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Dividing Fish Heads

Fish Heads

Fish heads, generally discarded as trash in the West, are prized by Japanese chefs. For one thing, they make a wonderful stock for soups and sauces. When prepared as a dish on their own, fish heads are generally braised or simmered. The tender cheeks are considered a delicacy, as is the soft jelly around the eyes. Since fish heads contain many bones, they are divided into pieces, making them easier to consume. To eat, suck away the tender flesh and spit out the bones.

See the recipe for Braised Tai Sea Bream Head with Turnips.


Cutting the Head in Half

In order to clearly show the position of the knife, this technique is shown with the fish head already cut in half. As noted below, exercise caution when holding the head with the left hand to avoid getting cut. One good trick for getting a secure grip on the head is grasp it with a clean terry-cloth towel.

Dividing Fish Heads

1, 2. Holding the head with the left hand, insert the tip of the knife in the mouth. Press to push it in more deeply.

3, 4, 5. Push the tip further into the head, then begin cutting downward, using more of the blade. As you cut through the head, the tip of the knife will not move much; it acts a fulcrum as the blade moves downward. The force should be applied in the direction of point A in the photo. Use caution as the blade comes down; it is awfully easy to slice the thumb of the left hand. When the knife is almost parallel to the board (photo 4), cut through to the base.

6, 7, 8. Divide the halved head into the desired number of pieces, usually about five (see photo 10). If desired, the fins can be removed first, though it's fine to leave them on.

9, 10. Each half of the head is divided into five pieces, as shown in photo 10. The head has hard bones and joints that are difficult to penetrate. Use the heel of the knife to get through them. Holding the knife firmly, add extra force by pushing on the spine of the blade with fist of the free hand.

11. These pieces are great for making broth. The simmered flesh is also delicious. Before cooking, fish head pieces are usually sprinkled with salt to remove excess moisture and fishy odors.


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This page created September 2009