Thursday, December 13, 2012

Eating Fish Scraps and Fish Guts- A Kitchen Experiment

PhotobucketThis post wasn't what I'd originally intended to write on my blog today, but that'll have to wait for another day, because I just did some very frugal, slightly crazy, but very rewarding things today, both while out, and in my kitchen, and I wanted to write it up already to share with you.
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...
As I was nearly at the market, as I was passing by the market's dumpster, I saw workers wheeling their carts of garbage to the dumpster. In the cart was a styrofoam box, and in that box, I saw this huuuuuuuge fish head looking at me.
"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...

PhotobucketBut 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!


So, when I got home, I washed off all the scraps I got, and put the salmon skin in the freezer for another date.

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-

Fish tongue.


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?


  1. Awesome post! Thanks for experimenting with the organs, everyone that had told me to toss the organs were American so i was hesitant to believe the same people who only eat the muscle meat of cow. Waste not want not! If an animal dies so I can eat it, i want to be sure i am utilizing it as efficiently as i can.

  2. thank you for educating people! we are so wasteful.

  3. Im going to my closest fish market and do the same...organs are so much better and healthier for you even the bitter part with the bile...so beneficial for digestion...

  4. Im going to my closest fish market and do the same...organs are so much better and healthier for you even the bitter part with the bile...so beneficial for digestion...

  5. Cool! Excellent!

  6. I am so happy to read this! A new acquaintance brought a flounder he had just caught down the street (we live by the ocean). I don't have knives and other stuff that most people need to clean fish, and everything I read about cleaning fish looked like a lot of work. So I googled "cook fish with guts in" and landed on your article. I realize you cooked all the guts separately, but I had already put the fish into my solar oven whole. I was worried til I read your article - apparently there is at least a chance that I will end up with something edible! (tho the area around the gallbladder may be bitter). Keeping fingers crossed! We all need to experiment - it's a great thing for the progress of the human race. Thank you for your "gutsy" attitude! :-)

    1. Next time you get a fish, try cleaning it with a regular fork against the scales and cut tge fish open with a knife... Tastes better, way better

  7. Update: I just took the baked fish out of the solar oven and tasted the flesh - delicious! I will probably try the liver and some of the other organs too.

  8. Thanks, this is just as I suspected. I was planning to try something similar in the future. It's helpful to know that you can get some of these guts and heads and other parts from the sellers for free or cheap. I will know what to avoid now (bitter bile).

  9. I feel a little courageous after reading this... I have to build up the courage to deal with the inner organs (although I guess I shouldn't really have any more issue with it than with internal organs of chicken or beef).

    The heads I've had before (salmon specifically), and like you said, the cheek is one of the most delicious parts of the fish! If I buy a whole salmon, I always ask them to give me the head, skin and skeleton even if I'm having it made into fillets. It hadn't occurred to me to ask for the innards though until now.

  10. good to know.
    I wonder if you ever tried that yellow stuff inside the lobster. I was told it is a delicatessen and I tried myself. It tasted good.

  11. Brilliant. Where we are from we would deep fry all the internal parts, after proper cleaning off course, and sometimes add rice or brinjal to add volume. It is considered a delicacy there.

  12. Hi Penny, fish don't have lungs, that was liver. Chinese (and perhaps Japanese) have dishes like fish head soup, deep fried eggs and lots more. Some fish have toxic innards and that's prolly why they are thrown away. just fyi. nice post btw.

  13. Great post! I got the internal organs of red snapper i bought, and decided to do research first on how to prepare them. Your post is so educational, thank you.

  14. Great food for your cats...

  15. Great post! I did try the salmon head yesterday that was very good. I wondered whether the fish liver is edible or not,my husband says the liver filters the blood maybe has poison.

  16. They cook the intestines in a soup with octopus, shellfish, crab, and squid here in korea. The organs taste much better then i would have expected

  17. I don't know if this is something that you'd be interested in, but the Ancient Romans actually used to produce a condiment called "garum" using fish guts and fish blood. I've never tried it, personally, but apparently for the Romans, this stuff was like (ketchup)^2--they put it on EVERYTHING, and it was enjoyed by virtually every segment of Roman society. Apparently, garum was also surprisingly nutritious, being high in protein and Vitamin B.

    One word of warning though--garum preparation involves active fermentation, which means that it absolutely REEKS to produce. In fact, if I recall correctly, the Ancient Romans passed some of the very first zoning laws precisely for this reason, prohibiting anyone from producing garum within a certain distance of the city limits.


  18. we buy salmon heads at 8-10 USD per kg. we cook it in sour puree.. :) fried milk fish intestine is also good. grilled snake head intestine is also good once you get used to it :)

  19. This was a delight to read!

    Thank you so much :) I always eat the fish I catch, but was told to throw out the innards. I once ate the liver and loved it, but was told that fish don't have livers which scared me off it. I am so excited to eat scrumptious fish head meat, have more fish (it always seems like there isn't enough), and not have to waste that meat. Yippee!

  20. Beautiful article! Just what I was looking for! Thank you!

  21. Hi! From Singapore, this post didn't gross me at all as over here in Singapore fish head curry is one Indian's delicacy. All different races love their fish head curry and there are even restaurants specialising in fish head curry. The Indians never throw the head and have them as part of their fish curry, either cooked in the curry or else fried with seasoning like chili powder, turmeric powder, a little lemon juice and salt.. Its super delicious!

