Why You Should Always Ask for Fish Heads

November 10, 2015

savor the power
of skeletons boiled to soup
creepy yet tasty

As a vegetarian, I never eat chicken, beef, pork, guinea pigs, squirrels, dogs... you get the idea. As the World’s Worst Vegetarian, there is nothing better to me than a good hunk of cheese, a fresh egg, or bit of raw fish on occasion. 

Oh, and bones. 

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Not only does my heart leap with excitement when I see any sort of fish broth on a restaurant menu, but I’m getting so into bone broth in these darker, chillier, creepier days that I’m making it myself. I like to take pride in the fact that by making broth out of bones, hooves, knuckles, and other unwanted parts of animals that would go to waste otherwise, I'm being ecologically and economically conscientious by making broth myself. I go to my favorite local fishmongers, Greenpoint Fish & Lobster, to buy whole fish skeletons for my stock. Today I got a salmon, and when the fishmonger said, “Would you like the head?” I said, “YAAS.”

make a witches brew
but instead of eye-of-newt
toss in some fish heads

Fish heads in particular are a fascinating topic, which was in fact commemorated in a 1979 song by Barnes & Barnes about all the things that a fish head can (or more likely cannot) do. One thing they can do? Make your soup awesome. Since the head makes up such a large proportion of the overall fish, to not use the head is truly a waste, and once you get past the whole “eye contact” thing, they’re really pretty cool.

Fish head

look me in the eye
and tell me you’re not thirsty
yeah, that’s what i thought 

Many have said bone broth was just a fad, but mark my words, as soon as the first snowflake falls this winter, all those skeptics will come crawling (slurping) back. People have been enjoying bone broths in various forms since culinary history began, and none of those people were celebrity chefs, you know? Hippocrates recommended bone broths for patients with digestion issues. Maimonides prescribed chicken stock as a remedy for colds and other maladies. Matzo ball soup is fondly referred to by some as Jewish Penicillin. All I know is that it makes me happy and warm, like a baby owl tucked into a tree trunk in a snowstorm.  

owls might not drink soup
but i’m sure if they had hands
they’d sip broth with me

As I’m a pseudo-vegetarian-wannabe, I stick to fish bones for my broth, but you can do whatever you want—I’ve heard there are interesting, delicious results with other boiled bones. And because the bones and other bits are things that usually get tossed aside, they make for a very cheap cooking experiment.


Here is my fish bone broth recipe, for your reference:

  1. Procure one fish skeleton (head included?!) and shove it into a pot.
  2. Cover it with water and boil the living daylights out of it for about 2 to 4 hours.
  3. If you happen to have some peppercorns, an onion, a wilty celery stalk or carrot, why not toss that in too? 
  4. Optional: Cackle maniacally over your pot while stirring it with a wooden spoon.
  5. Once your whole kitchen or apartment smells like low tide, you are ready to strain out all the solid matter, leaving you with a steaming, rich, nutritional juggernaut worthy of a famished cave person.
  6. Cheers, my friend, you can now happily enjoy this warming treat as-is, or use this as a base for the winter soup of your choosing.

keeping it simple
the key to a good bone broth
and a warm winter

Photos by James Ransom

What do you do with bones, heads, and other offal (fishy or otherwise)? Tell us in the comments.

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1 Comment

inpatskitchen November 10, 2015
Just make sure you pull the gills out of those heads (or ask your fish guy to do it for you). Otherwise you could end up with a bitter broth!