says.
“Not as big as the steak-like cheeks on cod, but still a nice, firm section of meat. Our salmon are all from very cold water, so they are nice and fatty.”
An underrated section, the jowl becomes crispy and chewy, “like fish jerky.”
Collar & Neck
A good area for the squeamish diner—there’s a lot of meat here, and it doesn’t take too much excavating to retrieve it. “You’ll see grilled fish collar at a lot of Japanese restaurants.”
“I like to start here: Just tear away the fin and eat it like an artichoke—you can scrape off the salty-sweet marinade with your teeth.”
Related: Recipes for Whole Fish
Sustainable Seafood Guide
Fish and Seafood Recipes
Ways to Act Like a Chef
Tuna Salad with Chickpea Puree; © Johnny Miller
In F&W's April Handbook feature, I tackle one of the healthiest and most common ingredients around—canned fish. For the magazine, I mixed canned tuna with hummus to create a light yet satisfying salad that couldn’t be any simpler to put together. To further transform canned tuna, it can be whipped into a fantastic tonnato sauce.
Combine the tuna and the oil it’s packed in (if it’s in water, drain first), lemon juice, capers, anchovy fillets, olive oil and a touch of mayo (or plain yogurt) in a blender and puree until smooth. Traditionally served on cold sliced veal (vitello tonnato), the sauce is great as a crudité dip, salad dressing on escarole or arugula, or drizzled on grilled chicken breast. Use it as a sandwich spread for turkey sandwiches or as the base for potato salad.
Sardines are particularly rich in omega-3s and minerals like calcium and potassium. Roasted or broiled with lemon and fresh herbs, they’re delicious to top rice or grains. I like stuffing them straight from the container into sandwiches with Dijon mustard, sliced radishes and watercress. Side note: I’ve been known to travel with these fish when camping…nothing beats an open tin of sardines bubbling over a fire.
As grilling season approaches, canned octopus becomes an unexpected pantry essential. Charred, the tentacles take on a fantastic texture and slightly smokey flavor. Toss pieces of the grilled octopus in a simple shallot vinaigrette with some chopped parsley for a fun starter, or use it as a crostini topper. For a full-on seafood salad, add some canned smoked oysters and mussels. And since the grill is already on, make some salmon burgers: simply drain the canned salmon and mix it with eggs, chopped scallions and breadcrumbs to bind the mixture together.
Related: Recipes for Canned Beans
F&W Pantry: 15 Ways to Use Almond Milk
Grace in the Kitchen
Spreading a little mayonnaise on a thin, white, flaky fish like trout before grilling keeps it moist and adds rich flavor. / © Con Poulos
Food & Wine's senior recipe developer, Grace Parisi, is a Test Kitchen superstar. In this series, she shares some of her favorite recipes to make right now.
Generally, I'm not a fan of fresh water fish—I find the flavor a bit murky and muddy—unless they're agressively marinated and grilled. Catfish and tilapia especially need some kitchen TLC. Trout, not so much. It's pretty durned tasty when brushed with a little of this tangy lemon-caper mayo and grilled. SEE RECIPE »
Related: More Grilled Fish Recipes
Grill Once, Eat Twice
F&W's Ultimate Grilling Guide