I know, if you already read the title of the post, you know a good chunk of what I'm going to be sharing, (I write it that way to help Google searchers find me) but lets pretend that you didn't see that yet, so I can get into this post slowly but surely, so I don't scare you off before even reading it.
So, first off, as you probably already guessed, this post is not for squeamish people, or die hard vegans. (If you fit into that category, consider yourself warned. There are lots of pics in this post. ) Nor is it for stuck up food snobs who think that people who eat "low brow food" are "less than". Not that I'm worried that any of my usual readers are food snobs, but I just still had to have that disclaimer.
So, today, I went to town to buy some sardines to make my own homemade fish sauce. There are at least 10 fish mongers with stalls in the open air/farmer's market, and I wanted to do some price comparisons before I bought my sardines.
|These are the fish heads I found...|
"Hey- why is this getting thrown out?" I wondered to myself. "Oh yea. Duh. People here don't eat fish heads. That's why." I asked permission, and "stole" the fish head- which turned out to be attached to a long skeleton and tail, as well as another fish head and skeleton, and another fish skeleton. All carp, I'm pretty sure. (If its not carp, I don't mind if someone corrects me and tells me what type of fish it is.)
First off- in case you're wondering why I wasn't worried about the sanitariness of rescuing raw fish from the trash- the box that the fish was in was a box from the fish monger, filled only with fish parts, no other garbage. And it smelled totally fresh and fine, and there were no flies or anything nearby. There was nothing wrong with it. Just no one wanted it. So they tossed it. As do most of the fish stores in the market.
I also knew that even if they were sitting out for a while, it was pretty cold out today, so they couldn't possibly have reached a temperature warm enough for bacteria to start breeding.
And another thing- I washed the fish heads and skeletons off very well when I came home... And then cooked it.
Now, what would I do with that fish head and skeleton? Why would I even want it, when obviously no one else does (or else it wouldn't have been thrown out)?
Well, I got my idea predominantly from Jeff Yeager's performance in "Extreme Cheapskates". In Jeff's segment of the show, he wants to make a nice cheap meal for the family hosting him, and he makes what he calls "salmon carcass soup", which was basically made from the same parts of fish that I found heading to the trash- the heads and bones and tails- only salmon, and mine was carp. No reason why I couldn't do the same thing!
There is a ton of meat on the bones, and a lot within the head- the meal could be more than just broth.
P.S. I know I wrote in my post on Extreme Cheapskates that I had a problem with him serving fish carcass soup to his hosting family, but my issue is less with what he served and more with what he called it- he could have very easily just taken the meat off the bone and put it in the soup, and just called it salmon soup (the word carcass makes people think of rotting flesh being pecked at by vultures, not of yummy food)- spared the grossed-out-ness and the squeamishness, but be just as frugal and just as delicious...
Once I got in my head to try to make something with these fish scraps, I decided to try out asking the fish mongers directly for scraps. Maybe I'd strike lucky.
And I did.
Now, not every shop keeper is happy to give things away free, especially once he knows people want it. They'll throw it out, no problem- but ask them to have it, and they start getting second thoughts- "Hey, if people want it, maybe I should be charging for this..."
Shop keepers are more willing to throw something free in to a customer who is paying, and are more willing to give you the time of day if you show you're a serious customer, so I decided that my modus operandi at the fish mongers would be to first ask about the prices of sardines, and once they answered that, then ask them if they have any fish scraps.
A few places didn't have sardine or scraps, a few places had sardines but no scraps, one place apologized, said they just threw theirs out and had none left, a few gave me a dirty look, etc...
But one guy gave me a bag of fish heads, fish bones, and some fish innards, and apologized saying that he wished he had more, but he was out, and if I came back later, he'd give me more... For that, for his politeness, he got my sale- I bought sardines from him even though they were a drop more expensive than in other places.
I saw a fish monger with a bunch of salmon skeletons- he wouldn't be able to tell me that no, he didn't have any scraps... so I go to him asking him what he does with those bones, and he says he sells them.
"Ok, so how much are they?" I ask, expecting to hear a low price.
"$2.40 a pound" he tells me. Seriously. What a rip off...
The fish monger in the stall right across from him gives me a bunch of salmon skins...
And while I was at it, I asked a butcher in the market if he had any meat scraps- he gave me some chicken bones and skin (which I plan on using to make rendered chicken fat and soup- but this post is about fish scraps, not chicken scraps, even if they're related...).
The one thing that annoyed me about this whole deal... Two things really...
Firstly, that most of the shop keepers, when I asked them if they had any fish scraps, asked me if I had a cat. No, I don't have a cat- this is for me and my family. Why do people assume that these scraps are for a cat, when there are so many useful and yummy things to do with them for people? What am I supposed to answer, when they ask "So, this is for your cat?" "No, its for my family"? Anyhow...
And I also didn't get why fish mongers glared at me when I asked them for scraps. I would have happily bought from them if they named me a low price. And I would have happily bought sardines from them if they were more polite to me... I'm not looking to steal from them...
Not long after that, I passed by a sushi restaurant. Know what was on the menu? Salmon skin sushi! Ha! I got a bunch of free salmon skins!
I cleaned the fish heads, took out any innards that were attached to them, put them into a large pot, covered with water, and boiled to make stock. My friend Vera said that she was always told to take out the gills, because they make stock bitter, but I didn't bother...
