“So much head I woke up in Sleepy Hollow” – Kanye West
I hear ya Kanye, I hear ya. Before listening to Dark Fantasy I legitimately had no idea that Kanye West was friends with recreational tuna fishermen, let along had any interest in cooking odd foods. Shows what I know. We have so much in common!
Much like Kanye, when I got home from last weekend’s trip to LBI I recognized I had lots of head in my freezer; two from yellowfin tuna plus a hogs head. I knew I had to cook one of them, and quickly, to make room in the freezer for our upcoming fall beef CSA. With football Sunday and an apartment full of guinea pigs, er, friends planning to come over, I figured it was time to cook some tuna head.
I ended up thawing the one from earlier in the summer that wasn’t fully cleaned or butchered prior to freezing. Gotta say, what came out of the trash bags was relatively grim.
The good news was that there was a bonus strip of belly meat still attached to the head. The bad news was everything else. The tuna was freezer burned and generally smelled awful due to the contents of the stomach and intestines being wrapped up with the meat.
At times during the process I considered tossing the whole thing out but instead trimmed away most of the exposed meat and found that underneath was some nice looking pink tuna. Less meat than if it had been fully cleaned before freezing, but still plenty left to use. I bagged the collars and belly separate from the head and left them in the fridge overnight.
The next morning I put together a marinade of soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, ginger, siracha, and brown sugar.
About half of the marinade went in with the collars and belly and the other half went into the trash bag that held the head. After a couple hours in the marinade the head went into a Pyrex with some of the marinade poured over the top.
When it comes to roast tuna head, there isn’t a ton of info to be found on the English language internets, so I was basing my approach on a Bizarre Foods episode and knowing that heat + head = edible. I leaned a lot harder on the second point since there wasn’t any detail on how to cook the head in that episode, just a picture of it coming out of the oven.
With that said, the head went into a preheated 350F oven for about an hour before I checked on it. It took an incredible amount of restraint not to say “the head headed into a preheated…” in the previous sentence. I’m addicted to puns like some sort of non-life-destroying, mildly humorous version of crack. Crack jokes!
After an hour, I didn’t expect it to look any different. But, I was incorrect with that assumption.
Shortly after taking that picture, the head tipped over, I poured the rest of the marinade on, and it went back into the oven.
After another half hour the head looked fully cooked through so I removed it from the oven and let it cool down a bit for handling.
After 30-40 minutes, I called Buschy in for this portion of the documentation since it would be impossible to do myself. It was really odd to me how easily the head cracked apart, but it made it much easier to scavenge for meat inside the head.
No need to share a ton of fotos from the mining. The cheeks of a tuna are relatively small but can be fished out from between the inner and outer head cartilage. The bulk of the meat is between the top of the skull and the skin and came off in a giant pile. Aside from pulling some bits of meat from around the eyes, that was pretty much the whole pile.
After picking out some small and large bones, discarding any pieces that got a little too charred in the base of the pan, and chopping the meat coarsely, I had a nice little pile to work with.
With the meat in the oven to keep warm, I grilled up the collars as an appetizer and an easy entry point into tuna head eating. Or that’s how I pictured it.
The reality was actually a little different since random bites were fishier than the rest and, because I had trimmed so much off, the best meat had to be mined for. Everyone picked a bit and I added the remainder to the meat bowl.
Just realized I haven’t addressed my plan for the tuna head meat yet. I guess I was hoping Blog Villain Matt wouldn’t still be reading. I made tacos. There, I said it.
Flour tortillas were the only normal part of these tacos though, the other toppings were cubed cucumber, chopped green onion, and a slaw made of green cabbage, homemade pickled carrots, and rice wine vinegar.
A good taco featured all of the ingredients plus the tuna topped with a thick sauce made from duck sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil, siracha, ginger, and brown sugar.
Gotta say, these tocks were pretty solid.
The tuna meat, since it was fully cooked through, was relatively firm but not nearly as fishy as I expected from the smell when disassembling the head. The sauce added a nice strong flavor that didn’t overwhelm the fish but made up for the bland cucumber that added texture but not much else. Lastly, the combo of the crunchy slaw and scallion gave a nice contrast to the head meat. Lots of Asian flavors coming together and playing nice. I will likely end up doing something similar with the other tuna head in the freezer.
I didn’t forget the eyes.
I also didn’t eat them. Next time, I promise. Let me do this on my own terms, k?
We might have our first guest blogger next week, which will be exciting and likely ego testing for me. Hope you enjoy the new nauseating blog masthead that could be tweaked soon.
In 9th grade biology class, we paid Kevin Schmidt $10 to swallow the eye of a crawfish that we were dissecting. Is he your guest blogger?
that’s weird……tuna tacos? who would have guessed
This dish was excellent, most notably the sauce. The taco whisperer is just jealous.
Is it strange that I now need to cook and taste Tuna Head? Will go the fresh route though…can’t abide frozen fish. Luckily, living in RI and having a hubby who fishes “The Block” this is a strong possibility. I will pass on the eyes though. Should I save them for you Pete? I’m thinking Halloween appetizers…
I liked these, I really did. The eyes in a bowl were a little much for me.
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Hi, I really enjoyed your write-up. I have a large tuna head in the freezer, similar in appearance and odor to yours I imagine. I don’t want to waste it. However, I don’t understand what all the basting is about. Does it flavor the actual meat? Thanks much!
Thanks for reading! The smell is mainly in the blood unless you left the stomach intact. I would recommend trimming off the bare minimum of exposed edges of meat and rinsing thoroughly in cold water.
The basting was mostly so the skin itself didn’t burn, but you can do without it.
Thanks for sharing!! But the gelatin and meat in the eye socket area are BOMB!! Did you not watch Andrew Zimmerman’s You Tube video on eating tuna head? You are missing out-I don’t waste anything on tuna head, it’s a delicacy and the only thing about baking it is having tuna aroma in your house for a few hours..lol..other than that, you did a great job:)