Weird Crap I Cook: Salmon Heads (Grilled Salmon Wings)

A couple weeks ago, with weekend temperatures forecasted to be unseasonably warm, we decided to have a tailgating party for Sunday football.  Basically, instead of sitting indoors watching football we’d all wear jerseys and hang outside grilling food, drinking beers, and listening to games on the radio.  I will take credit for the awesome idea, mainly because the actual people who thought of it don’t have blogs to refute the claim.

With plans to grill, I decided to make a dish that I had been thinking about ever since I saw salmon heads in the seafood case for a buck a pound: salmon wings.

Big old sack of fish heads in exchange for 6 of my (recently) hard earned dollars

My idea for salmon wings was removing and cooking the collar of the salmon, kind of similar to the Hamachi Kama (yellowfin collar) I made this summer.  Unlike the yellowfin collar, the salmon collars are too small to eat with chopsticks so you would have to bend them and pull the meat out with your teeth like a chicken wing.  Hence, salmon wings.

I know salmon heads sound gross, but look at all of that nice looking meat around the collar!

After quickly rinsing the heads in the sink and moving Janet’s jumparoo out of splatter range, I got to work butchering the heads.

Now, here’s where things get a little weird (weirder); the entire time I was cutting the heads I was singing to myself “fish heads, fish heads, roly poly fish heads, fish heads fish heads, eat them up yum”.  I have no idea where I have heard this song, why the lyrics were stuck in my head, and generally what the following video starring Bill Paxton is all about. But I know I am nervous about my sanity.

Not sure how we move on from here, but let’s go with pretending the previous paragraph never happened, OK?

The prep was actually a lot easier than I expected; the bone and cartilage connecting the collar to the head was a lot thinner than the tuna head and easier to cut through.  The gills, which were the easiest part of the tuna head, were the toughest part to remove due to the size of the heads.

This was the first one I butchered, and it got easier/cleaner as I went along. Don't think that means I wasn't in danger of losing my fingers at least 20 times in the half hour it took to fully butcher and trim the pile of heads

Instead of disposing of the rest of the head, I saw the potential in the meat remaining along the top and decided to cut out the gills and reserve the heads for later use.

All clean, even washed behind the ears. Again, this is still round one of 5. After this shot I didn't take another picture 'till everything was done, primarily due to the bloody messiness

Eventually I ended up with a cutting board of decently(-ish) butchered salmon collars.

Unlike the tuna head, I left the fins on this one. They seemed like they would be tough to remove without destroying some meat and figured the fin would make them easier to hold once cooked

The bowl of heads went back in the fridge for later use and, after a final rinse, the collars went into a marinade of sesame oil, soy sauce, siracha, brown sugar, garlic, ginger, and a little five spice.

Anybody still a little creeped out by Bill Paxton? What a career: start with that bizarre video, shift to memorably funny roles in Weird Science and Aliens, and mostly finish his career potential as a polygamist on a show I never understood the appeal of

After a couple hours in the marinade, the salmon wings went onto the upper rack of the grill skin down to allow some of the fat to render over lower heat for ten minutes.  From there they headed onto the main rack of the grill for five minutes on each side, leaving me with this.

The sugar burned a bit but it added some good flavor. Also, the ends of those fins had the texture of potato chips and were kinda tasty

After a few minutes to let them cool off, they were ready to sample.  I found the easiest way to eat them was to pull apart from the fin and one end then dive into the meat that was exposed.

I was nervous the skin would get in the way but it peeled off easily when the wings were pulled apart

The first bite, right by the fin joint, had a lot of meat on it.  The meat hadn’t taken on much of the marinade but was very rich and the texture was tender and moist.  Aside from that area, there was bone on both sides that had a thin layer of meat on it that was heavily flavored by the marinade and grill.

Sad that there's nothing left on there. The graininess of the last two images is because they were accidentally done as video and I needed to pull stills from that. Watching a video of myself eating made me wonder why I still have friends. If you want a quick weight loss tip, eat your meals with me while I am eating mine and I guarantee you will lose your appetite

A bunch of people tried these and the reviews were all positive.  Great flavor, unique, and fun to eat.  I’d definitely make salmon wings again.

When I got home from the tailgating a few hours later, I remembered that I had a giant bowl of fish heads waiting for me in the fridge.

As I said before, there was a fair amount of meat left on those heads despite already taking off the best part

Given the amount of soup I make on a weekly basis, I figured these would be put to best use by making some fish stock with them.  So, they headed under the broiler with onions, carrots, celery and garlic to get a little char on them.

That pizza stone has been supposed to come out of the oven for weeks, but I continually start preheating the oven before noticing it and then leave it in during cooking to keep the heat steady. Vicious cycle dudes

After everything had a little color, it all went into a stock pot covered completely with water to boil for a few hours.

I scrubbed the kitchen after the initial head butchering to get the fishy smell out, then came back home to make a stock that would permeate every fiber of clothing not safely stored with fish smells

Once the liquid had reduced and the flavors appeared to be right (read: I was exhausted and wanted to go to bed) I pulled all of the solids out using a slotted spoon to prepare the broth for straining.

The amount of gelatin in the broth was reduced by a few trips through some cheese cloth but, regardless, I was stunned by it. This looked scarier than the head cheese boil

Overall I ended up with about 4 quarts of fish broth which I will be sure to use in a future post or two.  All in all, a very successful day of cooking.

Soups and bolognese will be included in one of my next posts, not sure in what order.