While the fish heads and bones were cooking, I decided to see if I could do anything with the fish innards.
I was always told that you throw away fish innards, because they taste so bitter and disgusting that no one wants to eat them. I once thought people were exaggerating about that, and tried boiling some innards to make stock, and learned that yes, it was disgusting.
But all fish innards can't be all disgusting, I thought.
For two reasons. Animal innards, aka organ meats, are edible- for the most part, fish have the same internal organs. There's no reason why the same organs that are edible in animals should be inedible in fish.
And secondly, because there certainly are some fish internal organs that not only are eaten, but are considered either classy or expensive health foods, like caviar- fish eggs- and fish livers... Yes, I know that the caviar and livers commonly eaten aren't from every fish, but again, if they're edible in one fish, reason would say that they'd be edible in all the different types of fish...
And I wanted to be able to eat their organs. Because organ meats tend to be the most nutritious type of meat, because that's where the body stores its nutrient stores. If I could get this nutritious for free from fish, then why not?
So while my broth was cooking, I decided to do an experiment. Try and cook each internal organ of the fish separately, and see how it tasted. That way, if some were good and some weren't, I'd be able to pinpoint which was the culprit that was ruining everything else.
My research showed me that one of the biggest issues with fish innards is that the gallbladder secretes bitter, yellow/green bile, which ends up getting onto most of the other organs, making them taste terrible as well. The first step would be to wash the innards very well, to remove any of the bile.
I then separated each type of organ from the rest, washed them off very well, and cooked them one by one.
The first experiment was with the fish eggs, which I was 99% sure would be a success.
I pan fried these in my cast iron skillet. The end result- yummy! Tasted like fishy hard boiled eggs.
Next I tried what looked to be the heart or something similar.
Pan fried they tasted very similar to chicken hearts. Delicious. Tasted the least fishy to me of everything I ate tonight.
Next was what I assume to be lungs. They might be liver though.
Pan fried they were soft and creamy and delicious, making me want more and more of them. They reminded me in taste of cod livers.
Then what I think is fish liver.
Pan fried, they tasted very similar to the canned cod livers I've eaten. They were terrific. Creamy and soft and yummy.
Then I tried the fish internal fat. I suspected this would be problematic, as it was around the intestines and bile, and I had to separate them from the bile and the intestines, soaked them in water a few times, and then tried rendering it like I render chicken fat...
The fat was being rendered, but apparently I wasn't able to wash off enough of the bile, because it tasted bitter. I tossed it...
Then I decided my last attempt would be intestines. I sliced a short piece open, washed out the inside and outside. Oh wait- you're saying why eat intestines? Isn't that gross? Not to me- my culture traditionally ate stuffed chicken intestines, and probably so did yours- sausage was traditionally made in chicken intestines!
So yea, back to fish intestines- I just wanted to make sure they were very clean first, which is why I sliced it open prior to washing and soaking....
Cooked, it shriveled up and curled up, and tasted fine, no strong taste. Had a bit of a bite too it, but wasn't too chewy.
I tried with the rest and got something that looked like calamari (I think) or noodles. These were slightly slightly slightly bitter- I think I just need to wash them better next time.
Ok, so back to the broth. I took out one fish head, already with the skin falling off the bone.
I picked out the meat from the fish head, and sticking the bones and cartilage and skin back into the soup pot to cook more.
Here's the inside of the fish head.
The fish meat from the head was absolutely delicious. So creamy and soft, it felt like I was eating butter. It melts in your mouth like pudding, and has such a perfect taste that even without any salt, it was perfect. The gills and the areas around it weren't bitter at all.
Two noteworthy organs in the fish's head-
Soft and delicious, reminded me a little of cow tongue, but not completely.
And what I thought was fish brain, but I'm not 100% sure- it was brown, and actually was stringy and had the texture of beef. Yummy, but was weird to feel like I was eating beef when I knew it was really fish.
Here's the fish I got out of just one head!
Here's the bones from just one head!
Here's all the meat I got off of all the bones that I got free- a total of 3.5 pounds of pure meat! And delicious!
I have a big soup pot filled with the bones, set to cook overnight.
This food is sooo great!
First off, I'm really appreciative for 3.5 pounds of free fish meat, which I plan on using to make fish chowder or fish curry.
Secondly, it saddens me to know that every day, this type of food goes into the trash. It is the best part of the fish! Why are we so wasteful???
Thirdly, the world ought to know that fish heads have the softest, yummiest, most delicious and perfect meat- I'd gladly forgo all other fish and just eat head meat my whole life, it's that great...
Fourth, I'm glad I experimented with the fish innards. Now I know I don't need to throw out the whole thing- just the gallbladder/spleen, air bladder, and fat.
I'm sorry if I grossed you out with any of the pictures- I was just so excited about my discovery about all this free and delicious fish!
Are you an adventurous eater? How adventurous? Adventurous enough to eat fish head stock? To eat fish heads? Adventurous enough to eat fish guts? Adventurous enough to "dumpster dive"/rescue fish scraps and cook them to eat them?
What do you think of my experiment? Be honest- did it gross you out, or intrigue you and make you want to try these yourself? (P.S. I won't be offended if you say you were grossed out. Its understandable. Even my husband had mixed feelings at first, and then decided that the food was yummy.)
What was the kitchen experiment you did that you were most surprised about the results?
Anyone have a good fish chowder or fish curry recipe?