  22. I ate fish guts soup for dinner last night in St. Lucia, but nothing goes to waste here... Had fugu last week, not much gets wasted here.

  23. "What i assume was lungs"....fish dont have lungs. Thats the job of the gills.

  24. I reckon those are silver carps' (the name is indeed misleading, since silver carp is not technically a carp)
    I bought a whole fish the other day, and tossed all the innards into he broth. The fishy taste can be do away with ginger. Also, fish gills are better in to thrown away, they have no taste and the texture really put me off.
    I am curious as to how is the percentage of flesh you can get from those heads. A typical silver does not have a high meat:bone ratio.

  25. eating the organs and skin of most fish species is pretty un healthy for you. Fish naturally have an elevated amount of heavy metals due to the ecology of the aquatic envrionment. the bigger the fish the more heavy metals ususally. and the level of the heavy metals in the organ meat can be several hundred times greater than in the fish

  26. I absolutely love how adventurous you are! I also do love eating innards of other animals - sticking to the red meats purely, as my mom hasn't welcomed fish guts (besides the eggs) as apart of our dining regime as they are rather unhealthy for you because of what the fishes injest. The facts on what parts of the fish and degree of affect on our body I do not know of, but I do encourage you to research a bit more, there may be some parts of the fish that may have a harmful effects to others. Keep up the posts!

  27. The air bladder is actually used in Chinese cooking and is called fish ma. I have bought packs of trout ma and after seasoning it dehydrated it raw as a cracker, and it also can be baked for much the same thing. Wonderful treat! The Chinese use it in soups. Thank you so much for your experimentation and posting of your findings, you have done many people a great service!

  28. brave experiment, You will never go hungry with your willingness to try. I googled this looking for help to using fish guts for cat food. :)

  29. Be careful with fish organs. Not sure how many it applies to but I know there are a few with extremely toxic organs. A gar has eggs so toxic you have the completely avoid opening the body cavity on the off chance it is a pregnant female.

  30. Has it any nutrient or simply savouring the taste?

  31. yeah when I was in Philippines with my gf, I was so exited to see how they waste nothing, and the fish heads are prozed meay, I agree its sooo yummy meat, went to a seafood place n the tuna cheek was the thing they were famous for and yup better tan any tuna steak I ever had

  32. Salmon hearts are delicious

  33. Its such a charm to know of people who are fascinated with fish intestines. I have been eating them since childhood. Its one of the delicacies of Northeast India.
    If you may, I'd like to share a recipe of the same which not only tastes amazing but u'll want to have it more frequently than a complete fish dish.
    First, i clean the innards very well under running water removing all the intestine tubes. So im just left with the fat mesh. I also remove the bile first hand. Then I clean the lungs, liver part and my most favourite part, the air sac.
    Remember to cut every part an inch siz e (coz when u cook, every part is going to dissolve except the air sac part which gives u a nice crunchy bite)
    So, here is the cooking part.
    Heat some oil in a wok (remember that the fat also dissolves). When the oil is warm, put the cleaned fish innards and stir till it is coated well with the oil. Immediately it'll start to sizzle and the air sac will Start to curl. Add in some salt and a pinch of turmeric powder and continue to stir making sure that it doesn't stick on the wok too much. Once the intestines have dissolved and it changes its color to dark grey/ brown, add half a cup of small diced onions and thinly diced green chillies. Continue to stir till a nice aroma comes ( you'll know when the raw fish smell goes away). You can check the salt as per taste at this point. Once you think its done taste wise and aroma wise, ur yummy fish innards is set to be a winner of ur dining table for the rest of ur life :)

    You can increase or lessen the amount of onions and green chillies as per ur taste.

    Vj (sikkim)

  34. Japanese and Chinese people eat most of the things you ate. Unfortunately, I live in a community with many Asian fish markets and fish departments in supermarkets... so I suspect I can't get these parts for free.

  35. What's also good is deep frying the skin in oil, like a potato chip. You can do this with some fins as well, and eat them even if they have spines because they become crunchy and edible.

  36. I've just made a fish broth with heads and frames and realised after I'd oiled it that I forgot to take the guts out, I'm marginally worried it might make us sick?? It tastes fine, I didn't notice any bitterness, we haven't had our ramen yet, but the tastes I've had seem fine.

  37. Hello! Great to read this and see comments! Keep on preventing food waste everyone! I have been making salmon/halibut/cod head soup for years. It is absolutely delicious and healthy. Next time i want to get the livers too and add that for more of the healthy fats. I get heads and backbones from friends or a local meat market. I keep a tub in my car specifically for fish scraps, (I loathe using plastic bags for this). When i can fish in jars for the pressure cooker, i have very little waste because i include all bones and skin. Some ppl waste so much when "cleaning" fish.

  38. Yeah I'll eat anything, doesn't bother me. But as some people have pointed out, the sea is full of sketchy metals and plastics, so it might be worth checking out what's in your local waters (or the waters where the fish you eat are fished). Then again, maybe we should be eating these toxins til we evolve to deal with them, but high concentrations of them can cause pretty horrific effects such as paralysis, cancer, neurological damage etc, and it's entirely possible that we never do evolve a mechanism to offset these risks. In my opinion it's up to each individual (assuming a certain level of competency) to weigh these risks in making a decision on what to eat.


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