Good fish is expensive. High quality, sustainable fish is even more expensive. Whole fish do not yield as much useable product as one would hope. The head comprises approximately 20-25% of the weight and is often looked upon as waste. If not waste, it is used with the bones to make broths, soups and chowders. But, the head is an incredibly delicious element of the fish and should not be hidden in the guise of something else. The issue is marketing. How do we make eating the head more appealing to the diner?
The odd cuts from any animal are often discarded instead of being honored and appreciated unless you happen to be dining in a restaurant that specializes in using them. This is slowly changing as more and more chefs have begun utilizing whole animals and diners have become more adventurous about trying organ meat and unusual delicacies. However, when it comes to fish and crustaceans we have not developed this same cult-like appreciation in the average American palate. While not every restaurant can get away with serving a fish head for two, they can still be creative and make the attempt. Think about it, if every large format fish could produce two dishes from the head to be served for two people each, it would bring down the cost of the other fish dishes on the menu. Even if you don't get the same number of portions that you would from an equal weight of fillet, you've still eliminated that loss of 20-25%.
While I was down at Woodberry Kitchen I wrangled a rockfish (striped bass) head away from the butcher. He humored me by splitting the head. I rinsed it in cold water and brined it for about an hour in a 5% salt water solution. After brining I requisitioned some peanut romesco sauce to marinate my treasure. I smothered the fish in the sauce and tucked it aside to allow the flavors to marry. I then got distracted and only remembered the head later in the evening, when the party was over. Thankfully George was willing to put the head to good use the next day. The plan was to roast it in the wood fired oven and then have the entire staff enjoy the delicacy. Not for staff meal exactly, rather to evaluate the head and its possible addition to the menu as a nightly special.
It takes little imagination to look beyond romesco and imagine other flavors that would be worth exploring. You could give away the first few portions to develop an appreciative audience and before you know it people will be coming especially for your fish head special. To take that next step we can look at classic head preparations from tete du veau to head cheese and find ways to apply them to your favorite finned friend.
Perhaps this year we should look into Feast of the Seven Fish Heads?